Stuffed bears made of loved ones' clothing preserve memories, help owners deal with grief
Seamstress Tynsy Foster helps mend grieving hearts with the cuddly keepsakes she creates in her clothing alteration shop in Grove, Okla. (pop. 5,131).
“About six years ago, a customer asked me to make a teddy bear out of clothing that belonged to her late husband,” says Foster, 58, who since has created more than 1,000 Healing Memory Bears. “Other customers saw the results and the idea took off.”
Foster uses her imagination—and a variety of materials—to create the stuffed bears, which become cherished and huggable mementoes of deceased loved ones.
Foster and her husband, Ron, make the bears for $20 each from almost any clothing material, including suit shirts, sweatshirts, T-shirts, leather coats, denim, rabbit fur, flannel gowns and robes. “The only material I can’t really work with is sweater material,” Foster says.
Shank button eyes, felt noses and color-coordinated neck bows give each bear a distinct personality, and Foster’s love is evident in the special attention she gives each project.
Sibyl Gines, of Salina, Utah, sent an unfinished baby quilt to Foster with the following message: “This was to have been a blanket for a great-grandchild that never came home from the hospital. Can you make a bear, please?”
When Gines received her bear in the mail, it included a small quilt from the leftover fabric. Embroidered on the quilt was the baby’s name, birth date and date of death. Gines surprised her daughter with the bear while the miniature quilt was given to her granddaughter—the baby’s mother.
“She could have just thrown that odd scrap away and not done anything with it, but she made a nice little quilt so both of them were able to have something to remember Nicole. It meant a lot to us,” Gines says.
Foster’s handmade bears have comforted customers from across the nation.
When Barbara Compton, of Bella Vista, Ark., lost her second husband to lung cancer in 2003, she asked Foster to make two bears as keepsakes of the love of her life. “I sent Foster two of my late husband’s shirts and had one bear made for myself and one for his 40-year-old daughter,” Compton says.
Soon after she lost her husband, Compton’s mother died. Wanting another bear memento, she sent her mother’s mink stole to Foster.
“I knew that if I had it made into a bear it would not be hidden in the closet,” Compton says. “I see that bear everyday now and it is a sweet reminder of my mother. My husband’s bear sits in the corner of my bedroom so I see it everyday too. They are very special.”
“It gives me a sense of peace to know I can be a part of their healing,” Foster says. “If you need to cry, you can hug the bear, and talk to it and have a little piece of that loved one with you.”
Foster’s gift of love has been returned tenfold. A scrapbook filled with customers’ letters attests to the healing power of her cuddly creations. “It is overwhelming to know we can be a part of their healing,” Foster says.
Before Foster packs a bear for shipping or before an owner comes to claim his animal friend, a special card is attached. It reads, “I’m only a bear. I’m made of clothes from someone so dear who from loving memory will always be here. So when you hug me up close to you . . . just remember that I loved you too.”
Call (918) 786-8804 for more information about Healing Memory Bears.