Written by Laura Roe Stevens | Photographed by Vincent Rios
Local resident Marie Ashmore has been creating Memory Bears—keepsake
stuffed bears to commemorate the loss of a loved one—for nearly
13 years. Since 2007 Marie has crafted 600 bears for strangers who lost
a family member. Volunteering with hospitals, including Torrance Memorial
Medical Center, Marie uses clothing, handwritten notes, photos and other
trinkets provided by the families participating to create unique bears
to honor their loved one.
It’s a sweet endeavor. And it is one that doesn’t have a dividend.
There is nothing to gain from this except the knowledge that someone’s
suffering might be eased by the thoughtful gesture.
It is rare today for someone to do something for others without asking
for anything in return. Rarer still is someone who would continue to volunteer
for years, even though she usually does not meet those who are helped.
But for Marie, the moment she heard about the need, she knew it was a
way for her to give back.
“I originally saw an ad in the Daily Breeze looking for someone to
sew Memory Bears,“ shares Marie. "I made my first two Memory
Bears in December 2007 for the daughters of a man who had been diagnosed
He passed away on December 25, 2007. I have the obituary with his photo
and a beautiful thank-you note from one of his daughters.”
Through Torrance Memorial’s volunteer office and/or a social worker,
Marie receives information and materials from the families with loved
ones receiving hospice care. Marie then gets to work crafting a bear.
“What Marie does is very sweet,” says Olivia Giuliano, an administrative
assistant in the Home Health and Hospice departments at Torrance Memorial
who received a bear last April after her mother died. “I can’t
tell you how precious my Memory Bear is. I have the bear sitting on a
little stand next to the needlepoint my mom made. You can’t put
a dollar value on it.”
“My mom was in hospice and someone showed me a bear, and I said,
‘Oh that’s darling,’ but I didn’t think about
it until after [my mother] died,” Olivia explains. When she sifted
through her mother’s hope chest and discovered treasures, she knew
a Memory Bear would be a brilliant way to use them.
“Marie sewed a pocket on the vest of the bear and put a note written
by my mother that lists all of our birthdays on it,” Olivia says.
“Then she made a hat from the tiara of my mother’s wedding
veil and put mom’s wedding veil appliques on different spots on
Olivia had also found a skirt her mother made with a note pinned on it
explaining she had worn that skirt the night she met her future husband,
Olivia’s father. Material from that skirt was used to make the bear as well.
Marie’s Memory Bears are in demand as word spreads from grateful
recipients like Olivia. For example, Marie spoke of a family from Périgord,
France, who came to California for a family funeral. “They took
two bears back to France with them. I have a picture of the granddaughter
with the bears. It makes me smile to look at it,” she says.
“I also have a picture of a Christmas card with two of the bears
I made on the front. The man who passed was a character actor who died
at 93. His wife used the bears for the card. They were made from two pairs
of his pajamas.”
You never know who might want a Memory Bear. When Marie’s father
died five years ago, she planned to give one to her daughter and to keep
one. However, when her daughter-in-law wanted one for her husband, Marie
ended up giving the second one to her son.
Even though Marie has met so few of the families who receive her bears,
she has an album at home filled with thank-you notes, pictures and cards.
And luckily for the South Bay community, Marie says she has no plans to
stop making them in the near future.
Torrance Memorial Home Health and Hospice patients with inquiries about
Memory Bears should contact Olivia Giuliano at 310-784-3739.