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Memories of lost loved ones honored at Tree of Life ceremony

Local families and friends gathered Monday at the Little Valley VFW to commemorate the lives of loved ones lost at the HomeCare & Hospice Tree of Life ceremony. As social worker Kaitlyn Wenke (left) reads the message of remembrance, Rev. Stan Scoville, spiritual care coordinator for Hospice, lights the memorial wreath.

LITTLE VALLEY — The HomeCare & Hospice Foundation presented its 24th annual Tree of Life memorial ceremony Monday at the Little Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

Families and friends of loved ones who had passed away in the last year gathered to hang their personalized ornament of remembrance and paid tribute.

Centered around remembrance and healing, the Tree of Life ceremony is a way for people to commemorate loved ones who have died and provides an opportunity for those who have experienced loss to memorialize a family member or friend during the holiday season.

Ink Young, director of organizational advancement for Hospice, opened the ceremony, thanking those in attendance who had a loved one pass away for coming.

“We know how hard it is during this season and holidays,” she said.

Ashley LaBombard, agency relations coordinator, read the poem “Never Forgotten” by MS Moem, and Rev. Stan Scoville, M.Div., spiritual care coordinator, gave the invocation and benediction, as well as discussed the meaning behind this year’s special ornament: a sled.

“The practical use of sleds is ancient and widespread,” he said, tracing the history of sleds from Vikings to Native Americans to ancient Egypt, from hand-pulled to animal pulled.

“Today, riding a sled can remind us of the ride we took with our loved one,” Scoville continued. “We were privileged to help transport our loved one on his or her journey to eternity, and we are glad that we had that privilege to be able to provide the gift of ourselves to efficiently help our loved one in all kinds of circumstances as we carry them and bless them.”

Social worker Kaitlyn Wenke shared the purpose of hospice and why it’s important for people who have lost loved ones to gather together and share their thoughts.

“We use this time to remember, honor and celebrate the lives of those we love who can no longer be here with us,” she said. “We gather together to take that time for them and ourselves as we remember.”

As each loved one’s name was called by Sarah Negron, advancement specialist, family members came forward to hang a special ornament on the tree, concluding with a special ornament hung on the tree in honor of all military veterans.

Afterward, as Scoville lit the Remembrance Wreath, Wenke read the message of remembrance.

“As we light these five candles in memory of you, we light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, one for our love and one for our hope,” she said.

Although the special guest speaker, Kathy, the widow of a man who had passed away about a year ago, was unable to attend this year’s ceremony, Wenke read a letter from her, sharing what she would have said at the ceremony.

“It’s taken me this long to put my thoughts into words in appreciation for the angels who helped me care for him the last two months of his life,” she wrote. “From the moment our nurse, Megan, came to visit us the first time to the last week before Rick returned home to Jesus, we felt the care and concern on such a deep level, it was almost hard to believe folks like all of you even existed.”

Kathy wrote that the nurses from HomeCare & Hospice were always available to ask questions or be there during the toughest moments, coming to their house regularly and explaining things that were hard to hear, but done so with kindness and compassion.

“We never thought we were just part of the system. We felt very cared for,” she wrote.

Kathy wrote that her husband looked forward to seeing his wound-care nurse, who cared for a sensitive and painful area and told Rick he was brave and thanked him for his military service. She said an aide helped fix meals, do chores, take care of personal care jobs and other things they didn’t have the energy to do anymore.

“Our social worker, the chaplain and others I’m sure I’ve failed to mention were beyond helpful at this most emotionally difficult time of our lives and marriage,” she wrote. “It’s a bit of a blur when I think back of what we faced together, but I know overall HomeCare & Hospice was the perfect choice.”

To find out more about HomeCare & Hospice and the services offered, visit homecare-hospice.org or call 372-2106.

(Contact Salamanca Press editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)