Wisdom From The Silly Little Bear On National Winnie The Pooh Day

Halloween 2012. Eeyore’s wearing a birthday hat!

Today is National Winnie the Pooh Day, in honor of A.A. Milne’s birthday. Pooh and his 100 Acre Woods friends have a most special place in my heart and memories. My relationship with Ben blossomed around Piglet and Pooh and it is one of the ways Ben won my heart. When Ben and I first started dating, we often walked to the flagship Disney Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It is no longer at that location. We wandered the three  floors and I often left with little gifts- the courting phase of a relationship is fun, indeed!

Having spent increasing amounts of time with me, Ben was becoming fully immersed in the Disney mindset, and loving it, sometimes to his own amazement.  One day, as we strolled through the store, Ben called me over to look at a figurine, exclaiming, “Abby, look! It’s Piglet and his best friend, Pooh!” I stared at him, speechless, and then started to laugh. He shook his head, laughed, and said, “I was macho before I met you!” Truth be told, he was not so macho. He was a big teddy bear, and his great hugs could calm me down and completely surround me with love. He was a big kid at heart who indulged my inner child, and that was us.  He bought me that figurine as a surprise, and it will always be so special to me.

Disney Store,Winnie the Pooh,Piglet
Piglet and his Best Friend Pooh! A very special figurine with very sweet memories.

Today seemed a good day to revisit some favorite quotes from the silly little bear and his friends. They resonated during my caregiving days, through the darkest days of grief, and they continue to be meaningful and touching.

In the Disney Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin tells Winnie the Pooh, “If ever there’s a tomorrow when we’re not together, there’s something you must remember…You are braver than you believe and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think…. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you. 

I am still so deeply connected to my mom and dad, Ben, grandma, aunt Eleanor and many others who have left. They are all a part of who I am and are unquestionably always with me. The truth is that it is not always enough- sometimes not even close to being enough- but it is a lot.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.

“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

That’s caregiving. It’s that simple and that complicated. My presence was the tea and honey that my dad needed to feel more secure and cheered. As ALS took away his abilities, there were times that Ben was understandably frustrated and sad. All I could do was be there, trying to bring him comfort.

Sometimes it’s a matter of being present, sometimes it’s being a good listener, sometimes it’s ensuring that routines- including medications- are followed. Mostly, it’s about caring to figure out exactly what will soothe the caree at the moment. For Pooh, honey was always a good solution. It’s not always that easy. But communicating the desire to be there, to help and support, can only strengthen a bond. Although we could lose patience with each other, and sometimes we both needed our moments to feel down, Ben knew that I would always at least try to find the thing that would be his tea and honey.  And, I knew that he would find a way to show me he loved me.

In another conversation:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

It’s hard to imagine that any day with ALS, or any terminal illness, can be a favorite day. There were definitely the big highlights, like when Ben woke up on January 1, 2015, and he said that he had such a fun New Year’s Eve. I had ordered matching Mickey Mouse and Friends pajamas for us and even for my cat, Disney. Ben always loved the fireworks at Walt Disney World, and I found a toy that supposedly simulated fireworks, with sound effects and LED light “fireworks” that were activated by a remote control. We played the soundtrack to the “Wishes” Magic Kingdom fireworks show and Ben chose the sequence for our fireworks show while we had our photos scroll on his computer. It was pretty hilarious to pretend we were at the Magic Kingdom as we watched these pretty unconvincing fireworks splash on the wall. It felt almost magical to laugh and enjoy the evening. That silly celebration was a most favorite day and is now part of my treasure trove of beautiful memories of moments sprinkled with pixie dust.

Any days spent at Walt Disney World were favorite days when Ben felt free as he rode around in his scooter or electric wheelchair. The Disney magic allowed him to enjoy most of the attractions and to temporarily abandon his worries.

Once he was homebound, Ben’s days did not vary much. But, every day that he was okay and things went smoothly, when we handled or averted a crisis, solved a problem, and enjoyed each other’s company, was a favorite day. We recognized, acknowledged and treasured those.

Winnie the Pooh commented, “There’s always time for a smackeral of wonder.”I think that’s true. And, it’s so important. My dad never lost his desire to learn and help others. Ben never lost his curiosity, sense of humor and ability to be inspired, particularly by music. When we were able to go to Walt Disney World, his inner child shone, and he marveled at everything he saw and all the music he heard. When he was home, he watched movies and documentaries and listened to music, always questioning, always learning, always with a sense of wonder and delight. I think that helped him to navigate ALS. Always finding time for a “smackeral of wonder” is good advice for all of us.I believe that Ben would be especially happy that these lessons came from Piglet and his best friend, Pooh.

