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Bears repeating: Teddy bears are good medicine

Amidst all the electronic gadgets under the Christmas tree these days, there is one non-gadget that has stood the test of time. The littlest of wishers know teddy bears are fun, give comfort – and can keep a secret. Alberta senior Jeanne OConner has discovered there are benefits for children over the age of fifty as well. And sometimes the benefits accrue in other ways than finding a furry friend in the stocking.
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Amidst all the electronic gadgets under the Christmas tree these days, there is one non-gadget that has stood the test of time. The littlest of wishers know teddy bears are fun, give comfort – and can keep a secret.

Alberta senior Jeanne OConner has discovered there are benefits for children over the age of fifty as well. And sometimes the benefits accrue in other ways than finding a furry friend in the stocking.

That insight was sparked twenty years ago, following a very difficult work experience that ended Jeanne's nursing career and left her with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, few believed it was possible for anyone other than those in war zones to experience PTSD.

For years afterwards, Jeanne´s brain couldn´t focus. She had trouble concentrating. She had difficulty remembering anything, even her daughters´ own childhoods. She was trapped inside her home, afraid to go out. Afraid, even, that the phone would ring.

She tried to get well. She saw various healthcare specialists. She tried acupuncture. She tried everything. One doctor actually suggested it might be too late for her. But that diagnosis didn't sit well with Jeanne.

After roughly seven years with no improvement, Jeanne decided to take control of her own healing. She knew she had to find ways to make her brain work again. She decided to take a bear making class – something that would force her to think. She was honest with the instructor about her abilities – and in turn the instructor was patient with her.

There was comfort in the bears. And, there was comfort in sharing the bears with others who also needed care. It appealed to Jeanne´s nursing side.

Soon bears were going off to Fort McMurray with her husband, who was working there as an electrician. He would come home and say he needed another eight bears, or another ten, ordered by oil patch workers. She charged only enough to cover her costs – there was a purpose greater than making money.

Some bears went to Ontario. Some went to Saskatchewan. Some went to BC. Quite a few went to Newfoundland. At least one went to Japan. Others went to Australia and New Zealand.

The OConners did not count the number of bears Jeanne made, but they estimate it to be at least 600.

There are grandpa bears and grandma bears. There are police bears and red hat bears (after the red hat ladies), mohair bears, fun fur bears and fleece bears. There are bears repurposed from old fur coats. There is a polar bear. There is one tiny bear, only a few inches tall, and one huge bear roughly three feet tall. Many of the bears are jointed, just like teddy bears used to be.

There are even buckshot bears.

And in the process Jeanne got better. Her memory will never be exactly as it was before. But focus and concentration are back to normal. She can go out and live a normal life.

Jeanne has even used one bear in a filmmaking class she recently attended sponsored by Creative Age Edmonton. The bear was part of learning about stop animation. Another has gone to the Royal Alberta Museum a few times to sit in front of the fireplace in their Christmas display. Its value, listed for insurance purposes, is $800.

"Do you know what a group of teddy bears are?" Jeanne asks with a twinkle in her eye.

Certainly a group of cows is a herd and a group of geese is a gaggle. A group of puppies is a litter. But a group of teddy bears?

"It's a hug," she laughs.

And, as every child knows, one bear hug makes everything better.





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