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Blog: Stories and Insight

Keepsake Bears to Remember Mom

Memory BearsBorn and raised in New York, Catherine Skelly, 87, was a strong and independent woman. She worked as elementary school teacher’s aide for 27 years and raised two children, John and Cathy. She loved her children. She loved her job.

She worked hard and she lived life to the fullest well into her 80s — riding her motorcycle, traveling with friends, and enjoying the casinos in Atlantic City.

It wasn’t until 2017 that Catherine begrudgingly moved (or as John and Cathy laughingly said “kicking and screaming”) to New Jersey at the request of her children. John and Cathy wanted their mom closer. She was starting to experience more bouts of shortness of breath and other side effects from COPD. They wanted to care for their mom with the same dedication and love she spent her whole life giving them.

Choosing South Jersey Hospice

In 2019, the family called Samaritan for hospice care at the recommendation of Catherine’s physician. The family was grateful for the extra layer of support from the nurse, social worker, and certified home health aide. The team helped John and Cathy provide the vital hands-on care their mom needed while helping Catherine gain some independence and, most importantly, manage her pain.

Catherine loved her hospice caregivers like they were her family.

“Catherine always greeted everyone with a smile, even on days when she was in pain.  She loved to sit by the window and converse with her visitors. She would reminisce of the old days, chat about her excitement for her granddaughter Jackie’s upcoming wedding or visits with her great-grandson Benjamin.  But most of all, she loved to talk about how much she loved her children.” said Samaritan Social Worker Serena Hnosko. “Her children meant the world to her.”

And Catherine meant the world to them too.

A Keepsake to Remember Mom

As a way for Cathy to remember her mom, Serena reached out to Samaritan’s volunteer services department with a request for a volunteer to sew memory bears out of Catherine’s clothing.

Cathy picked her mom’s favorite fleece jackets for the bears. Catherine wore fleece all year round and Cathy will always remember her mom sitting in her favorite spot by the window, chatting, smiling, and wearing her matching fleece jacket and pant outfits.

Volunteer Ann Alfano has been sewing memory bears for nearly 6 years and takes incredible pride in making memory bears out of a loved one’s special clothing items.

Ann’s mother inspired her to start sewing when she was very young. She enjoys sewing clothing, tote bags, and other craft items. In fact, she’s made hundreds of masks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Volunteering is a big part of my life,” said Ann.  “I truly believe that it is in giving that we receive.  I am always so honored when a family entrusts me to make a memory bear for them.  When I was sewing the bears for Catherine’s family, I smelled her perfume on the fabric and almost felt like she was guiding me with her loving hand.  I hope this love manifests itself in the bears I made.”

Upon receiving the soft, handmade bears, Cathy held them close to her chest.  She tearfully smiled, breathed them in and said how much they “still smelled like Mom” despite having been washed.

Catherine passed away peacefully at home on March 28, 2020 with her children by her side.

Learn more about Samaritan in South Jersey: (800) 229-8183