Hospital Bear

Joel’s quiet charm has a way of capturing the hearts of those around him.

So, naturally, it didn’t take long before the hospital staff fell in love with Joel during his very first week of cancer.

I walked into our little hospital room one morning, handed Willy his coffee, and looked over at Joel… who was snuggling a new teddy bear.

“One of the overnight staff bought this for him downstairs in the gift shop! She said she noticed he liked teddy bears and thought this one looked perfect for him.”

“Hospital Bear,” as he was so cleverly named, had a rough start. At the end of that first hospital stay, amidst all of the instructions, calendars, fear, bottles of medicines, and binders of fever protocol…. he was left behind, buried in the bed.

When we got home and realized we had no bear, Joel was heartbroken. We called the hospital, but we were too late… Hospital Bear was gone.

Less than a month later, Joel got a massive fever and we were back at the hospital for another long stay. On the first night, Hospital Bear reappeared (fresh from the gift shop)! Joel was unconscious and didn’t know, but Willy and I were pretty touched that the loving staff members not only remembered how much the bear meant to Joel, but actually replaced him!

That bear didn’t last either….

Hospital Bear #2 was thrown up on and had to be thrown away.

Enter Hospital Bear #3! and #4 and #5…. By the time Joel came out of his fever, he had a fresh teddy bear in his bed… and two more back-up bears stashed in the corner!

While the early days were bumpy for this little bear, he became a pretty special part of Joel’s story.

I didn’t know it yet (it would come to light a couple of years later), but every time we went to the hospital to stay, Joel thought he was there to die…. So Joel started referring to the bear as his bravery buddy, because he really needed one.

Every night, whether in his bed at home or his bed at the hospital, Joel had his bear snuggled right in with him.

That is, until November 3, 2013.

Right as Joel was finishing his 8 months of intense chemo and moving into maintenance chemo, someone we loved dearly started his own battle with cancer…


He was our church’s associate pastor, but to Willy, he was a father-figure.

When Willy reached out for help, Jim grabbed hold and never let go. And in doing so, he taught Willy that he is worth so much more than the abuse he was receiving.

Jim officiated our wedding after guiding Willy and I through pre-marital counseling.

Jim was there right after each of our babies’ births with a giant grin and a hostess cupcake.

And years later, as we were driving one of those babies to the hospital to confirm he had leukemia, Jim was there. He called while Willy was driving and I was so desperately trying to hold in my tears. I don’t even remember what he said, and I don’t know if I ever got a word out while the tears started running down my face… but I needed that call.

Jim was there for us weary parents through Joel’s 8 months of hard chemo with a listening ear and a $50 bill for gas money.

Jim was our Hospital Bear. He was our comforting reminder that we were loved deeply by God, and that everything was going to be alright.

That November, when Jim was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of prostate cancer, Joel knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I want to give Pastor Jim my Hospital Bear to help him be brave during cancer. Can you go with me though? I’m feeling a little shy…..”

So that Sunday morning, Joel and I sought out Jim and passed along Joel’s bear. He explained how the bear helped him be brave, and that Jim could keep him as long as he needed.

Jim took Hospital Bear with him to every appointment and hospital stay and he sent pictures to his “cancer buddy” all along his journey. Hospital beds, IV’s, and officially shaving his head… Joel got pictures from Jim and his bear every step of the way. Jim ran his race with grace and love and we couldn’t be more honored that he considered Joel his little buddy in it.

The following November, Jim left cancer behind and went on to be with God.

A few weeks later, Hospital Bear was returned to us by Jim’s wife. She included a note, thanking Joel for sharing his bravery.

Hospital Bear came home to Joel with new meaning. He went from representing bravery in the face of cancer, to representing hope, regardless of the outcome.

Joel used to hug his bear in his hospital bed while quietly swallowing his fears of death. Now when Joel hugs the bear, he can’t help but smile… “Jim knows what Jesus looks like! He is in Heaven– for REAL!”

Thank you, Jim’s family, for sharing him with all of us. He was the best Hospital Bear Willy and I could ever have asked for.




  1. RainStormAK

    Thanks for the smiles and tears. I miss that “hospital bear” of a man but rejoice that he does know what Jesus looks like. Every time I hear the song “I Can Only Imagine” I think of Jim and smile.

  2. Carol Port

    I can’t wait to meet this precious boy I love so dearly. Pastor Jim must have been one of a kind.

    Thank you so very much for letting me share your journey with Joel’s cancer. The pictures of Nathan holding Joel when he was chemo sick and the picture of your precious boys sitting on the log above the water make my heart cry and sing at the same time.

    Much love

    • Adrianne Shelton

      Carol, you are a treasure. Thank you for praying for us when we had no words for ourselves. We can’t wait to meet you in person!

  3. Lynda Eller

    Dear Joel, Sharing your bear with Jim showed that you have the heart of a hospital bear, a heart of compassion, a heart that cares. God wants to use that heart many times over during your lifetime. Stay open to that and see the blessings flow for you and others. God bless you mighty man. Jim’s wife.❤

  4. Lynda chud

    Such a raw, honest story of two heroes in my life…please add on Joel’s parents to this list of heros! Thank you for choosing to write your story which is creating a ripple effect and tidal wave that will not only touch but transform many lives. Blessings to you all.

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