TRAVERSE CITY — Sue Frye and her siblings don’t need help to keep memories of their dad alive.
But the stuffed bears their mom had made for them from his familiar wool shirt and fishermans sweater always draw smiles.
“It’s a daily reminder,” said Frye, who now sews "Memory Bears" for Hospice of Michigan to help grieving families preserve the memory of someone they love and lost.
The 8-inch bears are created by volunteers in a patch-work style using cotton, wool, fleece or flannel from the clothing of a loved one.
“It could be Grandma’s nightgown or a gentleman’s fishing shirt,” said Kathryn Holl, grief support services manager for Hospice of Michigan’s Traverse City area, which is launching the program in the Grand Traverse region. “People are so appreciative that something meaningful was made for them that reminds them of their loved one.”
The program has been in place for several years in areas like Ludington and Alpena and is spreading across the state.
“The southeast just implemented this program last fall and the response from people wanting the bears was greater than the number of volunteers,” said Holl, who is seeking area seamstresses to volunteer with the Traverse City program. “Having something tangible is very comforting.”
State Street friends and neighbors Frye and Mauro-Doren make the bears for families of pediatric early care patients, from infants to teens. Much of their time is spent getting to know the patients through photos and obituaries, then planning how to piece together and personalize the bears from clothing as small as a toddler’s T-shirt or a baby blanket.
The fabric — unwashed so as to retain the scent of a loved one — is handled with almost reverential care and remnants are returned to the family.