BATTLEFIELD, Mo. – Honoring a loved one who died, one stitch at a time. OzarksFirst has been learning about a unique way to remember someone you miss.

Debbie Sheehan from Springfield wanted something special to remember her father by, but what makes it unique is what it’s made of.

“I was daddy’s girl,” Debbie said.

Debbie’s father, Dwain King, died from cardiac arrest in 2014.

“He was probably the most special person I’ve ever really met,” Debbie said. “He showed grace, and he didn’t even realize he was doing it. He was fun; he always loved to laugh. He loved people. He was always laughing. He wanted everybody around him to laugh. He loved his family. We laughed a lot. He was a great guy.”

Since her father’s passing, Debbie has made visiting his tombstone a tradition.

Earlier this year, a church friend suggested another way to honor him: Memory bears.

“When I saw that Heather [Connolly] was doing the bears, my mom had given me a bunch of shirts from my dad,” Debbie said. “I had them and cleaned out closets and moved stuff around. I knew I had to get rid of them. But I just wasn’t ready to let go of them. Then I found out Heather was making those, so I was like, ‘Perfect!’”

So, Debbie gave three of her dad’s shirts to Heather Connolly to work her magic.

“It was very emotional for me when I saw it,” Debbie said. “It’s just kind of a trigger for a memory, you know? It’s just really special. I gave those shirts to my dad, so I remember him in them.”

Heather made three memory bears: One for Debbie, one for her mother and one for her niece.

“My mom and my niece act like they were very touched,” Debbie said. “I mean, we all were. We all loved my dad. It’s just better to have it in this form than a shirt in the closet.”

Heather has been making memory bears since April of 2021. She has slowly made more and more bears since then.

“People at church knew I was a seamstress, and then they just started asking me,” Heather said. “Honestly, it’s been kind of slow up until I would get just a couple of people asking once a month. Then just within the last month it’s really picked up. Getting a request about every week now.”

Most of Heather’s customers are local, so she usually sets up a meet-up time to give someone their bear. Heather says that’s her favorite part about the entire process.

“That’s kind of whenever I get more of the story,” Heather said. “The story of who I’m making, which loved one passed. To see their faces, there are tears. It just means a lot to be able to provide the service for people.”

Heather usually needs an adult shirt for her creation. If it’s meant for a child, two shirts would be needed. It normally takes Heather at least two hours to put a bear together.

“Two hours is quite a bit when you have two kids,” Heather said. “I have a pattern that I use. A big part of sewing is patterns. Each piece I have to trace and cut out, and then it’s just a matter of sewing all of those together. It’s just kind of piecing the bear together.”

Heather doesn’t just make memory bears, she can also make cats and bunnies. No matter the animal, her projects offer a lifetime of memories.

“Being a seamstress, I make other things too that don’t have quite as much sentimental value,” Heather said. “So doing this gives me more motivation to make things because then I know that that person they’re able to carry on their memory of a loved one through a bear.”

Heather makes the bears for her arts and crafts store, Stitch Kitchen Goods. She charges $25 per memory bear, and personalized requests are $5 extra. Heather says she charges for delivery if it’s the only option.

You can request a memory bear through the following options: