Ceremony helps remember

The role of hospice in Plains isn’t just for helping the dying to pass on with dignity and comfort; at Clark Fork Valley Hospital Home Care and Hospice, it’s also to help the living.

“This time of year can be especially hard for all of us who have grieved and still are grieving the loss of loved ones,” said Hospice Manager Janice Barber at the hour and a half Tree of Life ceremony at the hospital.

Nearly 50 people from Plains, Paradise and Hot Springs took part in the ceremony last Tuesday evening, when hospice staff members took turns reading the 466 listed names of people who have passed away over the last several years. Most of the names represented people who were patients of the local hospice, including 30 this year, but some were added to the list by request and hail from throughout the country, according to Laura Lanfear, a registered nurse with hospice and coordinator of the event. It took about 20 minutes to read through the 13 pages of names on the list.

The hospital created a “tree” of lights outside the main entrance. Community members and the hospital staff decorated a tree at the ceremony with handmade angels, which were also put up around the room. “The lights of the tree are supposed to be a visual tribute to the lives and spirit of those who shine on in our memories,” said Lanfear, who took turns with other staff members – Barber, Abigail Collett, and DeJuan Page – reading the list of names aloud. Each visitor was given a candle, which was lit when the name of their loved one was read. The hospice staff raised their lighted candles for every patient they recognized.

“Some names bring up true grief and some bring up fond memories,” said Lanfear, who had trouble holding back the tears while she was reading the names. “We hope to bring hope and comfort to families in grief,” she said.

Clark Fork Valley Hospital has been conducting the Tree of Life ceremony since 2001 after it picked up the hospice program in Sanders County from Partners in Home Care in Missoula. “The event provides the time and atmosphere to pause, remember and honor a loved one in our memory,” said Lanfear, a Home Health RN for 18 years and who was instrumental in getting the hospice program started in Sanders County.

While there were some firsttimers, some of the visitors have attended the ceremony several years. “Some people come back so they can honor one particular loved one, and some come back to honor all the names,” said Lanfear. “If you have lived in this community for a while, it is a little like a trip down memory lane,” added the Hot Springs resident.

The hospital holds the ceremony during the holidays to help people cope with their loss, said Lanfear. “The holiday season can be a particularly difficult time of the year if families are missing a loved one from the usual festivities. It can turn a usual happy occasion into one of dread and sorrow,” she said.

The Tree of Life is also the only fundraiser for the nonprofit hospice, said Barber, and helps pay for patient cares and services. She added that donations help pay for equipment to make it easier for families to provide care in their homes. “We serve all patients, whether they have an insurance source or not, and the monies help us serve those that have no insurance,” said Lanfear.

Janet Young, the hospital chaplain and a pastor of the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in Hot Springs, gave the opening and closing prayer, and a short sermon during the ceremony. The eight members of the Plains Instrumental Ensemble, which included former Plains School music teachers John Meckler and Gerald Larson, and the present music teacher, Brittany Majerus, played for more than 30 minutes before and during the ceremony.
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