HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Mary Short couldn't bear to part with the old Winnie the Pooh and friends nightgown her daughter had given her years ago. The nightgown has in pink the words "best friends," and that phrase perfectly describes the relationship Short had with her daughter.
Danni Nicole Short, 18, died in an automobile accident in 2008. The nightgown is a tangible memory of Danni. And as is the case with all of Danni's clothes, Short didn't want to get rid of it. Instead, she carefully cut the nightgown into the shape of a teddy bear, sewed its form and stuffed it, and then sewed it close.
"Now I have this teddy bear that I can hug," said Short, who owns the boutique Danni Nicole's in downtown Hannibal. Before she sewed her bear shut, she wrote a note addressed to her 4-year-old granddaughter so "when I'm 90 or gone and it falls apart, she can see the note," Short said.
The bear now sits in a rocking chair in Short's living room.
"I don't want to wear it out," she said.
As word of Short's creation spread, people began asking if they could give her a piece of a deceased loved one's clothing so Short could create a bear for them, too.
"Next thing I know, I'm making 50 teddy bears," she said. "It's slower here in the winter without tourists, so I have time to pick up extra projects. I can't stand just sitting and doing nothing."
Sara Stine's brother Josh, 42, died on New Year's Day.
"My kids were close to him, and I thought the teddy bears would be a good way to remind them of him," Stine said. "He always wore dress shirts, and the kids picked out which one of his dress shirts they liked best.
"I picked out a yellow dress shirt, and at the time I wasn't sure if I really wanted it. But then one day I looked up at my refrigerator at a photo of him, and he was wearing the yellow shirt. It was meant to be," Stine said.
On Wednesday, Stine visited Short and picked up five bears -- four for her children, ages 13 to 23, and one for herself. One foot of each of the children's bears was embellished with "I love you," and the other with "Uncle Josh." The back of Stine's own bear is adorned with "I love you, Sis."
"I love them," Stine said. "The teddy bears can be passed down. I think this is going to be a treasure to my kids forever."
Short is honored to share in such an intimate process of handling a loved one's clothing and preserving in bear form the way they were. Some clothes are stained and old, but families tell Short that it's the way their loved one always dressed, and they don't want a bear in any other fabric.
"Instead of that shirt or jeans folded up in a drawer, they can have a teddy bear they can see, hold and hug," she said.
"When someone passes away, you're not going to get that item back, so I try not to mess them up. I feel honored that they chose me and trust me with this," Short said.