Tree lighting at old train depot stirs emotions
ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette
Though a common sight this time of year, the lighted evergreen tree outside Baker Street Station evoked powerful feelings for some Sunday as hundreds honored deceased loved ones.
People dabbed their eyes as white lights blinked on the massive tree and a choir sang “Silent Night” to conclude Visiting Nurse’s 32nd annual Holiday Memorial Tree Lighting ceremony, an event that memorializes and honors people who have died.
Proceeds from the event – people can pay to have a light on the tree represent someone who has died – benefit Visiting Nurse. The nonprofit organization’s services include grief support and end-of-life and palliative care to patients in eight northeast Indiana counties.
More than $36,000 was raised as of Sunday’s ceremony, chief development officer Mary Shankster said.
The standing-room-only crowd continued to grow inside the downtown landmark as Visiting Nurse CEO Eric Klimes welcomed the more than 350 attendees. While the ceremony is tradition for some, he acknowledged that for others, their loss is painfully recent.
Grief counselor Dar Richardson shared her introduction to Visiting Nurse. It was 1987, she said, and her husband was dying. Nurses taught her how to care for him, other personnel assessed her family’s needs, and the care continued beyond his death.
“They seemed like angels of mercy” in a difficult time, she said.
Speaker Melissa Shaw’s father spent his final days in Visiting Nurse’s care. Her family was welcomed as if they were staying at someone’s house, not a medical facility, she said, describing the environment as homey and peaceful.
Outside, as attendees struggled against the wind to light hand-held candles, chaplain Britney Sloffer encouraged them to honor their loved ones during the holidays. Her suggestions included hanging a special ornament or stocking and reserving an empty chair at the dinner table.
“Hold onto that love this holiday season,” she said.
Lois Widner, among others, lingered near the tree for photographs as others dispersed to the parking lot or inside for refreshments.
The Fort Wayne woman has annually attended the event in honor of her mother, who died in 2000, and her father, who died in 2005, she said, calling it a wonderful service appropriate for the holidays.
“It does help,” she said.