She sits patiently in a white paper bag. Made from the fabric of a silky blouse, the stuffed bear, although inanimate, appears to be waiting in anticipation. Moments later, she’s lifted from the bag by the gentle hands of Dr. Eva Leonard.
Having lost her mother last year, Leonard decided to keep the spirit of her mother alive with a memory bear. The bear was sewn by volunteers as part of Sharp HospiceCare’s memory bear program. The program is open to Sharp HospiceCare patients and their families, as well as the community.
Launched in 2002, the program was the brainchild of former Sharp HospiceCare volunteer coordinator Camelia Gower and Pam Kay. The two belonged to the same quilting guild. Approximately 35 volunteers and more than 13,000 memory bears later, the program is still going strong.
“Every bear we sew is unique,” says Kay, who teaches the memory bear sewing class, a four-hour class for new memory bear volunteer sewers. “We’re turning these garments into these cuddly little things that you can hold close to your heart. It’s pretty great that we can give these to families who have lost someone.”
A bear is born
The life of a memory bear begins when a family visits Sharp HospiceCare to drop off garments belonging to a loved one who has passed. Given the popularity of the program, coupled with the care and love that goes into sewing each bear, it can take nearly five months to create one bear. When a bear is ready to go home, the family is notified to pick up the bear.
“It’s fun to be able to give your time, since people don’t necessarily have time to do direct patient care. And this is just a bonus for the families who have received care,” says Denise Kelly, Sharp HospiceCare volunteer coordinator.
Whether given as gifts to family and friends or finding a forever home with the requestor, the bears are sweet reminders of their loved one.
“The bears I requested will go to my two brothers, who live out-of-state, my mother’s adult grandchildren and me,” says Dr. Leonard. “My three children were very close to my mother — their grandmother — because she helped raise them while my husband and I worked full-time. I will apply her favorite perfume to the bears so that when we hug them, we are further reminded of her, not just by the blouses she wore, but also by her scent.”
Dr. Leonard’s eyes well up.
“My mother was a special lady, full of faith, grace and love,” she says. “Even though she lives in our hearts and minds, the opportunity of giving her a hug is now gone. These bears allow us to pretend that we can still physically hug her in memory of a beautiful and precious mother and grandmother.”