Loved ones of former VITAS patients express how much their Memory Bears mean to them.
VITAS Healthcare in Chicago hosted its quarterly memorial service supper for grieving families of VITAS patients in March 2016, where approximately 50 families, along with VITAS volunteers and staff, gathered to enjoy an evening of dinner, laughter and reminiscence, followed by a special ceremony for families who were gifted a hand-sewn “Memory Bear.”
Memory Bears: Crafted from a Loved One's Clothing
Memory Bears are created by VITAS volunteers from clothing provided by the family of a deceased patient. Using a patient's favorite shirt, sweater or other valued article of clothing, volunteers sew together an 11 inch by 8 inch stuffed bear to provide family members and friends with a visible, happy memory of their loved one.
Joanna Voorhees, VITAS volunteer services manager, said the Memory Bears are a wonderful way to help families through the grieving process. "Our volunteers have dedicated hundreds of hours to sewing the bears. In fact, the Chicagoland South team produced 840 bears last year alone and nationwide VITAS produced more than 7,400 bears."
According to Cherie Guzman, whose loved one was on VITAS' care, "without the awesome VITAS staff and my Memory Bear, my journey down the road of grief would have been bumpier. They have made this rough road much easier to travel."
For children and adults who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, a VITAS Memory Bear can offer a sense of security and a soft, comforting remembrance during a time of grieving. They are often considered a "forever friend" who can ease a hurting heart after the loss of a VITAS patient. VITAS created this program in 2005 as part of the company's bereavement program and since then its volunteers have sewn more than 46,600 bears across the nation. In Chicagoland South, VITAS currently has 15 volunteer sewers, including a Memory Bear Sewing Club that meets each month to assemble the bears.
“We are grateful to be able to offer Memory Bears to the families of our patients,” said VITAS Bereavement Services Manager Ron Walker, M. Div. “I always hear positive feedback from our families who are very appreciative to have these special keepsakes as a reminder of their loved one.”
VITAS recognizes the importance of its bereavement program and the role that its volunteers play in each patient's care plan. Volunteers are as diverse as the patients they serve, representing all ages, ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles, and ranging from students to retirees. Some volunteers are moving through their own grief processes after having lost loved ones. Some are military veterans who now support other veterans facing the end of life. VITAS even has musical and artist volunteers who use their talents to soothe patients. The experience is highly beneficial and rewarding for everyone involved, especially to the volunteers, who usually decide to stay on for years after experiencing the rewarding feeling of giving back and seeing the positive impacts of their work.
Photos from the Event
On Thursday, March 17, 2016, VITAS Healthcare hosted its quarterly memorial service supper for grieving families. Dr. Leeroy Coleman, part-time VITAS chaplain, pastor and author of "Reasons to Hope," gave opening remarks and offered blessings.
VITAS volunteer sewers on Thursday, March 17, 2016, at VITAS’ memorial service supper, where grieving families were gifted with hand-sewn Memory Bears.
From left to right, VITAS Volunteers Karla Deas, Rebekah Carter, Sharon Pool, Pat Krolik, Janet Lawless, Jan Strojny, Joyce Pechinski and Elisabeth Puga.
Pictured are precious "Memory Bears," created by VITAS volunteers with love from clothing provided by the family of a deceased patient. Memory Bears provide a sense of security and a soft, comforting remembrance to families and friends during a time of grieving.
On Thursday, March 17, 2016, VITAS Healthcare honored its volunteers and gifted patient-families with hand-sewn Memory Bears. Pictured are VITAS volunteer sewers and VITAS families. Back row from left to right: Karla Deas, Rebekah Carter, Pat Krolik, Corey Richards, Jan Strojny, Joyce Pechinski and Elisabeth Puga. Front row from left to right: Brianna Richards, Jolene Richards, Sharon Pool, Jordan Richards and Janet Lawless.
VITAS volunteer sewers on Thursday, March 17, 2016, stand tall and proud with VITAS patient-family member James O’Donnell and his most cherished Memory Bear, sewn with love by VITAS volunteers.
VITAS patient-family member Judith Blakesley hugs the hand-sewn Memory Bear gifted to her by VITAS volunteer sewers on Thursday, March 17, 2016.