A Bear Named Alaska
I’m a travel writer so naturally, I travel for a living. But, for my mom, this meant her baby girl headed out into the world where the big bad wolves lurked. Didn’t matter that I was middle-aged. She would stand at her front door after giving me a tight hug, look forlorn and say, “Be careful” in a sad and plaintive voice. Every time. We used to laugh because before those words would emerge from her lips I would say them for her: “Yes, I’ll be careful.”
How I wish I could hear them now. She left me last year, at the beginning of lockdown, before COVID would ruin her life. My sister and I swear she saw it coming and got the hell out. My mom would never have survived without her weekly visit to the hairdresser.
She was 90. She lived an amazing life.
In 2019, I received an assignment in Alaska and took off for two weeks in the Natural State. It was the longest trip away from Mom and she was downhearted more than usual. She slipped an envelope into my purse like she usually did, filled with twenty dollar bills “for a nice meal or a little something special.” On the outside was scribbled — she had terrible arthritis — “My angel” with a cute happy face. I carried that envelope everywhere while I toured Alaska.
On my last stretch of the trip, I visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in the Kenai Peninsula. I had toured the facility and learned about the work they do, enjoyed the animals, and exited, as usual, through the gift shop. I don’t know what made me turn and look, but I spotted a stuffed bear and just knew that Mom would love it. I bought the bear and carried it home in my purse on the plane. (Yes, I talked to it, too. It’s that cute!)
My mom fell in love with that bear, kept him on the nightstand by the side of her bed. When she caught pneumonia at the beginning of lockdown (non-COVID), she brought “Alaska” with her. She spent a few days at the hospital, was sent home, and passed that night. She died the way she had always wanted to, in her own bed, in her sleep with Alaska watching over her.
I was back in Alaska this week and saw stuffed bears everywhere. It was everything I could do not to weep openly at the sight. I miss her so much it hurts, and I carried that envelope with her note with me everywhere. On the other hand, I think Mom’s visited Alaska with me too, looking over my shoulder, still proud of the work I do, still hoping I’m being careful. I’m a bit on the adventurous side, so I tend to push the boundaries at times, so she was likely right to say that every time I left.
But don’t worry, Mom, I was careful.
Post note: My sister texted me as I landed at my home airport. “I am glad you are home. I think I have taken over Mom’s job of worrying about you. LOL.” Mom’s legacy lives on…
And I didn't return with a bear this time, but I did get to play with a reindeer.