Oliver: Sweet reminder of Mom keeps silent vigil for all to see on Zoom

Her stuffed bear named Wally became like another member of the family

If you’re ever on a Zoom call with me, no doubt you will see something odd over one of my shoulders. That’s just Wally, the stuffed bear my mother used to carry around with her when she lived with us.

At least I think it’s a bear. A friend recently asked me if it was a bear, since its ears are a little off. Who knows? I have no idea where my mother got it; it’s one of those nonspecific stuffed animals that you might win at a carnival. By the time my mother came to live with us, Wally had lost his backstory. He was just Wally.

Then again, he wasn’t always called Wally. My mother had vascular dementia, so Wally’s name on some days was Timmy. Other days it was Barbara. I decided to stick with the name Wally, since that seemed the most likely name, given that my mother knew a man named Wally when she lived in Georgia.

With my mother’s dementia, Wally was every bit as alive as you and I are. This was something that I had to acknowledge and respect while my mother was alive. (She died in spring 2018.) If I suggested that Wally was merely a stuffed animal, I would get an earful.

Wally was her “child,” and she cared for him in a way that she rarely extended to me, her real daughter. I’d actually introduce people to him as my little brother, because after a while, it became apparent that he was all of that.

My husband, Tony, and I were expected to make sure that Wally made it to the dinner table to be next to my mother as she ate her meals. Wally inevitably would do something that required my mother to tell him to stop fussing. Happily, she rarely tried to feed him, though there was one incident involving tomato sauce. That required my sneaking him off to clean him up.

If we went on car rides, Wally would have to be put in the backseat beside my mother. She would cuddle him and coo over him as if he really were able to respond.

More often than not, it was Wally who would get her into trouble. You see, Wally was too big for her to carry if she was using her walker, which she really needed to do. So if my mother was going from one room to another, she would take the bear and leave the walker. Imagine how much I loved that when I knew how easily she could fall, particularly near the end of her life.

Since Mom also wasn’t much for announcing that she’d be going from one room to the next, I would have to be vigilant so that I could scoop up Wally and make sure Mom used that walker.

Occasionally, she would be in another room and realize that Wally was not there. Or worse yet, if we had to leave him at home, she would worry that Wally wouldn’t be there when we returned. One of the other things my mother dealt with was hallucinations involving “little people” who she was convinced were trying to steal her things. That would, of course, include her beloved bear/child.

More than once I would remind my mother that Wally would be there when we got home. She would insist that he would not be, working herself into an anxious state. I remember vividly how relieved she was when she would be reunited with her bear, hugging him so tightly it’s a wonder he continued to have stuffing.

Wally went with Mom to the hospital and then to the hospice facility after she fell. Wally was with her when she took her last breath in the middle of the night a few days later.

Wally was there when I arrived to say a final goodbye and to collect her things. Poor Wally now would be without the person who loved him most on earth.

So it’s not surprising that I can’t quite part with Wally. And why I allow him to sit like a sentinel on the bed he used to share with his “mommy.”

I miss her too, Wally. I miss her too.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.