When the former Kno-Wal-Lin Hospice program (now part of MaineHealth Care at Home) came up with the idea to support the grieving family members of those who passed away at Kno-Wal-Lin through a gift program, Carolyn Gray, 94, felt compelled. The unique idea consisted of offering Memory Bears to the family members and friends of patients, that could be provided to support the grieving process.

A skilled seamstress with a history of work with a number of patterns, Carolyn stepped up to the plate. “The process takes roughly eight hours,” said Gray. “There is a particular pattern that we have all grown fond of, and I just love how they come out. When you see one you just want to hug it! When I finish a bear, I usually have it sitting across from me in a chair, and I usually don’t give it away right away. It needs to have a personality first! And he doesn’t get one until he gets his eyes, anyway…”

The sentimental quality of the bears comes not simply from the cuddly appearance or from the work to put them together, but from the fabric used in their making. Pieces of clothing selected by the family and friends of the deceased individual, often their favorite item or a fabric easily recognizable as their own, are sent from the family to Carolyn to work with. Some fabrics provide an additional challenge to Carolyn, but these differences are truly what make the bears special.

“All of the bears are special to those who receive them, and that is why I do it,” said Gray. “I like to sit and give each bear a bit of personality in my own mind, but to the family these are all one-of-a-kind, and that is the real purpose of these… The satisfaction is really just in knowing that it’s going to, hopefully, help someone through their grief.”

Gray, who joined the now disbanded Lincoln County Auxiliary as a founding member with a clear goal: to give back to the community around her. After falling in love with the state of Maine through time at summer camp as a child, as well as frequent trips to visit family, she developed a passion for the state and a soft spot for the Mainers who call it home. Since her retirement, she credits the work she does with her hands as a source of great gratification. Her experience putting in time as a volunteer has only reinforced her belief that these efforts are beneficial not only for the recipients of her handiwork, but for herself.

Gray is hoping that other volunteers will join her in making Memory Bears. To join her or to learn more about other volunteering opportunities available in the Midcoast region, contact Joy Chamberlin at jchamberli@mhcah.org or 542-4991.