While every surrounding city was preparing for the Christmas season, the Visiting Nurses Association hosted a Tree of Remembrance ceremony that included lost loved ones and mourning families.
The holidays can be hard for people who have lost someone close to them.
“One thing you learn about grief is that you look for new traditions,” said Maria Galka, Vice President of Development for the VNA. “Because old traditions are gone. This has become a tradition for them. They keep their family members a part of their Christmas.”
Tree of Remembrance is organized by Friends of Hospice. They design a new ornament every year, each one bought for a deceased family member and decorated with his or her name. At the ceremony, the ornaments are hung together on one of three Christmas trees and are blessed by Chaplain Craig Forwalter.
This year’s ornament was a bell with the VNA logo inscribed on it.
Jackie Sterling hung a bell for her husband, Dale, and her sister, Jeanne Miller. “I think it’s a wonderful service, it gives me chills. Jeanne was an educator, she always put the young people first. She was a very special lady.”
Roderick Hoffman’s wife, Lorraine D., described Roderick as, “A man after God’s own heart.”
He was a pastor at the River of Life Church in Michigan City. Helen Sookridge, a member of Roderick’s congregation, said, “He was a very down to Earth individual. He has such a heart for homeless people, people in prison. He would go into the street and look for his ministry.”
Ann O’Heir, President of the VNA, said, “The thing that makes us unique is that we have people who have come since 2004. They keep coming every year. They have this connection with other people that are going through what they are going through. Some of them don’t have the luxury to mourn and be sad, they must stay strong and carry that for their family. Here, everyone is feeling the same way.”
The turnout is always very strong. Even when the Tree of Remembrance was a new tradition, and they had to hold it outside.
“That’s how you know it is special to people when they are standing outside in the snow and the cold,” said Lynda Krueger, a “Chair” of Friends of Hospice. “It’s a way to bring the families back in, to let them share their memories.”
Like the friends of William Ramage, who smiled as they joked about his quests for antiques. “If you needed something,” Jeanette Muha said, “He knew where to tell you to get it. Or if he had it, he would give it to you. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
Their neighbor, William Crowley, was remembered by his wife, Linda, as a “Wonderful Christian man, father, husband, and grandfather. He would always help someone and loved to visit with you.”
Tracy Hughes, a Referral Admission Nurse for Hospice, was, “Here as a Nurse supporting families, and I am also here supporting my own.”
Hughes lost her grandparents, Ray and Betty Kearby, in September and May of 2016. It was a struggle that she feels her work in Hospice was preparing her for. Hughes has helped many families through the end of life transition.
“They really need extra help at this time,” Hughes said. “It’s an honor to be a part of that journey. You see everyone here, and you know you are not alone.”
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