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Memory Bears help Midcoast families who’ve recently lost a loved one

Each homemade bear has fabric made from the clothes of a hospice patient whose recently passed on
Teddy bears provide comfort for those who’ve lost loved ones
Teddy bears provide comfort for those who’ve lost loved ones
Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 10:52 PM EDT
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ROCKPORT, Maine (WABI) - Most of us had a favorite teddy bear growing up.

Now these stuffed animals are providing comfort to those whose loved ones have passed on.

Joy Hollowell tells us about the Memory Bear Program.

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At first glance, you may not think these teddy bears would be part of a grieving process. the bright colors, whimsical features, and huggable stuffing make it anything but sad.

And that’s exactly what Carolyn Gray is going for.

“I think it takes me longer to figure out how to make the bear than it does to make the bear,” says Gray, chuckling.

Gray is the creator of these Memory Bears. They’re given out to families of recently passed hospice patients. Each bear contains clothing items from the loved one who’s passed on.

“So it could be blue jeans, shirts, dresses, just about anything,” Gray explains.

The Memory Bear Program started 11 years ago as a way to help Midcoast families struggling after a death.

“It’s really far from a stuffed animal,” says Heidi McCaffery, Vice President of Hospice for MaineHealth Care at Home. “It’s something you can hold and hug, you can remember the person. Sometimes when you look at the clothing, you can even get a smell of what the person felt like.”

McCaffery recalls one hospice patient who loved to wear Hawaiian shirts. When he passed, Gray made a Memory Bear dressed in brightly colored tropical shirt. “I was delivering it and I made sure it had its seatbelt on and that it arrived safely,” says McCaffery. “It’s is just such a unique, huge gift to families.”

In some instances, the families give gray suggestions about what the person was like.

“I always look for a little logo if there is one, like on a shirt, and see how I can incorporate that into the bear,” says Gray. One of her bears wore a white lab coat in honor of a former hospital worker. Another featured their favorite college, complete with the school logo.

"For a lot of people, it means they’re remembered, adds McCaffery. “They’re still a part of it. It’s not that they’ve faded away, they’re right here with me.”

Gray, who turned 94 years old in August, grew up during the depression.

“Everybody used everything back then,” says Gray. “I have a quilt that my mother made of my grandmother’s clothing, and it means so much to me. And when my husband died, we made pillows out of his shirts.”

“Having something to hug and love when they are having a hard time, there’s nothing else like it,” says McCaffery.

In case you’re wondering, no, Gray doesn’t name the bears.

“Because they’re special for somebody else,” explains Gray. “Even though I’d love to keep them all. But I do love to hug them, and I give them lots of love before I send them off, and say - it’s time for you to go home.”

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Gray is hoping other volunteers will join her in making Memory Bears.

For more information, contact Joy Chamberlin at 542-4991 or email jchamberlin@mhcah.org.

Copyright 2020 WABI. All rights reserved.

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