Helping the dying
by TRACEY BARNES PRIESTLEY
IT'S BEEN 20 YEARS SINCE MY DEAR "GRANNY" DIED, but I remember the day well. After years of suffering from ill health, this feisty, independent and much loved woman finally found peace on April 1, 1983. Our little family was crushed. But before that fateful April Fool's Day was over, and in a way my Granny would have truly appreciated, my mother and I actually shared a teary, bittersweet giggle over just when Granny decided to make her departure from this earth. This was a woman who had never been one to do anything by the book!
Of course, not an April Fool's Day goes by that I don't think of the woman who influenced my life in so many ways. Like all of you who have had friends and loved ones die, there are days throughout the year when these precious souls meander into our memories. Then there are days when they charge right in and won't let go. And with the holidays just around the corner, it's safe to say that most us will be recalling someone near to our hearts who is no longer here.
So, knowing how your own heart has ached for someone you've lost, it would be understandable if you just may be wondering when I'm going to get around to this week's good news. Here it is.
For the last 18 years, Hospice of Humboldt has sponsored "Light Up A Life," one of the most beautiful and heartwarming traditions of the holiday season. Intended to remember and honor special people in our lives who have died, the ceremonies offer us an opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who have meant so much to us. It is a unique evening -- time of remembrance in the company of those who share very similar feelings, during the season when we are most apt to be flooded with memories of those we have lost.
This compassionate and sensitive event reflects the very core of hospice, an outstanding group of professionals and volunteers who care for the dying, their families and their friends. It is the hospice mission to "provide a life-affirming climate in which the dying person can maintain control over his or her life, prepare for death in his or her own way, and live life with a sense of personal worth." These are dedicated people who give the greatest gift of all -- physical and emotional comfort when it is most needed. But the support doesn't end with the death of the patient. Hospice also offers grief and bereavement groups for anyone, including children, who has experienced a death. (You need not have utilized hospice services to participate in these programs.)
Volunteers are crucial members of the hospice organization. Many receive in-depth training to assist the dying and their families. Others work at the organization's thrift shop in Arcata (another funding source), while others help with the countless details of various fund-raising activities, including the "Light Up A Life" ceremonies. Once again, volunteers in our community make so much happen!
This year's "Light Up A Life" ceremonies will be held Thursday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m., taking place at Eureka City Hall, Arcata City Hall, Humboldt Bank in Fortuna and Six Rivers Bank in McKinleyville. For a $10 donation, the name of a person you would like recognized is placed on a star and hung at all four sites. (Hospice also sends notification of the star to the person of your choice.) Last year, there were 1,400 shining stars!
During the "Light Up A Life" ceremonies, local dignitaries and guest speakers make presentations. Music is also provided by a variety of children's and youth choirs. After the trees are lit, candlelighting ceremonies take place, each a natural and congenital reflection of the people who have gathered. Raeann Bossarte, director of marketing and financial development, emphasized the significance of the ceremony: "Though it is one of our major fund-raisers, we would probably have the tree lighting ceremony no matter what because it means so much to people."
A final note on the "Light Up A Light" ceremonies -- hospice has added a new way to give the gift of remembering. Local artist Cathy Pierson, whom Bossarte referred to as "a treasure," has designed and made a limited edition porcelain ornament. They are beautiful. For information on how you can order this very special holiday gift or a star to honor someone you love, call 445-8443 or drop by the hospice office at 2010 Myrtle Ave., Eureka.
Having known individuals and families who have used the loving, supportive and respectful services of hospice, I can attest to their value. It's understandable to me that this fine organization of caring people would think of a way to benefit the entire community during the holiday season, since this agency benefits so many of us throughout the year.
This is Tracey Barnes Priestley's last "Good News" column. After producing it every two weeks for the past year, she informed us last week that it was a "good time" for her to move on to other things. We wish her the best. Her contribution will be missed.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.