LOIS HOLT: Where Lights Shine in the Darkness
The first Thursday in December is always calendared in as the evening that the "Light Up a Life Ceremony," sponsored by FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care, is held at 5 p.m. on the corner of Memorial and Aviemore in Pinehurst.
The event heralds, for me, everything that is important about Christmas.
I have identified that corner as the coldest corner in Moore County. It can only be compared to the corner of Corcoran and Main in Durham, six long blocks from where I used to park my car in a dark and dingy, multileveled city parking garage and walk to Central Carolina Bank, which was housed in the elegantly restored and remodeled Ellis-Stone Building.
This year's ceremony came at the end of a relatively mild, windless day. But, as on previous occasions, the weather seems to change at the same time the choral group from Sandhills Community College starts to sing the first hymn.
For the first five or six years, I thought of myself as being hopelessly alone and isolated during the time of my greatest grief. But, I began to recognize the people who, year after year, gather there -- the lone widow or widower, a daughter or son, whole families with children who stand quietly holding the hand of a parent or grandparent -- a young woman who jumped out of a UPS truck that swung around the corner and raced to embrace her faithful family and who, minutes later, climbed back into the running van.
When I moved here in 1993, there was only one large tree bearing lights in memory or in honor of loved ones. There are now five smaller ones. Of the hundreds of lights, one burns in memory of my older son, David Wayne Holt, who died Dec. 30, 1991, at the age of 31.
Hospice care in Moore County began in 1979 and according to Keith McDaniel, grief counselor for FHH&PC, this year marked the 18th anniversary of the observance, the same number of years recorded since David's passing. I have been in this area for 16 of those years and have either stood or sat on that corner for all of them.
Each year's ceremony is the same and comforting in its simplicity -- a welcome by the Foundation chairman, the introduction and lighting of the trees, an invocation given by an area clergyman, several musical selections sung by the Sandhills Community College Ensemble, two beautiful readings -- "Affirmation" and "We Remember Them" and the prayer-like singing of "Silent Night."
But this year's observance was sadly and unexpectedly preceded by the news that two of my writer friends had lost their husbands within a week of each other.
Sally Buckner's husband, Bob, a renowned gardener, environmental activist and peacemaker, had died of congestive heart failure on Thanksgiving Day in Raleigh. Betty Hodges' husband, Ed, a longtime reporter, editor and columnist for Durham's Herald-Sun newspaper, passed away six days later from complications associated with Alzheimer's disease. Ed's funeral was on the Saturday after the Hospice tree lighting, and Bob's was the following Monday. The need to be at those funerals was the same as being on the corner of Memorial and Aviemore. It was something I simply had to do.
I have seemingly known that driving alone on a long stretch of road is somehow therapeutic, and that silence is poetic. I thought about Betty and Ed and Sally and Bob and the celebration of life. I thought about the tree lighting and how Brownson Memorial's popular minister, Dr. Grady Perryman, had said the trees were trees of hope.
I thought about the words on a framed and cherished Christmas card -- "I heard a bird sing in the dark of December/A magical thing and sweet to remember."
And I thought about his promise that there would always be lights shining somewhere in the darkness.
Contact Southern Pines writer Lois Holt at email@example.com.
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