To the casual observer, they may seem nothing more than a crafty take on classic stuffed toy. Clearly homemade and adorable, their true significance is known only to the families that cherish them. Each little homemade teddy is a symbol of a life lived. Indeed each has as its essence - the very fabric from which it is made - the clothes of someone who is sorely missed by a family, a hospice patient whose final journey has come to an end.
These bears are lovingly crafted by Carolyn Gray, 94, who joined the now disbanded Lincoln County Auxiliary as a founding member with a clear goal: to give back to the community around her. After falling in love with the state of Maine through time at summer camp as a child, as well as frequent trips to visit family, she developed a passion for the state and a soft spot for the Mainers who call it home.
When the former Kno-Wal-Lin Hospice program (now part of MaineHealth Care at Home) came up with the idea to support the grieving family members of those who passed away in the program through a gift program, Carolyn felt compelled. The unique idea consisted of offering “Memory Bears” to the family members and friends of patients that could be provided to support the grieving process. A skilled seamstress with a history of work with a number of patterns, Carolyn stepped up to the plate.
“The process takes roughly 8 hours. There is a particular pattern that we have all grown fond of, and I just love how they come out. When you see one you just want to hug it! When I finish a bear, I usually have it sitting across from me in a chair, and I usually don’t give it away right away. It needs to have a personality first! And he doesn’t get one until he gets his eyes, anyway…”
The sentimental quality of the bears comes not simply from the cuddly appearance or from the work to put them together, but from the fabric used in their making. Pieces of clothing selected by the family and friends of the deceased individual, often their favorite item or a fabric easily recognizable as their own, are sent from the family to Carolyn to work with. Some fabrics provide an additional challenge to Carolyn, but these differences are truly what make the bears “special”.
“All of the bears are special to those who receive them, and that is why I do it. I like to sit and give each bear a bit of personality in my own mind, but to the family these are all one-of-a-kind, and that is the real purpose of these… The satisfaction is really just in knowing that it’s going to, hopefully, help someone through their grief.”
Since her retirement, Carolyn credits the work she does with her hands as a source of great gratification. Her experience putting in time as a volunteer has only reinforced her belief that these efforts are beneficial not only for the recipients of her handiwork, but for herself.
“When you’re doing something like this, you don’t need to have a lot of feedback. You don’t need people to be constantly thanking you. This is something you just ‘do’ because it’s important and, let’s face it, it makes you feel good also. You can’t help but feel good.”
MaineHealth Care at Home received over 5,500 hours of volunteer support last year through a number of programs, including the memory bear program, Homeward Bound Hospice Choir, Tree of Warmth program, and others. At the Sussman House, a hospice house located on the campus of Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, volunteers staff the front desk 12 hours a day, seven days a week, baking for families and maintaining the gardens.
Carolyn is hoping that other volunteers will join her in making Memory Bears. To join Carolyn or to learn more about other volunteering opportunities available in the Midcoast region, please reach out to Joy Chamberlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 542-4991.
About MaineHealth Care at Home
Head-quartered in Saco, Maine, MaineHealth Care at Home offers a full range of skilled home health services to children and adults, including nursing care, nutritional counseling, emotional support, palliative care, rehabilitative therapies, and tele-health and hospice. It also offers a full range of community health and wellness programs throughout its service area, which includes York, Cumberland, Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Sagadahoc and southern Oxford counties.
MaineHealth Care at Home also offers hospice services throughout Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties with short-term hospice care and respite services at the Sussman House, a hospice facility located in Rockport, Maine.