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Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MEMORY BEAR WORKSHOPS

Journey Journal... Punta Gorda, Florida

BEARABLE LOSS:
STITCHING TOGETHER THE FABRIC OF LIFE

After someone dies, purging a closet of that person’s wardrobe is often a painfully gut-wrenching task… an albatross of grieving.  Clothing is linked to identity, conferring tantalizing evidence of embodied presence – no longer in the flesh, but at least in the mind.  People tend to retain such articles of apparel for lengthy periods of time, yearning to hang on rather than letting go.

Some funeral homes have acknowledged this tendency imbued with an implication of need by offering an opportunity to retain selected snippets of the decedent’s clothes, but in a different form.  The Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home is among those conducting memory bear workshops.  

Twice a year, individuals who have experienced recent losses are invited to attend a Saturday gathering, bringing remnants of their loved ones’ clothing to be transformed into stuffed teddy bears. They are joined by a cadre of volunteers who provide guidance and manage the cutting, sewing, and stuffing operations.  Prior to completion, a small heart with a brief notation is embedded inside the bear. 

Source:  Florida Weekly 

Bereaved participants’ hands-on involvement renders the final product all the more meaningful. The event transpires over the course of several hours, interrupted only by provision of morning snacks and a light lunch.  

By mid afternoon, people who arrived with swatches of fabric leave with their cuddly cloth buddies, enabling them to embrace their memories.  These portable items of poignant significance, though new to them in form, bespeak companionable familiarity.  



At the Waid Funeral Home in Merrill, Wisconsin, workshop participants often have chosen to apply details specifically tailored to the person who died.  Before they arrive with their materials, including bags of fiberfill and buttons for eyes and noses, probably some folks have already constructed images of the final products in their minds.  They may bring any decorative additions that will personalize their creations, such as eyeglasses, name tags coordinating with uniforms, a piece of jewelry, as well as other forms of ornamentation or identity accoutrements.   

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Volunteers are on hand with patterns amid a sea of sewing machines ready for action.  


Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham


Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

The room is alive with purposeful activity, facilitating interaction among individuals who have suffered losses along with the volunteers who want to help them heal.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

A collage of fabric pieces may comprise the body.

Source:  Facebook - Waid Funeral Home

Sometimes a photo is employed as a guide for the design or as a comrade in spirit.

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Multiple family members may bring multiple teddy bears into existence.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Outfits may feature an item of clothing over the tight “skin” of the animal’s body.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Initiation of the endeavor at this funeral home evolved after learning of family members who had used their grandfather’s work and hunting shirts to fashion these types of teddy bears.  As gifts for Christmas, all the grandchildren had been given their own, with a directive to wrap their arms around the bear whenever they felt a need for a hug.  

The Mattson Funeral Home in Forest Lake, Minnesota, is another facility that hosts biannual memory bear workshops.  


Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

The venture originated after the mother, grandmother, and aunt of the funeral home’s co-owner made more than twenty bears as gifts for children and grandchildren.  
Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

They were dubbed, “Heartley Bears,” to reflect the name of his grandfather, Hartley, whose favorite shirts from fishing trips and family outings were the basis for the sewn creations. 

Several hundreds of bears have been designed there since the project's inception in 2008. 




Source: Facebook - USA Today Video



Source (2): Facebook - Heartley Bears

One woman used a pair of her husband’s jeans because that was his usual garb.  She tucked in  wooden heart with a message of affection for her deceased husband.  

A mother and her three daughters attended a workshop in advance of their loved one’s imminent death.  For their bears that would become cherished mementos of their grandfather’s life, each child was allowed to select the item of clothing that would be used.  One of them, a five-year-old girl, chose her grandfather’s swim trunks.  

During the lifetime of an eighty-nine-year-old woman, she had five children who generated twenty-two grandchildren and forty-eight great-grandchildren.  Many of the females – her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters – gathered at a  workshop after her death.  Collectively, they applied a variety of personal touches to their bears.  One carried a hanky, and another had a mint in its hand… reminiscent of characteristic habits.  Since pearls had been the woman’s favorite jewelry, they were featured on another.  A granddaughter, who had at one time made a pink scarf as a gift, tied it around her bear’s neck.  

A loved one's devotion to a sport or a particular team inspires some stylistic variations.  

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

A single aspect of one's life history may dictate the style.

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

The bear construction initiative at the Mattson facility has garnered widespread interest and substantial participation.  A Facebook page specific to it relates details of the ongoing projects, along with acknowledgements of appreciation for their army of volunteers.  
Multiple photos illustrate uniquely created figures.  

Source:  funeralfund.blogspot.com


Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears


Source:  funeralfund.blogspot.com

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears


Pictures of the finished products tell only part of the story.  A peripheral yet pivotal aspect of this activity is the sense of connection and camaraderie that is woven throughout the experience. While engaged in this purposeful mission, individuals readily relate to one another through supportive gestures.  Whether in the role of a volunteer or as someone touched recently by the sorrow of death, participants have a chance to share their sentiments and stitch strong personal threads, thereby interfacing these folks together in a tie that binds. 

Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

The popularity of memory bear projects for grieving individuals suggests that a need is being met through this type of workshop that has been established for them.  It reinforces a realization that ordinary materials readily overlooked during life can become treasures of conscious associations after a dear one has died.  
Source: Facebook - USA Today Video


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