One of the most profound and bittersweet quotes from Winnie the Pooh, is“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  This time of year, in particular, is filled with a lot of milestone dates. I begin each New Year commemorating the anniversary of my mom’s passing. Then, February is a month filled with reminders of the many goodbyes I have had to say. The month is marked by my dad’s birthday, Ben’s birthday, and the anniversary of the passing of my grandmother and aunt Eleanor. It is also the anniversary of the passing of my sweet cat, Disney.

My memories are important to me. They are everywhere. Sometimes past and present blur in my mind and the reminders of the losses and the goodbyes are crushing. At the same time, I am so grateful to have had these people in my life. And, I’m grateful to Winnie the Pooh and his friends for helping me to find wonder, whimsy, insight and a positive, comforting, and honest perspective. Thank you, A.A. Milne, for bringing them to life.

October 2012
Ben would not be at all surprised that this Eeyore came home with me. Making new memories in 2018, but carrying Ben in my heart.

My Mom- Always With Me

Today marks 32 years since I lost my mom. Yes, a lot of time has passed, but this day still stings. Although I like to be optimistic at the start of a new year, my new years are always darkly colored by the veil of this anniversary, and a February filled with more sad milestone dates. I have written about the circumstances of my mom’s passing and I do not want to rehash that. You can read my original tribute with those details by clicking here. All these years later, I continue to miss her, to wonder what she would think of my life, and to wish she was here. There is no one more appropriate than my mom to be honored with a Disney kind of tribute.

Reflecting on my loss, I thought about Mary Poppins Returns. Mary Poppins has been a favorite character since I was a child and she continues to captivate me. This new film is not a remake, which is probably a good thing, because the original was a spectacular entity unto itself which could never be recreated or duplicated. This new film is a treasure in a different way, with messages that resonate for me about love and loss.

Mommy at Walt Disney World appropriately with a Mary Poppins topiary, in the mid-1980s.

There is a touching song at the beginning of the film in which Michael Banks (yes, all grown up and with his own children) is looking through his deceased wife’s jewelry box and talking aloud to her about missing her advice about ways to take care of the children. Michael struggles with losing the family’s house because he feels his wife is so present there. As the children help Michael come to terms with this additional loss, he realizes that his wife remains present in the children and her spirit will not disappear with the house. He shares with the children, “Your mother’s not gone. She’s in your smile, and your walk, John, and Annabel’s eyes… She’ll always be with us wherever we go.”

I love when people tell me that they see my mom and dad in me, not just because I do look like both of them, but because they have so influenced the person I have become. To this day, I have a hard time when I see that restaurants and shops that I visited with my mom close and disappear from the landscape of New York City. It feels like I have lost the tangible evidence of our memories, taking them further and further away. I sometimes need to remind myself that I carry all those memories and the relationships within them in my heart, and by sharing them, I pass them along.

I inherited my mom’s love of Disney and her vibrant inner child and sense of whimsy, and she is always vivid in my work as an educator. For the second time, I took a group of students from my club to see the Rockefeller Center tree and holiday windows. They like hearing about how I did these things with my mom. I know that she would be thrilled that I am giving this opportunity to young people. So would my dad. They are a part of me and how I live my life. I am proud to be able to honor them. When we watched Coco and discussed Day of the Dead, I was not afraid to be vulnerable and let them know that I like the concept of being visited by my loved ones and their always watching over me. It has helped several students face their own feelings with regard to loss. Last week, a student opened up to me that she was struggling with grief. I shared with her an Eskimo proverb, “Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings in heaven where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.” She told me that she printed out the quote and put it on her wall. It warms my heart to know that my experience supports others, especially young people. In my sad moments, it is consoling that my mom is also helping me to bring wisdom and caring to others.  

Celebrating our Schnauzer, Windy’s, birthday

As I have delved deeper into writing for children, I think about how much fun my mom and I would have had working on stories together. She saved a lot of my own childhood writing, and I will look at those stories and hopefully find some inspirations. I hope to find some of my mom in those stories, too. I know that I will bring her with me into my endeavors.

Mommy never learned how to ride a two-wheeler and she proudly drove her huge tricycle, always with our (probably somewhat humiliated) pup in tow.

I do miss being surrounded by genuinely loving family. It would sadden my mom that I had boundaries for family. At the end of her life, although she did begin to distance herself from some relatives, she tolerated a lot to placate my grandmother. I do not possess that level of selflessness. I like to think that at least my mom respects and is happy that I am at peace with the way I live my life and with my chosen family of friends. I will always aspire to have a fraction of her selflessness.

Despite missing her terribly, I remind myself that maybe I shouldn’t refer to today as the day I lost her. As Mary Poppins said, “You can’t lose what you’ve never lost.” This beautiful song says it all so well.

The Place Where Lost Things Go
Composer: Marc Shaiman
Lyrics: Scott Wittman
Performed by Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins)

Time to close your eyes
So sleep can come around
For when you dream you’ll find
All that’s lost is found
Maybe on the moon
Or maybe somewhere new
Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you
So when you need her touch and loving gaze
Gone but not forgotten is the perfect phrase
Smiling from a star that she makes glow
Trust she’s always there
Watching as you grow
Find her in the place where the lost things go.

