When Joyce Hamm came to Trillium Woods to receive hospice care, she, like many Faith Hospice patients, was given a Burden Bear. These handmade stuffed bears aim to comfort hospice patients or their family members during the end-of-life journey and afterward. But, little did our staff know that when they gave that bear to Joyce, they were placing it in the hands of the woman who started the project many years ago. As Joyce and her loved ones looked down at that bear, it wasn’t just comfort that they felt. It was pride, happiness, and a sense of fulfillment. It is not often in life that we get to see things come full circle, and seeing this project that started out of a pure desire to help others still in place brought more comfort than usual.
After retiring from the Byron Center School District, Joyce spent her winters in Florida, where she met a woman making stuffed bears for hospice patients. In hopes of spreading the project beyond Florida borders, the woman told others of her initiative. When Joyce returned to Michigan, she recruited her mother to help her get the project started back in their community. At the time, she didn’t have any ties to Faith Hospice. She simply desired to help so she looked up hospice facilities in the phonebook and gave us a call.


“None of us know when we may need help at some point. I see the Burden Bears as a very minor contribution, but to be able to bring comfort to someone who needs comforting makes it all the worthwhile.”

-Joyce, Grand Rapids Press article
Soon, the project gained additional helping hands with Holland Home residents lending their sewing and stuffing talents to create the bears. Joyce’s daughter continued to grow the program and shared it with other groups and churches in the area that were all eager to help. One local woman, Jan Venema, whose parents were at Holland Home’s Fulton Manor at the time, was approached to see if she would be willing to make Burden Bears with the residents there. While the residents could not do it independently, they were eager to help in any way. Jan would cut out the patterns and pin them while some residents would sew them up and stuff them. Others would knit or crochet blankets to put around the bears. It was a team effort that brought the residents a sense of pride and accomplishment as well. When a bear was completed, it received a “Burden Bear” tag and would be delivered to hospice patients or their loved ones.
Today, the Burden Bear project is led by the ladies at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Byron Center. The opportunity for Joyce and her family to see her selfless action of starting this program come full circle was such a joy. When given the bear, Joyce even mentioned, “I can’t believe you still use the same pattern!”  

To Joyce and her family, thank you for bringing Burden Bears to the Faith Hospice community. The comfort that you have brought over the years is immeasurable. Your legacy is in the good and gracious hands of those that continue the work today.