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Philanthropy Matters | The Hospice Tree of Life: A symbol of hope and healing

November 2, 2018
Authored by Kristen Willis, Director of Development
On Sunday, December 2nd, the citizens of northeast Connecticut will gather together for what has become a beloved tradition in support of the Hospice and Palliative Care program of Day Kimball Healthcare At Home. 

Families and friends will gather together on village greens across the region, singing Christmas carols, sharing words of comfort and encouragement, and unite in one magical moment lighting the “Hospice Tree of Life”. As the season of giving approaches, we take time to reflect on the journey of hospice and significance of this community celebration of hope and healing.

The word ‘hospice’ comes from the name given to a place of refuge for people making pilgrimages in the 15th century. Today, the word hospice is associated with world-wide organizations that care for the terminally ill and their families. The first hospice organization was begun in London, UK in 1967 and the first hospice in the United States was founded right here in the state of Connecticut in New Haven in 1974. The movement was of great interest to medical and lay people wanting to care for the terminally ill by using a team approach of nurses, physicians, social workers, clergy, home health aides, pharmacists and volunteers to care for and be supportive of patients and their families. This team approach in medical care was a new concept in the mid-20th century and until that time, had been physician oriented and most patients were cared for and spent their final days in a hospital or nursing home.

At the time of the hospice movement, visiting nurse agencies had been in existence for a century, caring for the indigent, chronically ill and making home visits to new mothers and babies. When the Medicare Act was passed in 1966, a provision was made in the law to cover home visits making home health care services more available to those in need. By 1976, most of the small towns of northeastern Connecticut who had begun their own home care agencies as early as the 1940’s merged to form Community Health and Homecare. This consolidation gave home care personnel the ability to come together in a more organized fashion in serving the residents of the northeast.

Over the next several years, a discussion began about starting an organized hospice program encompassing the service areas of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Backus Hospital, and Day Kimball Hospital. Representatives from the three areas met for a period of three years and as a result of that collaboration, Hospice of Northeastern Connecticut was established in 1983. Since that time, the program has undergone various organizational configurations, and by virtue of its eventual merger with Day Kimball Hospital, added a palliative care program. The hospital also created an inpatient hospital suite located in what is now our Rose Bove LaRose Cancer Center and the first patient was admitted in October of 2013. In 1984, thirty-three patients and their families were served by the program. In 2017, our hospice team was honored to care for 148 patients and families.

While the program has grown, Hospice and Palliative Care of NE CT has remained true to its origins of quality, compassionate patient care with a team approach. The program, which is one of three vital programs of Day Kimball Healthcare At Home, provides a team of skilled and experienced professionals and volunteers – physicians, hospice nurses, home health aides, medical social workers, nutritionists, pharmacists, chaplains, occupational therapists, trained volunteers, and bereavement care professionals, all caring for the needs of seriously ill and terminal patients, their families, and caregivers. The team works together to provide care through an individualized plan that meets the physical, psychosocial, spiritual, and emotional needs of each patient throughout end-of-life and bereavement care to their families. From the moment a member of the hospice team steps through the doorway into a patient’s home, a sacred journey of companionship and compassionate care begins.

During the month of November, we are celebrating National Homecare and Hospice month, saluting our caring teams of in-home professionals and volunteers, past and present, for the support, companionship and compassionate care that has helped so many to stay home just when they needed the comforts of home the most. We also take time to recognize and give thanks to the people in our community who help to support these services through annual contributions. The Tree of Life in December is one of the most significant fundraising opportunities for family and friends to participate in support of Hospice. Most importantly, it’s a time to come together, to celebrate and reflect on the lives of those you love, as well as the hospice staff and volunteers who have accompanied us on our journey.

It is only fitting that the same kind of dedicated and caring professionals and volunteers who came together to create the hospice program were responsible for the inception of the Tree of Life. Known today as the Friends of Hospice, this group plays a vital role in supporting the Hospice mission through fundraising, advocacy, serving as in-home hospice volunteers and educating the community. In 1989, former Volunteer Coordinator Sue Lund brought forth the idea of a fundraiser which would incorporate a tree lighting ceremony with each light representing a gift in someone’s memory. The ceremony was held in Putnam, Danielson, and Plainfield for the first time and raised approximately $6,500 in donations to Hospice.

Now in its 29th year, the Hospice Tree of Life event will take place in eleven different towns including Brooklyn, Canterbury, Danielson, Eastford, Griswold, Plainfield, Pomfret, Putnam, Sterling, Thompson, and Woodstock. Each location has a tree decorated with colored lights, each bulb representing donations we’ve collected in memory of loved ones or honoring caregivers throughout the community. The ceremonies begin at 5:00 p.m. with prayer and reflection by a local clergyperson, followed by a Hospice representative, and the lighting of the tree by the family of a past hospice patient. Carols are sung throughout the evening which ends in a reception of friendship and refreshment generously provided by our site hosts. The funds raised through this event are used to support patient care and service provided to the community not covered by insurance.

In addition to nursing, therapy, home health aides, and drugs and equipment related to terminal diagnosis which are reimbursable through insurance, hospice offers many other services that are not reimbursed such as bereavement and spiritual care; companion and homemaker’s services; social workers; and integrative services for comfort care such as massage therapy, reflexology, and therapeutic touch. Philanthropic gifts help to make these services possible, along with patient education, training for staff and volunteers, or simple home and life improvements for patients such as an air conditioner during the summer or a delivery of home heating fuel. Last year, our Tree of Life event raised over $32,000 in support of these services. With your support and that of the community, we hope to exceed our goal of $30,000 again this year.

There are many reasons to participate in the Tree of Life and although the journey of Hospice is never easy, there are as many reasons to celebrate – for lives enriched and forever influenced by a loved one; for vivid memories of meaningful times well-spent; and for the compassionate care rendered by the team of caregivers from Hospice and Palliative Care of NE CT. Perhaps it is an opportunity to simply be present for the sheer peacefulness and spirit of this event.

This year’s Tree of Life Chairperson Holly Gilbert, a cancer survivor and 29-year hospice volunteer stated, “I do this in memory of my mother, Florence Mayhew who passed away from cancer. I know how important hospice is for both the patient and their family. Just knowing that someone is there for you, that you are cared for and loved, is so important. Many times there are no words that need to be offered, only your presence. The lights on the Tree are a symbol of hope and healing and a way to keep this compassionate care going.”

The Tree of Life ceremony is a deeply personal way to celebrate a loved one, honor a caregiver and pay tribute to so many remarkable individuals who have forever left their mark on our community and in our hearts. Please consider joining us at a location near you on December 2nd and watch the lights shine throughout our northeast community this holiday season.

Do you have questions, concerns, stories to share, or topics related to philanthropy and Day Kimball Healthcare that you’d like to learn more about? Please feel free to reach out to Kristen at 860-928-7141 or email kewillis@daykimball.org.

 

Related Resources
2018 Hospice Tree of Life Event
Learn about Giving to DKH
Make A Gift Now

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