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Heartland Hospice's Memory Bear Program

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, Heartland Hospice serving Suburban Philadelphia – West would like to thank all of the seamstress volunteers who are a part of their Memory Bear Program. Currently, six seamstress volunteers devote their time and talent to provide Memory Bears to grieving family members.

Memory bears are made from the clothing of a patient who has passed. Gillian Dorn, Memory Bear seamstress since 2011 explained, “Because the materials used for the bears are clothing items the loved one actually wore, they become the personality of the bear. Making each bear is a chance to visualize and know the loved one. I talk to the bear as it is being assembled and take pride at the finished result.  For me, I enjoy making Memory Bears because I have seen the joy they bring to the families. When they see Mom’s favorite dress in the form of a little bear they can hold and nestle, it brings a softness to their heart and a smile to their face.”

To begin the project, Debra Toole, CVA, CDP, Heartland Volunteer Coordinator, interviews the family to learn facts and special interests about their loved one such as sports teams, hobbies, employment, gardening, etc. This information is shared with the seamstresses to help them to individualize the bear to the loved one it represents. Each bear is hand tailored from material items such as shirts, pants, sweat clothes, dresses, sweaters, hats, blankets, and more. It takes two to three months for the bears to be created by the seamstress volunteers. Heartland’s Volunteer Department offers this program as a part of the bereavement process.

“It really has become an honor for me to make Memory Bears as it truly comes from my heart,” said Julee Schwieger, Memory Bear seamstress since 2013. “As I’m making them, they start to take shape and almost come to life in a way that I’ve actually created this character of remembrance. It lets me realize that once my work is done, it’s bringing joy to loved ones that will remain priceless.”

Heartland holds a special ceremonial program where they present the bear to family members. This gathering provides grieving families an opportunity to share the story of their loved one. Gillian said, “It’s wonderful to see the faces of the families as they arrive at the Memory Bear presentations. They see all the varied bears displayed around the room and they look for that one familiar one. When they see their bears close up, their faces light up with fond memories. It’s very gratifying; I’ve helped somebody by just sewing up a bear!”

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