National Teddy Bear Day was Saturday, September 9, and it’s no surprise these cuddly companions get a special celebration. Teddy bears are one of the most well-known and loved stuffed toys for good reason. I would argue that teddy bears are the stuffed toy G.O.A.T.
As you may know, teddy bears are named for President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who spared the life of a bear captured by his friends during a hunting trip in 1902. A political cartoonist drew a depiction of this bear clemency, which then went the early 20th century version of viral. Soon after, a candy and stuffed-toy maker created the teddy bear, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Since then, teddy bears have been toys, birthday or get-well-soon gifts, anti-anxiety friends, sleeping buddies who aren’t afraid of the dark, and an item collected by kids and kids at heart.
I have celebrated National Teddy Bear Day for years, having been a collector since I was little. This year, I celebrated by cuddling a bear I’ve had since 1993. (It’s my favorite, but please don’t tell the others.) My father adopted this particular bear for me during a road trip pit stop in Tennessee, from a restaurant known for its southern style food and toy- and nostalgia-filled gift shops.
His name—unsurprisingly—is Cracker and he’s a brown oatmeal bear who wears a spiffy red, gold, and green plaid bow tie. He looks good for being 30 years old. Of course, I took excellent care of him, especially after my dad died in 1999. Cracker has always been a comfort—but he was especially so then.
All teddy bears’ middle names should be comfort. That’s, like, their main job, from the cradle to the grave. There’s something soothing about snuggling a soft and stuffed bear. That’s even more true if there’s meaning attached to it—who gave it to you or why, like the fact that my father gave Cracker to me.
And that’s true, too, for the creations of Delaware Hospice’s Memory Bears program, which provides “a huggable connection to your loved one,” according to their literature. The organization believes that one of the most difficult tasks for grievers is sorting through and removing a deceased loved one’s clothes and personal items. Crafting bears—out of a favorite shirt, for example—aims to ease that difficulty and create a lasting connection.
Volunteers use clothing or other items selected by grievers to make the bears. When the bears are ready, people receive a comforting companion with a special connection to the deceased—“a one-of-a-kind memory of your one-of-a-kind loved one.” There is no charge for the service, though donations are encouraged to cover supply costs. Most bears are created for Delaware Hospice patients and families, though some have been made for community members who requested them, too.
Melody Cline, Delaware Hospice’s Volunteer Coordinator, had four bears made—one each for her son, daughter, niece, and nephew—when her mother, Michele, died in 2019 after a long cancer journey. Cline, of Milford, let the kids choose an item from Michele’s closet that reminded them of “Nanny.” The children received the bears on a family vacation that Michele was to have attended. Four years later, “all of the kids still have their bears proudly displayed on their beds,” says Cline.
Cline said she has seen in her 16 years with the organization the joy the bears bring to families as well as to the volunteers who make these keepsakes that will be cherished for years.
Like many people, Cline had stuffed bears and animals growing up. “They were a special part of my life,” she said. A Memory Bear is even more so. “I think it brings peace, closure, and loving memories to loved ones. It feels good to wrap your arms around them and give them a squeeze.”
Cracker, a different kind of memory bear, brings me peace, too. He’s extra special because of who he represents. All teddy bears carry and are stuffed with love, including that of those no longer with us. They definitely deserve a special national day for that. ▼
Tara Lynn Johnson is a former journalist and lifelong teddy bear fan. Connect with her at TaraLynnJohnson.com. For more information about Memory Bears and Delaware Hospice’s services and community resources, visit delawarehospice.org.
Photo: Memory Bear made with a shirt of her late husband, Will, for Nicole Fullmer, Delaware Hospice Director of Marketing and Community Engagement