Hospice trees lit in memory of loved ones

Published 11:31 am Monday, December 13, 2021

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Hospice of Stanly and The Uwharrie launched its annual Festival of Trees Dec. 6 at Stanly
Commons with the Lighting of the Angel Trees, a remembrance of friends and relatives who have passed in prior years.

The event began in 1998, and has been conducted by Hospice ever since.

“Christmas is a difficult time for families who have recently lost loved ones,” said Shields Howard, Hospice development and marketing manager. “And this is a way that we can help support these families by helping them remember those lost.”

Hospice Executive Director Lori Thayer added: “the community has been so supportive of Hospice, and this is an opportunity for us to give back through the joy of Christmas.”

The event features 40 Christmas trees decorated in various themes and sponsored by organizations, as well as eight “Angel Trees,” decorated entirely in handmade angel figurines, each placed in memory or honor of loved ones.

Howard noted that a new angel design is implemented each year, and that angels are continuing to be placed on the trees as they are purchased by Hospice supporters.

“We usually have anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 angels on the trees,” she said.

Maxine Basinger, a Hospice volunteer and angel donor, described the process of assembling the figurines.

“It takes about 15 minutes per angel just to make the body,” she said, noting that the figurine is then passed on to other volunteers who add detail to the ornament before the finished product is placed on one of the trees.

“I purchase an angel each year for Alton (Rev. Alton Basinger, her late husband) and helping put them together is a way I can serve…I never get tired of it.”

The Festival of Trees event also serves as a means to inform the community of the services Hospice provides. In addition to its most well-known service (end-of-life care), the organization also provides activities and counseling to those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, said Michaela Conners, one of two bereavement counselors on staff.

“Prior to last year, the angel tree lighting also featured a ceremony conducted by the bereavement counselors to comfort those who had lost loved ones in the past year,” said Conners, “but last year, because of COVID, we changed the format to a drop-in. That has actually worked out better, because it is a more private and intimate setting for people to discuss their feelings, so we are staying with that format for the future.”

Hospice bereavement counselors Janna Spurr and Michaela Conners are joined by Theo, the organization’s therapy dog, at the Hospice Festival of Trees. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Conners also said counseling is available to anyone who has suffered a loss, not just those whose loved ones were under Hospice care.

“Our services are not just for families or friends of Hospice clients,” she said. “About 50 percent of our counseling clients are from the community in general. And the counseling services are offered at no charge.”

Conners noted that both individual and group counseling is available, and that both she and fellow bereavement counselor Janna Spurr conduct sessions, accompanied by their newest staff member, Theo, the organization’s therapy dog.

While many of the 40 sponsored trees in the festival are placed by area businesses, a number of these are also placed in memory of specific loved ones by families or memorial organizations. One of the most recent of these is placed by the Corey Morgan Foundation.

“Corey passed on Nov. 26, 2019 at age 20, after being diagnosed at age 19 with stage four Ewing’s sarcoma,” said Mandy Morgan, his mother.

Morgan described her son, a West Stanly High graduate, as being “outdoorsy, an avid hunter, and very patriotic,” with these themes reflected in the decor of the tree.

“While we were at Levine Children’s Hospital with Corey, friends of ours did a golf tournament to raise funds to assist with his medical expenses. That encouraged us to do something to help others who were going through what we experienced, so we formed the foundation in March of 2021. Our purpose is to use the proceeds to help families affected by pediatric cancer,” she said.

Additional events centered around the Festival of Trees include gift wrapping from 12-6 p.m. Dec. 16 and 21 at Stanly Commons.

For further information on the Festival of Trees or on any Hospice services, call 704-983-4216.