Sunday, 1 April 2012

Just Enough - A Traditional Russian Tale of Loss

Adapted by Elisa Pearmain (

Once upon a time there lived a tailor's son named Joseph. He worked beside his father in his little shop cutting and stitching clothing for the wealthy folks in town. As he grew older Joseph began to dream of making something special for himself to wear. He pictured a warm coat made of colourful fabric. For many years he saved the few coins that he got from helping his father. Finally he had enough to buy the cloth that he wanted.

Joseph went to the market and bought the piece of cloth he had been dreaming of. It was a warm gray with bits of gold and silver and even a little crimson here and there. That night while his father was sleeping, he went to the shop. He laid out the pieces of fabric, and made a careful plan. He measured, then he cut and he stitched. After several nights of working, the young man had made himself a fine coat. When the tailor saw the work his son had done he felt proud. “You are a tailor now in your own right,” he said. “You have done fine work.” Joseph loved his coat. It was warm and colourful and everyone looked at it. He wore it everywhere, and the seasons past.

One afternoon when Joseph had been buying cloth in the market for his father, it began to rain. It was a cold rain. People were running. He saw a young woman, about his age. She was wearing only a thin shawl to keep her from the cold. She looked so sweet that Joseph took off his coat and offered to let her wear it home. She liked his face too, and within two years Joseph and Anna were married.
Joseph made his own tailor shop in the basement of their small apartment. He continued to wear his coat. He wore it, and he wore it and he wore it, until he had worn it out. What a sad day that was as he held his coat up, turning it round. He spoke to Anna in a sad voice, “This old coat, it has meant so much to me, it was my first dream come true, it made my father proud, it helped me to meet you, but now there is nothing left, nothing…”

But then he stopped, “Hee hee”, he laughed out loud, “There is something left, just enough…” and instead of throwing the coat in the rag bin, he took it to his workbench and he began to measure, and to cut and stitch. By morning, he had made a lovely jacket.

He loved that jacket. He wore it everywhere. Soon his wife gave birth to twin girls. When they were a year old he looked outside one night and saw the first snowflakes falling. “Come on girls,” he said, picking them up and tucking one into each side of his jacket and buttoning them in. “We will go taste the first snow flakes of winter.” The girls laughed in amazement as the big flakes melted on their noses and tongues. Joseph was so happy; he danced round and round holding his two darlings under his warm jacket.

Yes, he loved that jacket. He wore it for years. He wore it and wore it and wore it, until one day Anna remarked to him that it was all worn out. That was a sad day as he held the jacket up. “Old jacket, you've meant so much to me.  I'll never forget how I danced with the twins in the first snow. But there is nothing left, nothing….”

But again he stopped, “ Hee hee, what is this I see? There is just enough here, just enough.”  And instead of throwing the jacket into the rag bin, he went to his workbench and began to measure, and to cut, and to stitch. In the morning he had made a cap. It was a lovely cap with a small brim and a lining to keep his head warm in winter.

He loved that cap. He wore it everywhere. Time past and then his girls were thirteen years old. It had been a hard year. There was a famine in the land, the crops were poor, even the rich were not buying new clothes. The tailor's family had very little to eat, mostly potatoes, cabbage, or a carrot from Anna's garden, but never anything sweet.

One day they went into the forest at the edge of the town to collect firewood. All of a sudden Anna began shouting, “Berries, come see all of the berries!” The family stuffed their faces with berries, but there were still more. “If only we had something to carry them in, I would make a pie.” Anna said. What did they have to carry them in? Joseph's cap! The cap was filled to brimming with beautiful black berries. Their purple juice left a permanent stain, but the taste of a berry pie after so much hunger was worth it.

The years went by again and Joseph continued to wear his hat until one day, he looked at it, and he realized that it was all worn out. He held the cap, turning it round, “Old cap, you've meant so much to me, but now there really is nothing left, nothing, Hee hee,” he laughed. “There's enough here, just enough.”  Instead of throwing it away he went to his workbench and cut and stitched, until he had made a bow tie.

What a handsome bow tie it was. He wore it everywhere. He wore it to his daughter's weddings, and the births of his grandchildren. When his first grandson was old enough to speak he sat on Joseph's lap and played with his bow tie. “Grand Papa you have a butterfly on your shirt”, the boy cried. From then on every time he played with the grandchildren he would take off his bow tie and pretend that it was a butterfly.

One day when Joseph's hair had long been gray, he came home from the market and took off his coat. “Where is your bow tie?” Anna asked him, for he was never without it. He felt for it, but it was gone. “It must have fallen off.” As fast as his old legs would let him, he jumped up retraced his steps through the market place. He went back to every shop asking at each stall. Everyone knew of his bow tie, but no one had seen it. “I won't give up,” He told Anna. “I have to find it.” It was not until late in the night that Anna was finally able to guide old Joseph home, sad and weary. He got into bed without his supper.

The next day he refused to get up. “What's the use,” he said, “My bow tie, is gone. The cloth that I loved is gone, now there is nothing left. Nothing. I have been through so much with that cloth, I feel as if I have lost someone near and dear.”  Joseph did not hear it, but now it was his wife who laughed quietly. She put on her shawl and went to her daughter's homes. “Bring your children,” she said. They all came and plopped down on the bed. “Oh I can't play today,” said Joseph, “I am too sad, I have lost my bow tie, I have lost so many dear memories.”

“Tell us about the cloth dad,” said one of his daughters, “Your grandchildren do not know all of the stories.” “Oh, it is too sad.” He said. “Please Grand Papa,” The children begged. “Alright, I will” he said slowly. He told them about making the coat, and making his father proud. He told about putting the coat over the young woman in the market and meeting his wife. He told about dancing in the snow with his two young babies. He told about the cap full of berries. As he recalled all of these memories the tears fell slowly down his cheeks. He told about wearing the bowtie to his daughters' weddings and the births of his grandchildren. And his eldest grandchild chimed in, “You made your bow tie into a butterfly Grand Papa. Maybe it flew away.”

Old Joseph was quiet for a while. “Yes, it seems that my beloved bow tie did fly away, but you have helped me to see that the memories I have that are so dear to me did not. There were just enough memories left in this old noggin to make a story. And that story will never be lost if you will help me keep it.” Then Joseph the Tailor hugged his family close and got out of bed. His story was passed down through many generations.


I have told this story in a variety of settings as a way of exploring individual’s experience of loss and grief.

Using this story with people with dementia seemed to provide opportunities for individuals to reconnect with aspects of their lives that had been important to them, and have these personal stories witnessed by others.  In reconnecting with the object of our loss, perhaps we can redefine our relationship with it and allow it to live on.

I told this story in a session with an individual who has a learning difficulty and mental health problem.  The idea of death and loss at times seems to overwhelm him and his referral was based on exploring these issues.   As this story contains familiar and tangible objects, he was perhaps more able to relate to it.  He appeared to follow the process of the story, seeing the object reduce in size without losing its value and finally disappear.  He appeared to connect with Joseph’s despair and this in turn seemed to allow him to connect with and share emotions/pain around his own losses. 

I also took this story to a Dementia Care Home Managers’ Conference.  The number of delegates and the size of the space available meant that two sessions were run.  I repeated the same session with each group.  While there were many factors that will have influenced their responses, the dynamic and outcome of each group experience was significantly different.  The first group seemed to respond with lots of playful energy and humour – their shared stories appearing light and often funny.  The second group’s response seemed to connect with the pain of loss and the group supported those whose emotions seemed very raw.   For me this gave a snapshot of the many different ways we may respond to loss and grief and how ‘Just Enough’ can facilitate this journey.  

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