SANFORD, N.C. - A pink, lavender and blue floral blouse was a favorite garment of Vada Travis, often captured wearing it in family photos dating back decades.
"It was a favorite shirt," said Jennifer Travis, Vada's daughter-in-law. "Everyone could recognize it."
As Vada grew older and continued her fight with dementia, she came to live with Jennifer and her husband, Tom, and three children Sarah, Rebekah and Joshua, assisted by Liberty HomeCare & Hospice, before passing away last summer at the age of 90.
"Caring for her was challenging and (the children) came along side me to care for her," Jennifer said.
After Vada's death, Jennifer was approached by Liberty Bereavement Coordinator Nicole Kirk who explained a Liberty program, which has left its mark on dozens of families across Central Carolina and would make a profound impact on their family. All she'd need is Vada's pink blouse.
A local volunteer, Betty Talbert, would make stuffed bears, made from the cloth of the blouse, for her three children as a way to remember their grandmother.
"(Kirk) recognized how close the kids were to their grandmother," Jennifer said. "The bears were very precious for my children."
The Travis family is not alone in receiving memory bears from Liberty, which began this program in 2006. There have been nearly 100 bears made for loved ones this calendar year, according to Talbert. The bears are almost always made from an article of clothing the deceased person wore frequently or was fond of.
"It was a way for a family to preserve the memories of a loved one," Kirk said. "And to have something tangible."
The families are sometimes shocked by the idea but then very thankful, she said.
"Children, especially young children, tend to hold onto their bears and people usually have a place in the house for the bear," Kirk said.
Rebekah and Sarah Travis have taken their "granny bears" to college, displaying them on their desk or a shelf, and Joshua keeps his in his room.
"I just can't say thank you enough for giving my children these memory bears," Jennifer said. "They are very personal and something they remember seeing in her. It's such a sweet person who takes their time and does this."
Talbert's granddaughter, Shannon, began the bear-making process with Talbert continuing the tradition today. She usually makes anywhere from 20 to 30 bears a month for people, free of charge.
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