What started as a comforting teddy-bear friend for hospital stays has become a new unexpected vocation for one local woman who recently wrote, illustrated and published a book for children meant to help, comfort and memorialize the life of her beloved mother.
Cindy Wheeler, a physical therapist at Champion Physical Therapy in Cumming, lost her mother Barbra Russell to a rare disorder called interstitial lung disease in 2016. Now she has turned that experience and the “adventures” of a stuffed bear named Ralph that comforted her mother into a book titled “Ralph’s Hospital Adventures.”
“My mom was in and out of the hospital three times, and that bear went with her,” Wheeler said, when talking about the comfort Ralph brought to her mom during her time in the hospital.
• Anyone interested in purchasing “Ralph’s Hospital Adventures” can find it at www.ralphsadventures.com, in stores or online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Books-A-Million and Mascot Books.
• Wheeler said that she will host a book signing event for “Ralph’s Hospital Adventures,” at Another Chapter Bookstore in Cumming on May 19.
She said that at the end of 2015, she and her husband, James, told themselves that next year would be their best one yet, not knowing that less than a week later her mother, Barbra Russell would enter the hospital for the first time.
And one day, on a whim, she and her sister bought the bear, thinking that it might cheer their mom up a little when they couldn’t be there.
“That just started our journey with Ralph,” she said.
Through the days and months, she said that Ralph gained a life of his own. Doctors, nurses and other people greeted him each day, asking how he was as they helped him to go on adventures through the hospital.
“He got lost one day,” Wheeler said. “My mom was really sick and we were trying to stay there all the time ... My sister Candice came in after I left, and she calls me asking ‘where’s the bear?’ I said ‘what do you mean?’ and she says ‘Ralph is missing,’” she said with a laugh.
Ralph was eventually found exploring the laundry room a short while later.
After that Ralph adventure, Wheeler said that she told her mom, who was an avid artist, that she wanted to turn their experience into a book starring Ralph.
“I told her we should write a book, we should write a book for children to help them fell better about hospitals,” she said. “We will use Ralph, I’ll write it and you can illustrate it.”
But before their idea for the book could pan out, Wheeler’s mother died on April 15, 2016, succumbing to her illness.
After her mother’s funeral, Wheeler began writing and illustrating the book, determined to make their dream finally become a reality.
“I was like, ‘OK. I’m going to draw it, and I’m going to use her pencils and her watercolors to illustrate it,’” she said. “Trust me when I tell you that it took a long time to do the illustrations, and they were all over our pool table at home.”
As she began illustrating the book, using her mother’s paints and supplies, Wheeler said that she began to grow more confident in her abilities and felt that she was working through the grief process, each new page and new drawing dredging up a memory of her mother’s time in the hospital.
“She is just always with me, and I am so glad that I was able to write this book to honor her,” Wheeler said.
On each page of “Ralph’s Hospital Adventures,” Wheeler said that she attempted to capture some of the people and experiences that touched her mother’s life during the time in the hospital.
“One of the guys that is in my book, JP the nurse, that was her favorite nurse,” she said while flipping through pages. “My mom loved him. And everyone at the hospital was so wonderful, that made it that much easier for us.”
Eventually, Ralph will have more adventures outside of the hospital, Wheeler said, and will help children and adults face situations she has faced first hand.