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New Florence resident's memory bears bring comfort to bereaved families

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
A collection of bears made by Nancy Caldwell of New Florence will provide comfort for a grieving family.
A collection of bears made by Nancy Caldwell of New Florence will provide comfort for a grieving family.

More than 600 memory bears — teddy bears created using an article of clothing from a deceased loved one — have been made by a New Florence resident who volunteers at local hospice centers.

“It means a lot to the family,” said Nancy Caldwell, “To look at (the bear) and remember that their loved one wore that article of clothing; it's a nice memory for them.”

Caldwell has been volunteering her time and skills for three years at Medi Home Hospice in Johnstown and, more recently, at Heartland Hospice in Penn Township.

“It's a wonderful gift that she has,” said Cheryl Giesey of Ligonier a bereavement coordinator at Hartland Hospice. “These memory bears provide so much comfort to the bereaved, whether young or old — when they're getting rid of so many things that belonged to their loved one, it's nice for them to have this treasure to hold on to.”

Caldwell first began sewing bears as baby gifts but when a friend asked her to create one in honor of her mother, she realized she could offer her services by helping those who had lost a loved one to hurt a little less.

“It's very humbling,” Caldwell said. “When I first cut into the material, I think about what it means to someone and it makes me teary eyed. It really makes me think about that person.”

Typically one article of clothing, usually a shirt, is used for each bear, but Caldwell will also incorporate extra details into the bears, such as a different material for the inside of the ears and the bottoms of the feet. Caldwell said that buttons from a shirt also make a nice addition to the bears.

“Nancy is so talented and does such a beautiful job,” said Paula DeLuise, Heartland Hospital volunteer services manager. “And she completes them so quickly. She told me, ‘I don't want the families to have to wait.' The benefits of this program are a tangible reminder of their loved one. It's so meaningful — they remember their loved one wearing that shirt.”

Caldwell has completed up to 17 bears for a single family at a time but generally does between five and eight bears for each family.

Caldwell said she has received thank you notes from some of the families, which she said meant a lot to her.

Her hope for the future is for others to lend a hand at our local hospice organizations.

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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