The hand sewn and lovingly constructed Memorial Bears of Our Lady of Peace (OLP) are bringing comfort to moms, dads, spouses, sisters, brothers, granddaughters, and grandson’s. Using articles of clothing belonging to a loved one who passed away, a team of talented and benevolent sewers cut and stitch fabrics together and stuff them to form a teddy bear. Placed in the arms of those left behind, the bear become a visual and physical memory to hold, hug and feel the presence of the person who is no longer physically present.
The Memorial Bear Program began as a workshop with two sewers who worked together with individuals and families to build a bear at Our Lady of Peace. Through the process, the stories behind the fabrics became the conversation, along with experiences and the sharing of feelings of grief and loss. A creative OLP social worker, Amy Koehler-Killeen, MSW, LICSW, was asked to oversee the program. “Instead of donating clothing to a charity they go into the bear,” she says. “Every bear is as unique as the person who died, and grief support is woven into the fabrics. The bears are brought to life in the way they are constructed. I don’t sew, but I know how meaningful homemade things are.”
In 2020 when Covid hit, workshops were put on hold, but not the bears. More than half of our sewing volunteers met with families in person to collect materials, often in parking lots and wearing gloves. Over 80 bears were constructed during the pandemic with each volunteer averaging three bears a month. As a result, 43 families received bears. Amy says she hopes to go back to in person workshops someday, but until then, they will continue, virtually.
“Using our skills to help a grieving family is rewarding for me and our volunteers,” says Amy. “We see a lot of tears of gratitude, and I think we all agree that we get back much more than we give. I love this program.”
The Memorial Bear Program is open to all. We welcome you to receive a bear that brings you comfort during a time of grief and loss, and beyond. If you’re interested in a Memorial Bear, contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-703-7554.
Stay tuned to the blog this month for two Memorial Bear volunteer stories.