The holidays are a time to remember those we love, and those whom we've lost.
That may account for the popularity of Northeast Georgia Medical Center's Love Light Tree program. People can make donations in honor or memory of a loved one, with all proceeds benefiting the Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
This year's Love Light tree, a 30-foot spruce, was hoisted atop the hospital's Outpatient Services Building on Saturday. The official lighting ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the Atrium of the medical center's Lanier Park campus.
Throughout most of Love Light's 28-year history, the ceremony has been held in the parking lot in front of the tree. But construction on the main campus has drastically reduced the amount of parking space available, so while the tree remains in its customary spot, the "lighting" takes place at Lanier Park and will only be symbolic.
Lynne Allen, director of volunteer services for Northeast Georgia Health System, said the program was held at Lanier Park last year, and the change in location did not diminish its success.
"We raised $182,000," she said.
Every penny of that total was put to good use, according to hospice director Teresa Warren.
"Proceeds from Love Light support our general operating expenses, but also help pay for things that the family needs in order to keep the patient at home (during a terminal illness)," she said.
Medicare covers basic hospice care, Warren said. "But they pay a per diem, a set amount per day, regardless of how many services the patient needs. Also, we have some patients who don't have any insurance, not even Medicare or Medicaid. But we've never refused a patient who couldn't afford to pay."
The hospice served about 800 patients last year in 13 Northeast Georgia counties. The objective is to keep patients comfortable so they can remain in a familiar setting instead of dying in the hospital. But the hospice addresses the needs of the entire family, not just the patient.
"We do some special, complementary things for the patient, such as massage therapy and music therapy, that are not reimbursable," Warren said. "We also provide at least 13 months of bereavement care to every family, and don't get reimbursed for that, either."
In addition, the hospice offers a summer camp for bereaved children as well as bereavement support groups at schools.
None of those things would be possible without Love Light.
"Nationally, most not-for-profit hospices depend on fundraising for 10 to 15 percent of their budget," Warren said.
A donation of $10 will "buy" a light on the Love Light tree. Contributions of $100 or more get a "star," and an "angel" gift is $500 or more.
"Love Light is a very meaningful way to remember someone or to honor someone," Warren said. "Most people appreciate it much more than getting a generic gift that they don't really need."
Monday night's program will feature holiday music by the East Hall High School brass ensemble, Friendship Elementary fourth- and fifth-grade chorus, North Hall Middle School eighth-grade ensemble, Johnson High School chorus and soloist Stephen Greene.
Entries in a children's ornament decorating contest will be displayed in the Atrium, and contest winners will be announced during the ceremony.
Dr. Frank Lake, a radiation oncologist who also serves as medical director of the hospice, will speak briefly and flip the switch to "light" the remote tree.
This year's tree was donated by Doris Lindsey and David Head, who moved to a home in Oakwood in September.
"There was this huge tree in the front yard, and it was too close to the house," Lindsey said. "We wanted to extend the porch, and there was no room."
Lindsey wanted to donate the tree to some organization that might be looking for a Christmas tree, but she didn't know where to turn.
"It seemed a shame to waste such a beautiful tree," she said. "Then a neighbor told me about Love Light. We're glad we found somebody who could use it."
Traditionally, the donor is given the privilege of dedicating the tree, but Lindsey and Head initially opted to let the Medical Center Auxiliary make the decision.
The auxiliary group chose to dedicate the tree to Chuck Frissell, a beloved hospital volunteer who died Oct. 26 from injuries suffered in an accidental fall.
Frissell was a U.S. Air Force chaplain for more than three decades, and after retirement he brought those skills to the hospital, serving as a volunteer chaplain.
"He also served on the auxiliary's board of directors," Allen said. "And when we started our (parking) shuttle service about two years ago, he was involved from the very beginning. Not only did he drive the shuttle, he volunteered to do the maintenance on it."
Allen said Frissell had so much energy and enthusiasm that he seemed much younger than his 72 years.
"It's still hard to believe what happened," she said. "Chuck just really had a servant's heart. He would go above and beyond to help people, and he is greatly missed."
On Friday, two other names were added to the tree dedication. David Head, who is a teacher at West Hall High School, requested that Love Light also be dedicated to Marta Chapman and Susan Crawford, two Hall County teachers who passed away last week.
Crawford, 57, was an English teacher at Chestatee High School; she died unexpectedly on Tuesday. Chapman, 43, most recently taught at Riverbend Elementary but had been unable to work this year as she battled cancer. She died Thursday.
Allen said Frissell, Chapman, and Crawford will all be honored during the ceremony Monday.