The loss of her 22-month-old son inspired Amber Armistead to design, sew and give away specially crafted stuffed bears to provide comfort to others in grief.
Armistead’s son, Noah, died in his sleep without warning in June 2011. She put him to bed as usual one night, and the next morning he wasn’t breathing.
His autopsy revealed few answers other than dehydration due to Noah’s abnormal electrolytes. The official ruling came back as sudden unexplained death in childhood.
“I relive this moment often and wonder what flaw in my mother code did not alert me,” the former Wartertown resident said. “What did I miss that I could have corrected? Could I have held him all night and been there to make sure he was OK and breathing? What did I do wrong as a mother that failed my son?”
As she mourned, she found comfort in going through his clothing and blankets. She decided to make a memorial bear for her daughter, Hadley, who was also suffering from the loss.
“Noah’s clothes were the biggest catalyst,” Armistead said. “I wanted to bring those clothes out of the closet and make them into something functional for his sister and myself. I wanted to do it myself, because I felt like it would be a wonderful and very personal journey for my grief.”
Armistead said she saw the joy the bear gave to her daughter, so in February, she set out to do the same for other people who lost loved ones. Thus, Noah’s Bears was born.
Since then she has made more than 60 bears for families of soldiers, parents who have lost children through stillbirth or miscarriage, children who miss their grandparents and those who have lost loved ones to suicide. She doesn’t charge anything for the bears. She uses material from the loved one’s clothing or bedding and buys the additional supplies through donations to her cause. She also sews special sayings on the bears’ feet.
“I’m not charging for the bears, because, well, I’m not in it to make money,” she said. “I want to help souls heal and not feel alone in the dark.”
Armistead said she’s spent about $2,000, but it was a small price to pay for the joy the bears bring to others.
“Noah’s memory will be honored by helping to transform a small sliver of your pain into a possible smile … even if it is paired with the tears that may roll out from your heart and down your cheeks,” Armistead said. “May each bear give you the ability to hug and hold something that once held or reminds you of your loved one.”
Armistead recently moved to Franklin, but she maintains space above Vickie Frazier’s Artizan Insurance office on the Watertown Square, where she used to live. Frazier is Armistead’s aunt.
Armistead recently applied for nonprofit status and plans to set up shop in the Watertown loft after Noah’s Bears is approved.