a Memory to have & to hold

February 1, 2008 | By More

Story by Dianne Edwards

Abby and Lexy Ballew-Huber cling to their memory bears, pieces of a garments once belonging to their mother, Danielle Ballew. The bears were made for the girls by volunteers from the Arkansas Department of Health Hospice’s newly-created Memory Bear program.

The Memory Bear program was started recently as a way to aid family members who have experienced the loss of a loved one. The “Memory Bear idea” was cultivated locally following a teleconference discussing ways the program was used in other areas. The bears are made from an article of clothing – such as a favorite shirt, robe or blouse — as a special reminder of a loved one for the surviving member or members.

“The Memory Bears are a special comfort and blessing Hospice program volunteers can share to help the bereaved through a difficult time,” said Holly Tencleve, RN, BSN Hospice Specialist.

Marian Henderson, patient coordinator for the local office of Health Hospice, was herself a recipient of a Memory Bear following the loss of her father, Bill Johnson.

“My Dad had everything he wanted and it was very hard to find him that ‘special something’ for a present,” Marian said recently. “On a trip to Florida, I had found a shirt that he loved to wear. He always made sure to point out that he had ‘my shirt’ on.

“When he died, after being in Hospice, my mother gave me that shirt and I had the Hospice volunteers make a Memory Bear out of it. When they brought it to me, I cried. What a special gift of remembrance I now have in the form of a precious bear. I will always treasure it,” she added.

Volunteer Ruth Schuster has sewn 10 Memory Bears so far. Using the Simplicity pattern supplied to her, she fashions each bear from the garment provided. Though it takes her between 6 1⁄2 to 10 1⁄2 hours to make each bear, the first one “took two weeks just to cut the fabric,” she confessed. “I knew how precious it was and I was so afraid that I was going to mess it up.” Her gifts are precious.

The garment to be used is laundered by the individual before bringing it to the volunteers. One recipient told Ruth that her bear bore the “work-shop smell” that reminded her of her father, though Ruth said she did not notice the fragrance. Another told of the bear, made in memory of her son, was fashioned out of a shirt bought by the son for his father.

“Holding the bear brings back some great memories. The good times are what you remember,” added another.

Marian expects that the request for other Memory Bears will increase as the program continues, so the only problem now lies with “custody issues,” she laughed. Others agreed. With such a precious gift, it’s only natural that other family members will want them, as well. So volunteers are being sought to help sew other Memory Bears. Those interested in offering their time and talents to create the Memory Bears undergo a short training session so that they understand the mission of the Hospice Health program.

The program offers end-of-life care to qualifying patients with life- limiting illnesses by a committed staff of nurses, social workers, chaplains, nurses, aides and volunteers. Care is provided in the home, nursing facilities and local hospitals as needed. The Arkansas Department of Health Hospice celebrated its 15th year anniversary in 2007 and is the longest operating Hospice in the River Valley.

To volunteer to assist with creating Memory Bears or to serve in other aspects of the Health Hospice program, call (479) 968-4177, ext. 141, or visit the Arkansas Department of Health Hospice, NW Regional Office, 404 North El Paso, Russellville.  

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