In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 28, 2016

Hospice Program Helps Grieving Families Create Memory Bears in Honor of Loved Ones

By In the Loop

The Mayo Clinic Health System Hospice program helped Jody Jensen and her father, Dennis, make a teddy bear at a “memory bear” workshop. Jody Jensen has many wonderful memories of her mother, Mary. One of her favorites is from a surprise 40th anniversary party for Mary and her husband, Dennis, held on “a beautiful fall day with the corn in the field” almost ready for harvest. There was “a hayride and bonfire with s’mores,” remembers Jody. “It was the best party we ever threw.” Mary must have thought so, too. In a photo taken that day “she has a big smile” and “looks genuinely happy.” And that’s just how Jody likes to remember her mother, who passed away in October 2015. “I’ve never known anyone like her,” Jody tells us. “She always made anyone who came through her door feel like family. She spent her life giving to others. She was just so good.”

Now Jody has another way to remember her mother: a one-of-a-kind teddy bear created with fabric from some of Mary’s clothing, including the shirt she wore to that anniversary party. Volunteers from the Mayo Clinic Health System Hospice program in Mankato, Minnesota, helped Jody and Dennis make the teddy bear at a “memory bear” workshop in May. The event gave the Jensens and other grieving families a chance to “come together and talk about their loved one with volunteers and create something that's really special,” Jeanne Petroske-Atkinson, bereavement coordinator for the hospice program at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, told KEYC-TV.

Mary and Dennis Jensen on their 40th anniversary. Jody has nothing but praise for the event. She and her father enjoyed sharing stories with the volunteers and other participants. They talked about “where the pieces of fabric or clothing came from and the stories behind them,” Jody tells us. The shirt she and her father chose for the body of the bear they created was one Mary “wore quite a bit.” Embellishments were fashioned from other items in Mary’s wardrobe. A piece of lace from one of her nightgowns became a bow around the bear’s neck; a small metal heart from a sweatshirt was sewn onto the bear’s chest. The result is a keepsake “that will be cherished for a lifetime,” Jody says of the bear that now sits in her mother’s favorite chair.

Petroske-Atkinson, whose own experience with a memory bear served as inspiration for the event, tells us the hospice program in Mankato plans to offer the workshop at least once a year. Jody was glad to hear that, and says she’s been recommending the experience to everyone from friends to “the mailman” and “anyone I can get to listen!” She’s especially vocal in her praise of the volunteers who helped families create the bears. They “gave up their time” to make people “who are grieving feel just a little bit better,” Jody notes, adding that the volunteers “were kind, compassionate, helpful, and they made us all feel like family. They truly are angels on earth!” (Sounds to us like Mary would have fit right in.)

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Tags: Jeanne Petroske-Atkinson, Mayo Clinic Hospice Program, Patient Stories

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