Memory Bear Project

A Memory Bear is a teddy bear that VITAS volunteers sew using either a piece of clothing from a loved one who has died or by using cloth material the volunteer has available. At VITAS, the volunteer manager recruits interested sewers and the team (usually the social worker or chaplain) explains the project to families they think might benefit. The bears are sewn using Simplicity pattern #5461. There is a website that sells buttons in bulk.

Here are some suggested guidelines to use when choosing which patients and families might most benefit from this project.

  • The team may want to choose who will discuss the project with patients and/or family members. The team could discuss which families they think might benefit from a bear. If discussed in advance of the death, it should generally be with a family that is open about the pending death of their loved one.
    • Consider a child or grandchild in the family
    • Consider someone who has potential to feel lonely after the death.
    • Consider someone who would be “open” to having a teddy bear.
    • Consider a family member with memory impairment who might respond to a teddy bear or the visual cue of their loved ones clothes.
  • It is important that team members use sensitivity and knowledge about each individual patient and family before deciding who and when to tell about the memory bear project, as this project may not be appropriate for everyone. Options for discussing the project include:
    • Telling the family before the death about the project and allowing them to either wait until after the death or if they would rather, the bear could be completed before the death.
    • Telling the patient about the project and offering it as a gift to their loved one.
    • Telling a family member about the project after the death, during a bereavement contact.
  • Some family members will want the bear made from an article of clothing of their loved ones. Others might prefer volunteers sew the bear using other cloth material. The teams should consider using these guidelines when discussing the Memory Bears with the family.
  • Make sure you give the family an estimate of when they should receive the bear and let them know who will deliver it. Communicate this information and any other specific needs to the volunteer manager. When the bear is delivered to the family members, it is important that time is spent allowing the family to share their emotions and thoughts about the bear and about their loved one.

HFA thanks Robin Fiorelli and Lorraine Hedtke of VITAS Innovative Hospice Care for sharing this information.