The grieving process is different for all people, but a universal problem is what to do with the deceased’s belongings. Sometimes they’re immediately packed up and sent away but, more often than not, they’re left in place or tucked away in a closet or box. Many people have difficulty letting go of or even handling personal belongings when a loved one passes away. They find it simply too painful to bring up those memories.

To help them get through this difficult time, a memory bear and pillow workshop was held at the Lincoln Senior Center on Tuesday. Those who attended were able to make either a stuffed bear or a pillow, or both, from an article of clothing previously worn by a loved one.

“This is very therapeutic,” said Susan Bowling, a grief counselor with Hospice Cleveland County as she helped sew a stuffed bear. “They’re holding and using the fabric and having memories of their loved ones. When they take it home, they have an item that’s not stuck in a closet somewhere that they never see. It’s out and being used.”

At the workshop, Lou Burgess was busily working on a bear from a blue pillowcase that was her daughter Susan’s favorite pillowcase when she was alive. Susan passed away suddenly in December.

“A lot of people knew Susie, she did a lot of volunteer work in the area,” Burgess said. “She was 36 years old and couldn’t sleep without this pillowcase. I guess it was well-worn and felt the best. You never know when to start the cleaning out process. You do it at your own pace. I started but there were things that I didn’t know what to do with like this pillowcase. I didn’t want to part with it. This was a way to repurpose it into something that’s special.”

This is the first time that Burgess has taken part in grief counseling since her daughter passed away. She said that she enjoys doing crafts and it gave her purpose as well as the opportunity to heal. The next item of clothing that she planned on making something out of was a shirt that her daughter wore while she was volunteering at Atrium Health-Lincoln.

Utilizing her mother’s favorite blouse, Betty Patterson made three memory bears. It’s been almost two years since her mother passed away, but Patterson held on to several items of her clothing.

“When I found out about this class, I knew I had to do it,” she said. “The best thing about it is I got three bears out of a shirt that she loved. Now I have something that I can hold for the rest of my life and remind me of her. I hate that I didn’t get in contact with more of my family to come and share in this. It’s been very healing.”

Even though her grandmother passed away when she was five, Megan Green had held on to a dress that she remembered her grandmother wearing. 

“I’m making a very big pillow,” she said. “My grandpa had a lot of clothes of hers in his house that we just went through last year. We had some stuff when she stayed with us during her last days that we never went through. It was out of sight, out of mind. She wore this dress a lot and it meant a lot to her.”

Patterns were provided and participants were able to be a creative as they wanted in decorating their bears or pillows. If they wanted to, a patch reading, “This a shirt that I used to wear, whenever you hold it, know that I’m there,” could be sewn on the final creation. 

The Senior Center plans to have another one of these workshops in the fall.

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