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Teddy Bears, Quilts, and Pillows: Preserving the Memory of a Loved One

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

While I’ve talked much about downsizing, rightsizing and de-cluttering, there are some treasures destined to become legacies. Those things, of course, honor the memories of loved ones who have passed. But as those who have cleaned out closets of the deceased, what to keep and what to donate can be a daunting task at a tender time. Today’s blog considers trends in commemoration.

While quilts have been a tradition for centuries, many are now converting clothing of a loved one into not just quilts, but pillows, teddy bears and much more.

My dad’s shirt, as a pillow.

In my case, my cousin had made for us beautiful pillows from my dad’s shirts. There was a note attached to the pillow: “This is the shirt I used to wear and whenever you hold it, know I am there.” Love You, Ray. Love You, Dad. Her kind gesture not only melted my heart, it reminded me how much I value our relationship. Sadly, due to family dynamics we were separated during our childhood.

In the early 2000’s, Mattson Funeral Home in Forest Lake, MN, began a program to help heal the pain of loss and preserve memories with their Heartley Bear Program. This program helps survivors grieve the loss of a loved one by converting their clothing into a teddy bear.

The program began when the funeral director, Paul Hutchison, and his siblings, struggled with the death of their grandfather, Hartley. Paul saved his grandpa’s favorite flannel shirt and jeans. Paul’s grandmother made a teddy bear from the clothing for each grandchild. The process was so comforting that in 2009 Paul established the Heartley Bear Program at their funeral home—for anyone who has lost a loved one.

Now, several times a year, the funeral home becomes a teddy bear factory and opens its doors to anyone to heal and commemorate a loved one’s memory.

Survivors bring in their loved one’s favorite garment. Volunteers then give survivors a pattern and scissors to cut out teddy bear parts. That’s when the tears flow and grieving begins. There’s something about cutting into a loved one’s clothing that triggers deep-felt emotions, say participants. As survivors cut, they share stories that help replace sheer grief with treasured memories.

Another volunteer crew then sews pieces together and returns them to be stuffed.

Thoughtful note on shirt-pillow.

Survivors love their bears. They aren’t perfect—definitely not store-bought. In fact, sometimes the characteristics resemble the person who passed. It is what survivors envisioned. At the day’s close, survivors have their picture taken with their bear and sometimes with volunteers.

The Heartley Bear program has been an astounding success. In 2009 the National Funeral Directors Association, with 10,000-plus members, named Mattson Funeral Home one of five homes across the country to receive its “Best of the Best Award.” Now funeral homes and other organizations across the country have similar programs. a loved one becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”

Of course, commemorating a loved one takes many forms. offers 15 suggestions including re-purposing loved one’s clothing. Highlights include cooking their favorite meal, vacationing at their favorite destination, hosting a movie night watching their favorite movies, throwing them a birthday party on the anniversary of their birthday…the list goes on.

But for those struggling with what to do with clothing…options are plentiful, and memories are forever.

For more ideas on commemorating a loved one, check out these web sites:

Let’s get started. Contact us today:, visit our web site or call: 612-616-215.


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