East End Hospice holds a holiday celebration of healing

JO ANN KIRKLAND | Attendees encircle the  'Tree of Lights' at Saturday's ceremony.

JO ANN KIRKLAND | Attendees encircle the ‘Tree of Lights’ at Saturday’s ceremony.

They stood in pairs, alone and in groups, often with heads bowed, some with arms around each other, for one purpose: to honor family members and friends who died.

More than 60 people braved the chilly weather Saturday, Dec. 7, for East End Hospice’s “Tree of Lights” ceremony in front of the library. It was the first in what’s expected to be an annual event on the Island.

The 12-foot-tree was covered in white lights and hanging on the lower branches, clear memorial ornaments, each with a handwritten name, caught the late afternoon sun.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who lost his wife Nancy this year, said. “For many of us, this will be one of the high points of our Christmas season.” East End Hospice board member and former hospice nurse, Kathy Zarchin, organized the event and spoke next, followed by hospice volunteer Carolyn Denning, who read a memorial poem.

Reverend Joel Ireland offered a prayer: “Today as we remember before You those whom we love but we see no longer, we pray that You make us deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.”

A reading of names followed, led by Barbara Warren and including Jim Dougherty, who read his wife’s name; Denise DiPaolo read her mother’s; and Cathy Driscoll read her husband’s. The mood was solemn, the music sweet, sung by Lisa Shaw, accompanied by her husband Tom Hashagen on guitar. An especially moving song, “Instruments of Your Peace,” was performed a cappella. Father Peter DeSanctis gave a Blessing of the Tree and mentioned that “East End Hospice is necessary to keep Shelter Island residents where they want to be, which is in the home.”

Many people didn’t know the story behind the tree. Several weeks ago, Ms. Zarchin realized there was no tree to light, or rather, there was one — the Andrew Fiske tree — but it was too tall and would’ve taken more man hours and lights than the massive tree in front of the police station.

Brian Cass, Walter Richards and Gerry Siller stepped up, not only donating the tree, but planting it the day before, in the pouring rain. By Saturday, the tree looked like it had always been there and will forever be the “hospice tree.”

Ms. Zarchin closed the ceremony with this message: “As this tree takes root on Shelter Island and we initiate a new tradition of remembrance, let us remember every light is a story, a story of a loved one, a memory of joy. Thus we now celebrate and heal.”