He arrived in the centre of a funeral wreath and I didn't like him. He was blue and soft and fluffy and any child would have adored him. But my child was dead. He had no need of a bear and so I didn’t want him. We hid him away. And there he remained for a year, forgotten as I grieved for our son.

Thomas’ first birthday arrived after a very, very long year of sorrow. And despite the very long year, his birthday arrived much too quickly. I didn’t want to celebrate. I wanted to forget. But our children had other ideas. They wanted to celebrate the birth of their little brother and so I bought a birthday cake. And I ordered flowers: a posy of lavender, baby’s breath and exquisite miniature roses. As I was paying for them, I caught sight of a little brown bear sitting on the florist counter looking at me with sad eyes. “Take me home,” he seemed to beg as I picked him up. He felt good in my hand and then I made an instant decision. “I’ll have the bear too.” I bought the small, soft bear for Thomas. I don’t know why. I just did it.

Later at home, I arranged the bear next to a photo of Thomas, together with the flowers and a candle. We called the bear Leo. He became part of Thomas’ first ever memorial display, and a birthday tradition was created.

A birthday is a sad, empty occasion when there is no birthday boy around to celebrate with. There are no squeals of excitement, no hugs and kisses, no presents… no presents? Yes, I did have a present for my son… the bear.

And then I remembered that other bear, the soft blue bear that had arrived on the day of Thomas’ funeral. The bear I didn’t like. I hunted it out. And then I realised something. All our other children had been given a bear to celebrate their births. They all had a special, soft, furry, huggable friend that they show off proudly: “That’s my birthday bear. He was given to me when I was a baby.” And Thomas, although he hadn’t needed a bear, had been given his very own birthday bear just like his siblings. He hadn’t been left out but instead had been treated like all my other children. I looked at the blue bear with new eyes. He was given the name Augustine, Thomas’ middle name and he became special.

A few weeks after Thomas’ birthday, it was Christmas. Felicity decided to make a bear for her brother as her gift. Theodore was created: a soft, long-haired, floppy bear that likes to put his nose on his toes. Theodore took his place beside Leo and Augustine.

Now on every birthday, and at Christmas, we buy Thomas a new bear to add to his collection. Sometimes we buy more than one. I feel quite excited as I set out on my quest for a cute and adorable new friend. I come home with my purchase and everyone wants to see what I have chosen. “What will you call him, Mum?” Naming the bear is my privilege and I have chosen saints’ names for them all. And after I have shown everyone the new addition to Thomas’ collection, I hide the bear away. I know the birthday boy isn’t here and there really is no need to hide away his presents until the big day, but I do it anyway. Perhaps I hide it away for my own sake so I can anticipate pulling it out on Thomas’ birthday and sitting it on the table in the lounge as part of his memorial display. Yes, this is one of the pleasures of celebrating a sorrowful day.

When my friend Sarah heard I’d started a collection of teddies for Thomas, she laughed in her gentle way. “But Sue, where will you put all the bears? Think of how many bears you will collect.” But I brushed aside Sarah’s question. I’d find room somewhere.

Sarah’s words re-echo in my mind as I look around my bedroom. There are bears on the top of the bookshelf, bears in a basket, and bears squashed on top of my chest of drawers. Bears lie on my bed and bears stand guard on my bedside chest. The Cardinal and Newman, who joined the family last Christmas, have invaded my desk. Yes, there are a lot of bears in my room. And we have only celebrated Thomas’ 11th birthday. They’ll be a lot more birthdays and a lot more bears.

I wonder if I should have chosen something smaller to collect and then I remember I didn’t consciously choose to collect bears. Leo just looked mournfully up at me and it happened. And now it is too late. I can’t stop now: “Thomas I can’t collect any more bears for you, they’re getting in the way.” No, I can’t say that. I guess the bears are going to keep multiplying and I have to find a way of displaying them, while at the same time, retaining the use of my bedroom. But how?

I think about when I am no longer here, when I have left this earth and have been reunited with Thomas. What will happen to all his bears? Will anyone treasure them like I do? Or will they end up on a shelf at a St Vincent de Paul shop? I don’t suppose it really matters. I won’t be around to see it happen. But wouldn’t it be nice if the bears were handed down through the family? Maybe a granddaughter will treasure them, then a great granddaughter… And maybe all our memories of Thomas will be handed down too.

