As it has for many years, Hospice and Home Care of Juneau provided the "Light Up a Life" tree at the Nugget Mall this holiday season. The donations people make to place ornaments on the tree in memory of a deceased loved one or in honor of a living person, raise critical funds to support the hospice's important work. I want to comment on what I see as an equally important need that the hospice tree helps to meet.
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As a longtime hospice volunteer, I spend a few shifts each year staffing the "Light Up a Life" table next to the tree in the mall. It is fun to see people who have "purchased" memorial stars by mail, or on an earlier trip to the mall, stopping by the tree to find their star. Others stop by the table to make their donation, write a name on an ornament and place it on the tree. Everyone seems to enjoy seeing their ornament hanging on the tree along with the hundreds of others honoring remembered friends and family members. Many shoppers stop to walk around the whole tree to look for names they recognize. It is a nice opportunity to think about old friends and community members and ensure that they live on in our collective memory.
People seem to find it comforting to have a special place where they are welcomed to stop for a few minutes in the midst of their holiday rush to remember and honor loved ones and to acknowledge their own sense of grief and loss (emotions that can be surprisingly strong at Christmastime). Some take a few minutes to share stories or special memories of the loved one whose name they've written on the star, or to talk about that person's dying days, or about how grateful they are for the help they and their families received from hospice, either in Juneau or another community.
I've come to think of the "Light Up a Life" tree as a little "rest station for the heart" in the middle of all the holiday shopping hubbub. Many thanks to Hospice and Home Care for providing this place of remembrance and healing, and thanks to everyone who contributed their time, financial donations and memories to make the tree a special part of the holiday season and to ensure that the hospice can continue to provide much-appreciated services to our community.