By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK – Memory Bears, sewn from the familiar fabric of a deceased loved one’s favorite shirt, jacket or even sweater, provide a comforting, embraceable and hugable comfort object that helps people heal.
Donna “Susie” Smith and Kathy Waynick made memory bears from the clothing of Waynick’s daughter Emily, who committed suicide seven years ago, on Jan. 7, 2010, making a bear for each of her three siblings on the first anniversary of her death.
The suicide and the one-year remembrance were covered by local media, after which other people wanted memory bears. Waynick, a seamstress, launched the business with Smith, a neighbor and long-time friend.
Smith said she told Waynick that it might be a good thing for her to pursue.
“What better way to keep Emily’s memory alive?” Smith said. “And so we do it in memory of her.”
Smith said they use the clothes of the deceased person, and a memory bear applique explaining the bear’s significance, which closes with “you’ll always have my memories, but now a little more.”
If the survivor wishes, they can transfer a photo of the deceased to cloth and put it on the bear’s foot, or they can embroider a name on the bear’s foot.
Smith said they have also begun to make memory quilts and pillows from clothing, often from T-shirts. They also make quilts out a high school T-shirts for graduates.
Smith said they donate more than 10 percent of the proceeds to organizations that will directly impact people, like ChristNet, a local rotating shelter for the homeless based in Taylor.
“We checked into a lot of places to donate, but we couldn’t see the money going directly to help somebody, and Emily wouldn’t like that at all,” Smith said. “We were trying to do something that she would like.”
Smith said Emily had helped them fix dinners for the homeless when they were hosted by their local church, an experience Emily found fulfilling.
Smith said they have also made donations to a Downriver suicide prevention group.
“We just keep doing it, and we already have orders for 40 bears waiting,” Smith said, adding that it takes about two-and-a-half hours to make one Memory Bear. She said they also have four quilts and pillows in the queue.
“So we are booked up until the middle of February,” Smith said. “We had to turn away 100 people at Christmastime.”
She convinced some of those making inquiries to make the bear a Valentine, Easter or birthday gift.
Waynick said when the first anniversary of Emily’s death arrived, she brought her clothes down from the attic and started crying because she thought she couldn’t cut any of the clothing items up, so Smith came over to her house and helped her past that hurdle.
“We joke that people come in and they cry, and we cry with them, and then we take their stuff and make the bears, and when they come back, then they cry again, but then it is happy.” Waynick said.
She said they charge about $30 for a Memory Bear.
For more information about the Memory Bears, call 313-388-3095 or go to the Facebook page, Memory Bears Kathy & Donna.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)