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Tree of Life Spreads Hope

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

by Justyna Tomtas of the Clark Fork Valley Press

PLAINS – The Hospice Tree of Life symbolizes much more than one would expect at first glance. Every gleaming light represents a loved one who has passed, their memory being honored by a pinpoint of light. On Thursday, Clark Fork Valley Hospital held their annual event allowing those who have lost someone a chance to remember the good times. CFVH Home Health and Hospice Manager Janice Barber said the Tree of Life helps "create new memories of an uplifting, magical, spiritual occasion that honors the life of loved ones."

The original Tree of Life is a large pine, which was planted between the Long Term Healthcare facility and the nursing home. During the event, a tree decorated with angels and white lights represented the Tree of Life.

"The focus of the ceremony is on life, love, light, angels and remembering," said Barber.

Janet Young, CFVH Hospice Chaplain held a scripture and prayer session where attendees reflected on the lives of those they loved so deeply.

"When we experience the death of a loved one, when we're thrown into a time of grief that we didn't want and that we have no control over, we ourselves die in some ways," said Chaplain. "It's like we enter a dark place, a grave if you will, things will never be just the same for us again. We grieve deeply, each of us in our own ways. And likewise, each of us have our own period of time in which the darkness stays dark."

But Young assured those that gratitude will begin to show itself "as pinpoints of light that break into our darkness." "These tiny rays of life are a gift from God. They crack open the grave so that new life can begin to filter in," said Young.

During the lighting ceremony, hospice employees read the stretching list of names of the people who have passed this past year. When participants heard the name of whoever they were remembering, they lit their candles filling the dark room with light.

This year the Tree of Life also aimed to remember the previous organizer of the event, Fern Johnson, who died in a canoe accident in Alaska in August. "It's been difficult for us all but our work in hospice has helped us heal," said Barber.

Currently the hospital is working on a memorial to Fern. They plan to place a stone bench, fountain, and light under the original Tree of Life where people can go sit and reflect.

Along with the memory of those who have passed, the event served as a fundraiser for the Hospice program. All proceeds of the event went to support care patients with terminal illness, particularly providing hospice care for those who are unable to afford services due to the lack of insurance coverage.

"Since the start of Clark Fork Valley Hospice, we have served 13 patients and families without insurance coverage," said Barber. Another addition to this year's event is an expansion of the program.

"This year we are also starting a new tradition to create our own uplifting memories. We wanted to extend the Tree of Life to every community in Sanders County and we thought what a better way to do this than to give each community their own Tree of Life," said Barber.

A random drawing concluded that Thompson Falls will be the recipient of a live tree, which will be purchased and planted by Hospice in the spring.

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