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I used to notice a sparse-haired patient cuddling a baby doll, pressed against her full bosom, her feet swimming in maroon socks crossed in front of her. Around her, sat several generations of family in the front parlor of the nursing home. Sunday after Sunday, they regaled her with stories, despite her vacant look. Only the doll in her arms mattered as she fingered its high-tops.

Indeed, dolls have a long history of companioning. In prehistoric times, considered images of the soul, dolls were used in rituals: the Egyptian doll paddle was one example. Later, archaeologists found dolls made of clay, wood, ivory, or fur, with the remains of entombed children in Egypt, Rome, and Russia. And in ancient Greece, engaged women offered their dolls, in sacrifice, to the nymphs or to the goddess Diana, as they prepared for marriage: an exchange for authentic intimacy.

Closer to our own time, doll makers in fourteenth-century Nuremberg, Germany, fashioned them after real children, monks, and women dressed in the style of the day. Other European countries, especially England, also introduced dolls into their colonies that took fire around the world.

In every culture, little girls clung to their dolls that also fulfilled many psychosocial needs: wordless immediacy soothed inexplicable experiences; imaginations teemed with stories; maternal instincts roused the inner caregiver; hostile living spaces, transformed. Dolls also helped little girls’ transition into sleep and waking.—Even accessing the archetype of the Divine Child, their real life companion.

Again, I return to the sparse-haired patient in the nursing home. For however long she lived, she brought a semblance of who she used to be for her extended family. For them, it was enough.

“Looks like it’s still seventeen, Liz, like last December’s—Have you lost any weight?” asked Cayce the nurse practitioner from hospice as she removed the tape measure from my upper arm and slipped it into her bag. Her soft brown eyes opened onto her compassion like suns warming ocean currents, her face masked, her blue uniform pressed. She had already checked my vital signs and troubling symptoms.

“No, I don’t think so, and my clothes still fit—even though loose. Since it got cold, I only wear turtlenecks, sweaters, and sweat pants.” Over the years, my sister-in-law’s Christmas sweaters still afford me a daily change of color that brighten my day; others, as well, at times.

“That color—royal blue—sure looks good on you, Liz, with your silver-white hair. Must keep you warm.” I nodded, then she added, “But I see your breathing’s more difficult—looks like your concentrator’s set on three now,” she said stooping over to check the monitor. Never could I have guessed that I’d be so dependent on oxygen, recommended by my pulmonologist since 2013: then, it was nightly, at one liter per minute.

“The change is subtle, but constant. Each day is different, bit I still adhere to my usual routine. Exercise is critical, but with the help of Chronic Pain Anonymous I’m learning to gentle myself. Sometimes, I only do half my routine and let the others go.” From behind Cayce, the snow’s brilliance shone through the windows of the French door, brightening my dining room.

“Well, you still qualify for hospice, Liz. You’re doing very well with all of this. Be sure and let us know if you’ve questions or need anything,” she said, collecting her equipment. “We’re here for you.”

I woke at 6:30 A.M. with this dream:

It was mid-afternoon, the sun enlivening scarlet knockout roses in the backyard. Over the weekend, nieces and nephews and their children had gathered for a reunion. A steady stream of stories energized everyone. Especially impressive was their maturity; it being a long while since we last met. Many commented on how well I looked, attired in my yellow T-shirt, shorts, and sandals, my limbs showing signs of summer’s tan. “It’s because of the exercise,” I said.

In this dream I showed no signs of disease, despite my white hair and wrinkles. I felt vibrant, deeply loved, glad to have been included in my extended family for this reunion. No one had difficulty with my introversion, only conversing with them as my energy allowed, unlike past gatherings at the Tan-Tar-A Resort when I had exhausted myself to fit in.

My response about exercise was pivotal: both in toning the body and the psyche. Only a surgeon’s warning in 1970 prodded me to exercise my arthritic body every morning, a practice I still maintain. And only pesky dreams surfacing in the 1980s drove me into Jungian analysis and mandated a gut job for my psyche teeming with specters. Occasionally like this extended family dream, my authentic self surfaces.

On a deeper level, the dream suggests lively connectedness within the kinship archetype, the Jungian designation of patterns that repeat themselves in the unconscious of human beings. Fossil remains of families have been unearthed all over the world: they just are. Given everyone’s flawed character, however, it is the rare family that enjoys such intimacy. This dream story of my relatives, however, seems to be one and fills me with joy.

Could this be a glimpse of eternal life—The kinship archetype evolving in multiple systems of creations in which we participate even now? Just a thought…

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