Ginger Judd spends much of her free time these days sewing a traditional children's toy and using it to help people endure the process of grieving for a loved one.
The Central Point resident sews "memory bears" for Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center's hospice program. The bears are handmade from materials provided by family members who want a personalized keepsake after losing a loved one.
Anyone who wants to volunteer with Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center’s hospice program is asked to call 541-789-6859, or see asante.org
The materials include items such as a favorite sweater, hunting jacket or sports uniform that belonged to the deceased.
Judd was struck with the idea of making memory bears after she received one following her mother's death in Illinois.
"It was such a wonderful gift that I decided to give it a try," Judd said.
Among those who have received one of Judd's bears is Vonja Knox, whose husband of 47 years died last year after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
Knox learned of the memory-bear program while attending a bereavement class. She dug through her closets and found a pair of golf pants, an Oregon State University jacket, and a hat band prized by her late husband.
"He loved Oregon State and he loved golf," Knox said. "I thought it was fitting the bears would be made of golf pants and the Oregon State material."
Judd fashioned two bears from the items. One of them is decked out in an OSU jacket and the other wears a jacket made from the golf pants and a tie made from the hat band.
Knox was deeply affected by the bears and plans to give one to each of her children.
"They represent his life," Knox said. "The grieving process is such a journey. I don't know what I would have done without hospice."
The memory bears are one way RRMC seeks to deepen its hospice program, which is based on the generosity of volunteers such as Judd.
Sally Melton, the volunteer coordinator for RRMC hospice services, said the program is always looking for people willing to give their time and effort to helping patients and their families with end-of-life issues.
"We are expanding very quickly and need new volunteers for all of our services," Melton said.
Another growing program is the bedside presence team, which involves hospice-trained volunteers sitting by the beds of patients when family members cannot be there.
Jan March of Medford said the bedside volunteers allowed her to go home from the hospice center and get much-needed sleep for a few hours.
"I did not want my mother to die alone," March said. "It was so comforting to know someone was with her the whole time."
Since the memory bear program began a month ago, Judd has sewn nine bears and has more coming. There is no way she will be able to keep up this pace.
"When I'm working on a bear, my husband cooks dinner and does the grocery shopping," Judd said. "I couldn't do it without him."
Anyone gifted with sewing skills and time on their hands can contact the hospice center and make memory bears, Melton said.
Judd's system involves reading obituaries to learn details of their deceased's lives.
"When I start, I want to have this person's life very much in my mind," Judd said.
Judd does not deliver the bears, rather she allows the hospice workers to present the bereaved with the final product. In fact, when she met Knox on Friday, it was the first time she has had contact with the beneficiary of one of her memory bears.
The two sat on a couch together at the hospice center near RRMC and discussed the bears.
"What you did with this material was amazing," Knox said, holding the bears in each hand.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.