- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Patty Bidlake doesn’t quite remember if this teddy bear was adorned in a grandpa’s favorite shirt or a mom’s favorite sweater. That didn’t matter. The letter from two little girls, written in colored marker, confirmed that Bidlake had once again accomplished her mission.

“Thank you for making the bear. It reminds us of her. Thank you so, so, so, so much,” one letter read.

Bidlake loves those letters. She keeps them next to her sewing machine.

“It touches my heart,” Bidlake said recently from the sewing room of her Ogden home. At her feet sat a neat row of finished Memory Bears. Next to that, a stack of clothes waiting a transformation.

For three years Bidlake has given the families of those who’ve died at Lower Cape Fear Hospice a special gift - a teddy bear made from the clothing of their loved ones. Bidlake said families tell her the bears bring them comfort. They are something tangible to hold onto as the grieving wade through their loss.

Most of the recipients have the same reaction when receiving their bears, Bidlake said. They grab, hug it and inhale the scent. Sometimes they cry, and sometimes Bidlake, a retired nurse, cries, too.

Bidlake’s journey to bear making came from the loss of her own mother in 2007 and the promise of a bear that never arrived.

“My mom died in hospice in Ohio and there was a woman there who was supposed to make bears so I left my mom’s clothes,” she said. “Then I never heard another thing.”

A couple of years later, Bidlake remembered the sewing class she took when her children were little so she could sew costumes for school plays. Although she hadn’t sewn in years, she said, she figured it couldn’t be too hard. She bought a pattern and gave it a whirl. She gave it a couple whirls. When she felt the bears were good enough, she called around to area hospices and offered her services. Several turned her down before she found Lower Cape Fear Hospice.

“What (Patty) gives those of us who receive these bears is such a precious, inestimable comfort,” said bear recipient Susie Parker.

Atop a desk in Parker’s Wilmington home sits two of Bidlake’s bears made from Parker’s father’s plaid shirt and her mother’s blouse. Parker lost both parents within nine days of one another in January.

“I can look at those bears and almost feel my parents. My dad smoked a pipe so his bear smells a little bit like pipe smoke,” Parker said, the tone of her voice affected by her smile. “I have them sitting together and they’re smiling at me.”

It’s a comforting chore as well, Bidlake said. In spite of each of 18-inch-tall bear taking her about four hours to create, she has not tired of it yet. She cuts the fabric and stuffs the bears while she and husband Rick watch TV. She sits at her little table and sews in a room adorned with a nautical theme. Each bear turns out differently, Bidlake said. She uses the accent colors from the clothes to match the ears with the foot pads. Sometimes she adds pearls, or button eyes. Always she takes the task to heart. For hospice families she provides one bear. For any additional bears, or requests from others, Bidlake charges $20 to cover her materials.

Donna Seckel of Leland found out about Bidlake’s mission through a friend. Though Seckle’s mom died in 2001, she still had her favorite red sweater. It was happenstance that just four days before the 14th anniversary of her mother’s death March 5, Seckel met Bidlake at the Mayfaire Starbucks to hand off over the sweater.

“It still smells of her,” Seckel sighed, bringing the sweater to her face and smiling.

The two women chatted for a while. Seckel talked about how much she loved and missed her mother and Bidlake listened intently. Bidlake revealed she sometimes feels like the people she’s honoring are there with her as she sews. Seckel nodded in understanding. Two strangers, making fast friends - one brought to this place by loss and the other by grace.

From Seckel’s gratitude, you’d have thought Bidlake was offering her the world.

“Thank you so much,” Seckel told her, reaching out to grasp Bidlake’s wrist, “You have no idea what this means.”

After making at least 500 memory bears, a task Bidlake gladly tackles, there was something in her quiet smile and tender eyes that suggested she understood exactly.


Information from: The StarNews, https://starnewsonline.com

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