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Memory Bears Offer Loved Ones Something to Hold

San Diego, Calif., - Susan House cherishes the memories of her mother, Jo Toone, in a beautiful blue pleated dress she wore on very special occasions. The Poway, Calif., resident smiles when she remembers the way Jo lit up a room and made her family feel special and loved.

After Jo’s passing two years ago, House was faced with the painful task of sorting through her mother’s clothes. When she came across the blue dress and other treasured items of clothing, she realized she couldn’t part with them.

“So many memories of my mom are wrapped up in that dress and a pretty purple shirt,” House recalls. “I just couldn’t give them away.”

Then House’s husband Lawrence reminded her of Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care of San Diego’s Memory Bears program, which gives surviving loved ones something to hold onto when they need it the most.

Begun in 2010, the Memory Bears program offers three handmade teddy bears, lovingly sewn by Seasons volunteers, to the surviving family of Seasons Hospice of San Diego clients.

“I was only going to ask for one bear, but my husband convinced me to get three, and he was right,” she adds.

House chose the blue dress and a purple shirt for her bears.

“The call that the bears were ready… and would be delivered came just minutes after our realtor had called and said the sale of Mom’s house was final,” she recalls. “It was a bittersweet moment to know that I had just sold our childhood home. Then came the call about the bears… and the delivery of such a treasure. It was like Mom and Dad were smiling down on me.”

House keeps her treasured memory bear on a shelf in her den.

“It’s very comforting to me,” she adds. “I like to see it whenever I’m in the room. I’m so appreciative to Seasons for creating this program and these beautiful bears for our family.”

House had the opportunity to personally thank the volunteer seamstress who created her bears when she attended a special tea hosted by Seasons Hospice last spring, A Bear Affair to Remember.

“It was an opportunity to tell her how I felt,” she said. “I felt completed. It brought closure in a way that was very pleasant.”

Seasons Hospice Foundation funds all the supplies and delivery costs of the program.

Memory Bears program founder Ryana Goldberger, director of Supportive Care for Seasons Hospice of San Diego, says the bears receive glowing reviews from both grateful recipients and the program’s talented volunteers.

Eight enthusiastic seamstresses, ranging in age from 40 to 80, sew tirelessly throughout the year, crafting a tangible memory for which recipients are forever thankful. On average, each bear takes about six hours to create.

More than 250 have been delivered since the program started.

“Every bear has its own personality,” Goldberger explains. “Each is about 12 inches tall and is created using a revised version of a Simplicity® pattern, but they’re all unique based on the clothing and what our clients tell us about their loved ones.”

Seasons Hospice volunteer seamstress Cynthia Harrison, who has sewn more than 140 memory bears herself, says a help-wanted flyer caught her attention in 2011.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that would be fun,’ and I emailed Ryana that afternoon,” Harrison said. “The Seasons Hospice Memory Bears have become a serious hobby, forsaking all others. Each time Ryana brings a new batch, it’s like Christmas. I never know what kind of clothing families will send. Of course, there are pajamas and robes, but there are well-loved jeans and tee-shirts with writing on them that are significant to the families.”

Harrison lovingly sews each memory bear using a Singer Featherweight® sewing machine that her mom purchased in 1948! At a Memory Bears tea event earlier this year, she was reunited with a bear that showed signs of being very well-loved.

“This bear had been through the mill. But the family explained that the toddler who had been so close to his grandmother had recognized the fabric of the bear as being his grandmother’s and immediately embraced it,” she explained.

The Memory Bears program is available to surviving loved ones of Seasons Hospice of San Diego clients.

For more information about the San Diego program, call Ryana Goldberger, director of Supportive Care, at 858-592-2000.