Days like this, where I look though photos and reflect on memories, are sad yet oddly welcome. Tears are okay. I find it self-affirming to remind myself of how much of my life has been motivated by and instilled by the love of my mom (and my dad, of course). Now, they live in me.

Mommy, I love and miss you today, and always, and hope I make you proud.

2024- My Year to Step Through Doors

It has taken me a while to get a grounding on my thoughts as the new year approached. I have found myself searching for the words and thoughts that best convey my feelings. I am not one for setting specific resolutions. For me, despite cautions about looking back, it is important to revisit how I feel about how the year went, and what I might like to feel like this year. It is a time to identify my growth and achievements, but also to focus on my struggles and look for inspiration and motivation. Of course, Walt Disney provides my guiding wisdom and captured my sentiments so well in this quote: We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. I have referred to this quote a few times in this blog. It resonated when I was beginning to reshape my life as the depths of grief subsided. It continues to resonate as I choose new paths that I hope will lead me to fulfillment.

The past year had professional and personal highlights. I traveled, made strides in my writing, brought awareness of the needs of student family caregivers to my school. I made new friends and am at peace with shifts in friendships. Retirement is within reach, which makes the stress of teaching and our education system somewhat and sometimes more manageable. I have expanded my support group and workshop offerings, which is creating a whole new intriguing path. When I get nervous about the reality of my next steps, I remind myself that Walt Disney said, Fantasy and reality often overlap.”

I have been thinking about the film Up, and when Ellie wrote to Carl in her journal, Thanks for the adventure – now go have a new one!” I have opened new doors and continue to do so, I have had new adventures, and I have created a new life for myself. Lately, however, I find myself thinking that in many ways I am only standing in the doorway, not willing to fully step through into new adventures.

Although I have such a wonderful network of friends and colleagues, I still struggle with feeling very alone. Ironically, I am very independent, and grateful to be that way. If I want to go somewhere, or see a show, I am perfectly comfortable going by myself. Maybe even too comfortable. However, I am caught off-guard when doing something as simple as strolling, by a sense of aloneness. Yesterday, walking through the first snow in New York City, I immediately recalled how I would record these events for Ben when he was homebound. I even brought him snowballs. I whipped out my phone and recorded the snowfall as I always did. And I cried. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away. At least, it doesn’t paralyze me as it once did, which is good.

My memories fill my days. They also fill my apartment. Once again, I ordered my photo calendar of Ben’s and my favorite Walt Disney World moments. I thought about creating a new 2024 calendar that featured my new memories. I thought I could even combine some of my favorites from the current calendar with photos I have taken over the past several years. Ultimately, I could not do it. It was not really that I felt disloyal to Ben either. It was that I could not stop keeping those memories alive and, basically, keeping our relationship alive. I still use our photo blanket, our photo shower curtain, and a bathroom filled with our Walt Disney World photos. Only recently did I start to really look around my home and what surrounds me. Can I really say that I want to find a new romantic relationship when my old one literally pervades so much of my current life? Would I be attracting love into my life without really being open to it? In the Pixar short, Carl’s Date, I related so strongly to Carl’s insecurity about finding love again. I felt like I was also looking for guidance, connecting to how he still acknowledged Ellie and had the support of Dug when he stepped forward. But he did step forward, and so will I. (Click here for my post about this.)

This year, I have made a great deal of progress with my writing. I have always loved to write, but it was my experiences in caregiving that led me to start this blog and stirred my passion. Ben and my dad, as well as a host of memories, were front and center of my writing endeavors. My book, which is now almost ready for submission, is based on this blog. A couple of years ago, I decided to pursue my long-held dream to write children’s books. After all, as Walt says, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Though Christopher Robin has taught me that I am braver than I believe, I do not consider courage to be my strong suit. Still, I have taken writing courses, joined professional writing groups and learned a lot. I did find the courage to allow a small group of trusted people to read my book and children’s stories. Still, I stop short of seriously taking the next steps. I know that it is fear of success as much as fear of failure. This year, my intention is to walk through that door and see if I can at least get closer to having my fantasy of being published overlap with reality. I do know that all my loved ones believed in me- often much more than I believed in myself. Mufasa tells Simba in The Lion King, “So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.” Ben, my dad, my mom, my grandma and my aunt Eleanor are a part of so much of who I am and what I do. I will always strive to honor them in my actions. I just need to fully accept and find a way to place them in my heart while acknowledging that they are not here.

My book in progress.

So, 2024 will be the year that I apply some faith, trust and pixie dust to pursue a better balance between past and present that will let me not just open doors, but fully walk through them, knowing that I am on my own but bolstered by so much love.  

I wish everyone a peaceful, curiosity-filled 2024.

Best wishes from Abby and Tinker Bell