November 11, 2004
Worth County-- We have heard the old saying, "The only certainly in life are death and taxes," but a lady tries her best to help dull the pain of death for remaining loved ones.
If only the emotional pains of life were as easily stripped away as wrapping paper. Then grief wouldn't be as hard for people like her to deal with.
"He died on December 13, 1996," says a tearful Ellen Bryant. "Eight years this December. This was his shirt. His favorite shirt," says Ellen, holding a stuffed bear covered with her late husband's green and white plaid shirt.
Each member of her Albany Community Hospice bereavement class got a bear made of clothing their loved ones once wore. Some of them held their bear closely as if it were a child, patting its back. Another kissed her bear. Another gently stroked his. "She doesn't even know me," says a tearful Ellen while holding her gift closely.
The bears are the handiwork of Joy Sheckels. "I love what I do," says Joy standing in a small sewing room with hundreds of pieces of cloth piled on one side. She has made at least 1,500 bears, sent throughout the nation to help grieving people somehow cope a little better. "I have bears in California and all the way to New York," she says proudly.
She makes the bears in the wee hours of the morning, often starting at two o'clock, spending about seven hours sewing to help grieving people somehow deal a little easier with their losses. "I do it because it makes people happy," says Joy, who would be just as happy to remain anonymous.
"They don't need to know me to be grateful for their bears," says Joy. "You know, bears are a comfort animal."
She provides comfort to total strangers. "Most people I make bears for I never meet or see," says Joy.
It takes her about three hours to make a bear, and she spends a lot of time and effort to make it is as authentic as possible, using the clothing of the person who passed away, its buttons, as well as the tags. "I feel like the bears are part of that person," says Joy.
And, giving is a part of Joy. "I'd hate to know someone dies and nobody cares," says Joy, looking at life philosophically. "You've got to make your time you are here count for something," she says as she cuts out another bear.
"I want my life to count for something. When I die, I want somebody to say she ment a lot to me."
No doubt thousands of people already say that about her. "The bears will be here long after I'm gone," says Joy, as she puts several bears in a clear plastic bag to carry to other grieving people.
Joy Sheckels volunteers with Albany Community Hospice, as well as Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the American Lung Association and the Albany Humane Society.
For information on the bears, call the Albany Community Hospice, at 229-312-7050.
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