Barbara Willoughby of Portage looks at an ornament bearing the name of her mother-in-law, Cora Willoughby, before hanging it on a tree before a ceremony honoring those who sought care at the VNA Hospice Center. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media
AT A GLANCE
For more information about the Visiting Nurse Association of Porter County and its many programs, call 462-5195 or go to www.vnaportercounty.org.
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:29AM
United in grief, they came to remember a time when sorrow pushed through the usual holiday cheer.
With hugs and sometimes tears, family members placed more than 150 ornaments with the names of their loved ones on two lit trees in the lobby of the Valparaiso Family YMCA, for the VNA Tree of Remembrance ceremony.
Another 150 or so families had their ornaments mailed to them, and all the families taking part in the recent ceremony got to take their ornaments, clear and shaped like Christmas trees, home, said Maria Galka, vice president for fund development for the Visiting Nurse Association of Porter County.
Many, though not all, of those being remembered went through the VNA’s hospice program. The remembrance ceremony, in its eighth year, was put together by the handful of volunteers who comprise Friends of Hospice.
Galka said the goal of the ceremony was to give families the chance to remember loved ones and bring them into the holiday season.
Instead of name tags, those participating in the ceremony wore tags noting who they were remembering. Many, including Rosemary Riley of Valparaiso, kept close watch on a slide show of those being remembered, looking for their loved ones.
Riley had mixed feelings about coming to the ceremony. Her husband, David, died in hospice in June, so his loss is still fresh, and this is her first Christmas season without him.
“I think this is a nice thing to do,” she said. “Around the holidays, it’s tough. You don’t know what to do, but everyone here is going through the same thing or has been through the same thing, which helps.”
Those honored in the ceremony live on in the lives of those they’ve touched, said the Rev. Craig Forwalter, chaplain for the VNA. Those at the ceremony were brought together by the loss of a loved one during the holidays, which can be a difficult time, he said.
“Sometimes, people can’t understand why you can’t get into the Christmas spirit, and those of us here understand,” he said, adding the ornaments didn’t just represent names, but what they meant. “Their lights, like those on a Christmas tree, continue to shine on.”