An excerpt from Little Bear ( by Else Holmelund Minarik):
“Then I wish,” said Little Bear, “a Mother Bear would come to me and say, ‘Would you like to hear a story?’”
“Well,” said Mother Bear, “maybe you can have that wish. That is just a little wish.”
“Thank you, Mother,” said Little Bear. “That was what I really wanted all the time.”
“What kind of story would you like to hear?” said Mother Bear.
“Tell me about me,” said Little Bear. “Tell me about things I once did.”
Well my little Aiden bear, you used to like to lay in bed at night and tell stories about the day. I would begin…
“Once upon a time there was a Mommy Shifra, a Daddy Jesse, a little boy named Aiden, and a little sister named Lilah.”
“And a dog named Sadie!” you would always remind me.
“Oh yes, and a dog named Sadie.”
I would continue telling you what everyone had done that day, and you would interrupt, correcting my mistakes and adding things that I had forgotten.
That was fun.
And you used to run down the hall naked after a bath, with sister chasing after you. Mommy would sing the “Nakie Nakie Song” and you would scream with delight. Sometimes you would put on a cape and it would flap behind you as you ran down the hall.
Then, you would ask sister, “do you want to wear matching pajamas tonight?” And she would say yes.
That was fun too.
And once, you came home from school and wanted tie shoes instead of Velcro, because everyone else at school, even the little kids, had tie shoes. So, we took a trip to the shoe store and bought you a pair of tie shoes. You wore them out of the store and immediately wanted to race. We raced down the path, and you beat me of course.
That was fun too.
6 years ago I became father to a beautiful baby boy. Our Aiden had arrived. We were getting a little anxious because we had been expecting him for a few weeks now. He was 20 days late, and needed a little, no, a lot of persuasion to come out.
But we soon found out why he wanted to stay nestled in the comfort and safety of his mother’s womb. Aiden was born with only half of a heart. This meant that on the 13th day of life, Aiden would have his first of several open heart surgeries. Aiden would go on to have 8 surgeries in total, more surgeries than years in his life. While Aiden’s medical history is amazing, complex, and sometimes difficult, it was merely the support system for a body that contained a beautiful mind and an incredible spirit.
In Aiden’s short 6 years of life, he became a teacher to me and those he met. While Aiden was often quiet and timid at first, his spirit was just waiting to burst out. Aiden’s excitement and happiness could rarely be contained. He was filled with tenderness and love, and a caring for all things. He took pleasure in the simplicities of life and could find humor and enjoyment in almost any situation.
Aiden had a way of making others around him feel special and loved. He would often make comments like “You look so pretty mommy” or “Lilah, that dress is so cute” or he might say “you look fancy daddy.” When grandparents would come over, he would scream with excitement, and run to the door. And when it was time to go, he would beg them to stay.
When Aiden would go to a doctor’s appointment or to a blood draw, he would always ask “which one will Lilah like?” as he picked out a sticker or prize for her. And when Aiden won $10 dollars in a game of Trouble, he took his money and picked out a little moose for his farm scene. Lilah picked one up and Aiden said “I want to buy one for Lilah too.” He was always thinking of others.
Aiden made everything into a game and found happiness in even the toughest of circumstances. During a two month stay in the hospital, with a chest tube that wouldn’t stop draining, he made a game out of the diaper scale in the room. He would turn the nob and zero out the scale, and then weigh his stuffed animals. He would then call out the weight, 24, 8, 52, and write down a number on a piece of paper. Aiden had incredible focus and the simplest of games could amuse him for hours. During that same hospitalization, Aiden had tea parties and ice cream socials. When someone brought him a few packs of glow sticks, he shared them with his roommate and then gave some to the nurse to give to other kids.
Aiden delighted in playing games. Every day, while Lilah took her nap, Aiden would pull out a card game or a board game. His favorites were Uno, Trouble, and a homemade Planes game. But he always wanted to learn news games as well, and he had a knack for winning. But his love of games wasn’t limited to board games, he also wanted to play hike and seek daily. He and Lilah would stand at the kitchen counter and count to 20, then come and find whoever else was playing. He then would go hide and Lilah would hide right along next to him. They could often be found under covers or beds, peering out in silence. The excitement would build and screams of joy would ensue when they were found.
Aiden had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. During the last year of his life, he had hour long breathing treatments twice a day. During his breathing treatments, he liked watch Shaun the Sheep and would burst out laughing at the silly antics. His laugh was pure and genuine; with no reservation…it was also contagious.
Aiden loved reading books and was so proud of himself when he started to learn to read. Almost every day after school he would talk about the sound book he was working on or show off the one he had just finished. He would count how many were left before he got to move on the next set of books. At home, he started reading books to Lilah. The two of them would squeeze in a chair together and he would read to her, often the same book over and over.
Aiden also loved to cook. He would cut up vegetables for salad, grate cheese for pizza, and mix the guacamole. All the while he would check if we remembered all the ingredients. His favorite was making Alfredo sauce. He would stir and stir, and taste test it many times to be sure it was right.
When going to the park, Aiden would ride his bike and we would walk and he would want to race. “Ready, Set, Go,” he would say and we would race down the street after him. He had his spots to rest in the shade and spots that he would stop to smell the flowers. He also liked to go on walks in special neighborhoods. He would collect rocks and sticks and feathers along the way, and do circles around an old oak tree.
Recently, I told Aiden about the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. As with everything new that Aiden learned, he was so excited and eager to tell others. He counted down the days to the solstice and got so excited over the longest day of the year.
The simple things in life gave Aiden such joy. Telling stories, matching pajamas, walks in the neighborhood, the longest day of the year, tie shoes. These are the things that held so much meaning for Aiden.
Aiden blossomed this spring and the last month of his life was probably his best. He had an end of year campout at school, where he ran and played with comfort and ease. He then spent a day at the zoo and fed giraffes, visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and had a wonderful birthday surrounded by family and friends.
When I told Aiden that they were ready to do his heart transplant, he was so excited. He raced his bike home faster than I had ever seen him go. He told stories of school, his vacation, his birthday, and of tie shoes to the doctors and nurses that were preparing him for surgery. He smiled with excitement about never having stayed up so late at night, and gave me many thumbs up, indicating that everything was great. He fell asleep exhausted a little before 2am and slept through kisses as he was rolled into the OR. I believe that he was having the greatest of dreams. Three days later we kissed him for the last time and let his body go.
Aiden was born with only half of a heart, but he more than made up for it in spirit. And while his body may no longer be with us, his spirit lives on in each and every one of us. His tenderness and love. Simple pleasures and humor. His excitement and happiness.
Thank you Aiden, thank you for teaching us so much.
-Written by Jesse Hansen, delivered at Aiden’s memorial service on July 25, 2015