There’s a twinkle in her eye when she’s dancing on stage.
The empty seat in the audience makes her sad, but she knows he’s there, still cheering her on and boasting with pride.
Rosalina Griego, 9, misses her daddy.
“He was proud of me when I danced. He loved to watch me and it made me feel happy,” Rosalina, said clutching to her mother’s arm. Both were weeping.
“He loved to see you dance baby,” said Desarie Champion, Rosalina’s mother.
“I just feel like he is still there with me. He’s watching over me,” Rosalina said wiping a stream of tears from behind her glasses.
The fourth-grader at Parkview Elementary and student at Ascendance Dance Studio lost her father, Felix Griego, to cancer in November. He was 47.
Rosalina and her mother were took part in the Sangre de Cristo Hospice and Palliative Care’s Memory Bear Picnic – an event Friday at Our Lady of the Meadow Church that mixed laughs with tears and support.
“Memory bears” are made from the clothing of a loved one by hospice volunteers after a loss to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort. The annual picnic brings together families and community members for supportive company and a moving memorial walk.
“My bear was made from one of my dad’s shirts,” Rosalina said clutching the bear tight as her mother gazed down at it.
“He loved me so much. He would always act like he was playing the guitar with my arm and my side.”
“He would sing Elvis songs,” the mother recalled.
Champion said Felix Griego was a loving and funny guy.
“He was goofy. We all love him so much and we miss him.”
In Felix Griego’s final days, the hospice center took care of him and the family.
“That’s something we will never forget. He was at home with us and they gave us anything we needed,” Champion said.
Rosalina held the navy-and-white teddy bear tight as he mother talked about her father.
“I didn’t think we’d be sad today —but when we walked in we started crying. It’s good for us to be around others who are going through the same thing. It’s just a good feeling,” Champion said.
Betty Cubba lost her 95-year-old mother, Dorothy Bouchard, in January. She was suffering from dementia.
Cubba stared at her mother’s bear as she talked about her.
“It’s made out of a coat that she always used to wear. The bow is from one of her blouses. I have her ashes right here, too,” Cubba said.
“The hat on top is hers, too. When it was cold, we’d take her out and she would always wear it.”
Cubba said the bear makes her feel like she can hug her mother again.
“I talk to the bear. I know it sounds crazy. But it makes me feel like she is still here in a sense,” Cubba said fighting tears. Her mother died at home under hospice care.
“I’ve had the bear since right after she passed. She had dementia — and toward the end it was harder,” she said.
“She wasn’t quite herself. She would stare a lot into space. We didn’t know what she was thinking, but her personality would always pop through.”
Cubba said her mother would often blow kisses to people during her dementia – something her daughter said she never did before dementia.
“She was so sweet and caring. She loved everybody. She was very easy to be with and she always showed you love,” Chubb said.
Eight volunteers made the bears. They make more than 100 a year based on need.
Champion said the bears are a tribute to the ones who have died.
“They give us memories,” she said.
Champion said the bear — along with music — will always bring back memories of Felix Griego.
“He loved music. We have good days and some sad days. It’s coming up on a year on Nov. 23,” Champion said.
“I’m proud that all these people are here today,” Rosalina said.
“We will always miss my daddy. I will keep this bear forever. My dad always played with me at nighttime. He was a nice man,” Rosalina said.