MENTOR, Ohio — The death of a loved one or close friend naturally brings tremendous sadness and pain. A Mentor, Ohio, woman is now helping people find comfort in their loss through handmade “memory items."
Colleen Higgins started her business after witnessing and experiencing loss firsthand. Stuck at home during the pandemic, Higgins taught herself to sew various items.
Higgins made an ornament for her boss's father, who had just passed away. Then, she experienced the death of her own grandmother.
She turned her loss into love and channeled her energy into helping preserve memories of those we love most. Stitched on her home sewing machine, Higgins makes sure each memory item is personalized each person.
She is helping people hold onto their loved ones and find comfort in their passing. She says no one grieves alone.
“I get a lot of stories of how their loved ones passed, and so it’s definitely an emotional roller coaster," Higgins said.
What may look like a cute stuffed bear, plush dog or fox means so much more to someone else.
“They’re crying…. I’m crying… They’re telling me the story," said Higgins.
Higgins transforms old clothing and mementos of those who have passed on into tangible keepsakes. It's a reminder of that person, but in the form of something precious that someone can look at, hold and forever find joy in.
“Their son was very young when he passed. So, that was one that will stick in my head forever," Higgins said about one customer.
Higgins, who has loved art since childhood and graduated with a master's degree in photography from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, learned to sew by watching various YouTube videos during the pandemic's peak. At the same time, she was taking care of her ill grandmother.
“COVID — we couldn’t go anywhere. So, I was watching videos on how to sew, and she'd watch me. And she'd kinda laugh along as I messed things up," Higgins said.
She made several gnomes with her grandmother, admiring from a distance. Sadly, her biggest critic and subsequent biggest supporter passed away.
“When my grandma passed, I made a gnome in honor of my grandma that’s sitting over here. It’s her shirt and in the photo that the gnome is holding -- she’s wearing the shirt," Higgins said.
Through encouragement from a local boutique owner, as well as friends and family, she continues to make the keepsakes.
She hasn’t stopped since, selling them online and at local shops.
She says the entire process of transforming items we would normally keep locked away in a closet or drawer because of the prior pain or emotions has become so rewarding. Higgins said there is nothing better than watching grief and sadness shift to peace and happiness. The items have an even stronger sense of purpose.
“When they pick up, it’s usually happy tears cause now they’re seeing this clothing item brought back to life," Higgins said.
Higgins admits she wears a lot of waterproof mascara because it is an emotional journey from start to finish. She wants those who have experienced a tragedy or recent death to know they are not alone.
To see more work from Higgens, check out her Instagram page here.
This article was written by Mike Holden for WEWS.