There are a couple dozen teddy bears keeping an eye on Aloise Phillips as she and her daughter, Lori Deschand, work at their sewing machines. More are perched and posed on cabinets and counters. The bears are growing in number on this particular day, but soon they will go to their new homes, and Aloise and Lori will start over again.
Aloise says: It makes me feel good knowing Im helping somebody over the grief of having lost someone.
Theirs is a labor of love, for these are not ordinary teddy bears. The bears fabric is given to them by a family mourning the death of a loved one.
Aloise: Theyre made out of a garment the family recognized their family member in, so whenever they hold this bear and see it, it (becomes) a memory bear. It helps them to remember the person that they lost.
Lori: It gives you something to hug, something to love, and when its made out of somebodys shirt, they love you (back). You know somebody loves you.
The bears are a volunteer project for Journeys Hospice families. Lori lives in Washington state but comes home frequently to help out and that means helping make bears. Together, she and her mom have sewn more than 600 teddy bears for the hospice, plus another 300 for family and friends.
Lori has an embroidery business and does custom sewing in Washington. Aloise, 85, (who pronounces her name like Lois with an a) had a home business as a cake decorator in Caldwell.
Aloise: Every crisis in my life, there was a cake with it.
And now, teddy bears are showing up at lifes junctions for them, as well as the lives of people they dont even know.
The bears werent always there. But when Aloises husband, Bill Phillips (a 25-year captain of the Caldwell Fire Department), died on July 14, 2005, Aloise became very ill. She became a hospice patient herself.
Aloise: I was suffering a lot from depression. I dont remember, but I was sick in bed to where I couldnt get up and even fix myself something to eat. They came out and helped me. I was really just too weak to get up and do anything for quite a while.
I never had any idea (of dying). That didnt cross my mind. I wasnt ready to die. I had too many things I wanted to live for.
(But) when the doctor came out and interviewed me, I think he was pretty much convinced I was at the end of my life. I was really sick.
Hospice volunteers visited, encouraged her, supported her; they sang and played music for her. Bit by bit, Aloise got well enough that she was able to graduate from the hospice program.
Before that, however, one day, a volunteer brought a teddy bear to show her.
I told her, Id like to volunteer to do something. At the time, I didnt feel confident to drive, and I couldnt sing. (But) I told them, I can make teddy bears.
The rest is, as they say, history. Turquoise bears, purple bears, printed bears; big bears, little bears; bears made of shirts, bath robes, blankets.
Aloise: Whenever we made a bear, the bears take on a personality. Theyre not as pretty or as well-made as the ones you buy that are factory-made. Theyre more personal.
If Aloise and Lori know something about the person who died, theyll try and incorporate details like buttons in the shape of fish for a fisherman to personalize the bears. Sometimes theyll get a photo.
Aloise: It gives us a little more connection.
If bears are a therapy of sorts to the recipients, making the bears has become a sort of therapy on its own, too. Not only were the bears an avenue to Aloises health, but Lori also has her own stories of sewing through grief. She emotionally remembers making bears after her Aunt Shirley Phillips died.
Lori: I sewed a few tears in there. After I did my crying session, I was able to sew (bears) and watch their personalities come out. I was thinking, oh, so-and-so is going to pick this one, and so-and-so is going to like that one. And, oh yes, this really reminds (me) of Shirley.
They made 15 bears for Shirleys family.
Lori: (Aunt Rosemary) took them home, and she dumped them out on her bed. A couple of her grandkids were there who were really, really close with Aunt Shirley. And they went, oh, Aunt Shirleys vest or her coat or her jammies. The kids, they really related to the bears we had made.
Aloise: We kind of think about that one, because when we make bears for other people, we dont hear. But if theyre as pleased as Rosemary and the girls were, that makes us really happy.
When a close family friend died, they sewed more bears. They took a bear to John Phillips, Aloises son and Loris brother, who had a massive stroke in 2004 and was dealing with cancer.
Lori: We took one (bear) over and gave it to him, and John just hugged it and cried and cried and cried. I cried with him.
Aloise: We all cried. I made the bear out of a sweater that (the friend) had worn. John recognized the sweater. It gives me cold chills, because when he took ahold of that bear, started hugging it and started to cry when you see a 64-year-old man cry, it just breaks your heart.
Sewing will be a therapeutic way to help them grieve Johns death in November. Soon theyll sew bears with his clothing, but until then theyll make bears for others. And theyre making bears out of Aloises clothing for when that day comes.
Aloise: I dont want to die, but Im not afraid. I dont want to suffer for a long time. But I dont want to rush it, either.
(Bears) for when I die, the kids can fight over.
Lori: I get first pick.
Aloise wasnt making bears yet when her husband died, but Lori found a shirt that was the spitting image of one her father wears in a family photo.
Lori: And so this is my Daddy Bear. Daddy liked his shirts with two pockets, so I made two pockets. Daddy Bear travels with me. When Im driving back and forth between here and Washington, I snuggle with Daddy Bear.
Lori holds her bear and talks to it, much to Aloises amusement. Aloise is much more practical about the bears, but she teases Lori and laughs along.
Lori: One night, Momma and I were working on teddy bears. I picked up the bear and said, Are you ready to go to your new home? Surely you dont want to stay with me? (My daughter) just about fell out of the chair especially when the bear shook its head No.
As an example, Lori holds Daddy Bear in such a way that she can make it nod.
It didnt want to stay with me. It wanted to go to its new home.
She hugs her bear close.
They all have personality. This one, he just has a real loving personality to him. ... (She turns to the bear.) Yes, you are. Yes, I love you. Yes, I do.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.