And although he only lived for a single day, all our love for our little son will be passed on from generation to generation. “That bear belonged to Thomas. Her name is Mary MacKillop. Thomas must have got that bear in 2010 when Australia got her first saint. How much my great grandmother must have loved Thomas! Look at all the bears she collected for him. She never forgot.” 

No, I will never forget.

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  1. The bears are all very beautiful. I can't imagine Thomas' birthday without them.

  2. Shall I put the bears in your care when I am an old and feeble woman?

  3. Beautiful story. I think the bears are lovely. Handing them down through the family is a wonderful idea. The idea that your grandchildren, and greatgrandchild could have their own bear to cherish is a grand idea. A bit more of love and continuity.
    Blessings to you and yours,

  4. Thank you for sharing my story, Lisa and making a beautiful comment. My grandmother collected dolls. I remember every spare bit of space in her house was occupied by a doll. When she died, I would have liked to have had her dolls as they were very much a part of her. Unfortunately, my grandmother lived in England and we live in Australia. It wasn't practical to ask if I could take over the collection. However, all my girls have one of my grandmother's dolls which I hope they will treasure. Maybe some day Thomas' bears will be treasured too.

  5. What a touching tribute to your son, Sue. You have a special gift for writing that touches people's hearts. God Bless.

  6. Thank you Noreen. I am always pleased to hear you have visited and shared my stories. God bless

  7. i think thats a fine way to memorialize your son. i intially started out with such an idea to collect things like that but i never did.

    i have heard of others that collect angels or candles etc...

  8. Thank you for your comment, Kim. I wonder if you have a box of special memory things for your daughter even though you aren't adding to a collection.

  9. i did/do have aspecial box and special things inside. Some things inside are: i ordered a blanket with her name on it after she died and it has angels on it. I bought her one bear-white with a white pretty bow, after she died and included about 3 special outfits she would have worn in the box. newspapers clippings with her name on it (obituary), newspaper of the day she died, special cards ppl sent me after her death and a few other odds and ends.

    I say "had" since its in storage right now since we moved 3 years ago.

  10. Thank you for sharing your daughter's memory box with me, Kim.

  11. Sue,
    This is an incredibly beautiful story - both sad and heartwarming at the same time. Looking at his collection of bears... how Thomas must smile from heaven.

  12. You shared one of my old posts, Mary! I guess all bloggers have their favourite stories. This is one of mine. I hope Thomas is smiling! He's probably wondering where I am going to put the next lot of bears. Thank you for following the link. God bless!

  13. At Sanjay's Funeral last year we had a collection of his stuffed toys for his cousins and good friends to each take one to remember him by. But we kept his extra special ones.Our other children each chose one as well.

    Sanjay used to sleep in his bed with his stuffed toys heaped about him and his head tucked under the covers, Winter or Summer. I guess, in a way, that those toys are relics...for we are quite sure he is a Saint in Heaven, as he was only 10 and had received all of the sacraments before he died. To be sure, we had the Gregorian masses said for him...30 Masses said on 30 consecutive days.

    Anyway, I think it is a lovely you have Thomas's Bears...whenever you especially miss him, you have one to cuddle.

    1. Karla,

      What a beautiful idea you had sharing Sanjay's stuffed toys! I guess because we have so little that is really Thomas' we kept everything for ourselves. We have a special wooden box where I keep his clothes, the pall, certificates, cards...

      "I guess, in a way, that those toys are relics" Yes! I have a relic story here somewhere. It's called "The Bracelet". It tells how Thomas' godmother made a relic for Charlotte who was only 2 when her brother died. I guess Thomas' clothes are relics too. His little gown even has his blood on it.

      I do like cuddling Thomas' bears. If one of the younger girls has trouble sleeping they always choose a bear to take to bed with them. It always helps!

  14. Sweet, Sue. I loved reading this. Such a lovely idea. Hugs

    1. Chari,

      A new bear joined Thomas' collection a week ago. It is called Bosco and is fat and cuddly! I still have to decide on a Christmas bear. Thank you so much for reading this story. Thank you for the hugs too!

  15. I read that post! I think that you chose well for your little man. :) beautiful name, too!

  16. Ever thought of a china cabinet for the Thomas bears to live in Sue. A dear friend who collects them has hers in a glass shop counter. I use to collect bears but they do tend to take over so I stopped.

    1. Karna,

      A glass cabinet is a great idea. It would save the bears from getting dusty which is a problem because I don't think they are washable. I am going to give a number of the bears away to family and friends, but I plan to keep a few, so maybe I could get a display cabinet for them. Thank you for stopping by to share your suggestion!


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