The Red Bear of Courage, Sparky teaches us that connections run deep, even after words escape us. And that a touch of childhood wonder makes everything better…
Received as the bow on a gift, a little red bear became a permanent companion in a little girl’s life one Christmas. A makeshift red button nose replaced the beautiful black velvet nose that once was – but no one knew nor cared. Sparky’s imperfection was part of his charm.
In a bedroom full of stuffed animals and teddy bears, Sparky instantly became the chosen one in little JoJo’s world. Teased by her brothers for a stuffed animal that wasn’t real, they prided themselves in playing “keep away” with Sparky. Only JoJo’s father, Frank, fully embraced Sparky and encouraged JoJo’s fairytale world. A dabbling magician, Frank spun his magic, constantly weaving a magical world in which Sparky could survive. Frank hid Sparky in places where JoJo was apt to find him: a silverware drawer, the clothes dryer, a lunchbox. Delighted every time to unexpectedly find Sparky outside of her bedroom, JoJo would squeal, “Sparky, what are YOU doing here?!” To which Frank would always playfully respond, “That rascal!”
Hide and seek with Sparky became a lifelong private game – a sacred bond and secret language between father and daughter. Sparky ultimately became an extension of the love and humor the Firek family always embraced. In the later years, when Frank was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and depression hit, JoJo (now called Joleen) used Sparky to penetrate her dad’s tears to reach a smile. Sparky worked every time. Sometimes he was the only way in.
Sparky was a reminder that love is all that matters. Even through the confusion and the pain, they were all together and could speak each other’s secret language. And as Frank’s ability to speak faded, Sparky remained a strong nonverbal connection. With Sparky in hand, Frank and Joleen knew who they were and what they meant to each other. The brilliance of Sparky is that no words were ever necessary and everyone was always accepted just as they were.
Sparky teaches us that connections run deep, even after words escape us. And that a touch of childhood wonder makes everything better – if you’re courageous enough to ignore your age and conventional wisdom.
Just like how Alzheimer’s caregivers learn that living in your loved one’s altered world is often easier than insisting on reality, Sparky shows the benefits of encouraging a fairytale world with someone you love and letting go of who’s right. When you remove the barriers at hand, the bond of love can grow deeper and mutual respect flourishes.