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Lights help heal pain of loss; provide funds for hospice, too

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of light to make the world seem much brighter.

The death of a friend or loved one is not something people recover from easily. Those left behind want to keep that person's memory alive.

Especially during the holiday season, that loss can be keenly felt, said Nancy Christensen, who is a spiritual care counselor with Heartland Home Care Network, a non-profit agency that provides in-home hospice care to the terminally ill.

Each year during the Christmas holiday season, Heartland offers an opportunity to remember a loved one who died, or to honor someone, by buying just a single light or a whole string of them to decorate the organization's traditional Love Light Tree.

"My dad died at Christmas," Christensen said, "and it's very meaningful to me to take a small moment in this busy season to remember him."

Heartland offers four area Love Light Tree memorial services. In River Falls, the tree will be lit at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, at the River Falls Area Hospital.

"All who are grieving are warmly encouraged to join others who are also seeking solace," said Kathy Helgeson, Heartland's community education coordinator.

At the ceremony, everyone is given a lighted candle, Christensen said. The names of hospice clients who have died during the past year are read, and those attending also have a chance to name those they are remembering.

"It's very sweet," Christensen said about the service.

Dee Nelson, whose husband George died more than four years ago, has come to the memorial service every year since his death.

Nelson said to her, the evergreen tree symbolizes those they've lost. She gains some degree of comfort from just coming together with others who have experienced that same loss, some of whom she only sees once a year at the service.

Jeanenne Rylander, Cedar Lake, participated in one of services last year in memory of her husband, Gerald.

"It's a way to say that I know he's gone, but he's still alive in my heart," she explained.

Those attending often talk about how the hospice has helped them through difficult times.

"Everybody has such praise for what (Heartland) has done," Nelson said. "You never hear anything bad about them."

A minimum donation of $10 will light a single light on the tree, while a $100 donation will light a whole string, Helgeson said. Heartland will send a gift card to the person honored or a loved one's family if you wish.

To dedicate a light, call Heartland Home Care at 715-684-5020.

In addition to the Love Light Tree fundraiser, Heartland runs two used goods stores to support the home care network - one in Baldwin and one in River Falls.

Treasures From the Heart has been in business in downtown River Falls since early spring and is doing very well, according to Christensen, who also manages the store.

Thanks to generous donations, the store is able to sell clean, quality merchandise at very reasonable prices, Christensen said.

Located at 200 S. Main St., the store will accept donations of gently used items in new or nearly new condition, with collectibles and antiques being the exception to that rule.

Acceptable items include clothing, household items, shoes and boots, outerwear, lamps and furniture, books, CDs, videos, linens, and baby items.

"We cannot accept large appliances, TVs or VCRs, microwaves or computers," Christensen said.

Nor can they accept bicycles, exercise equipment, baby car seats, cribs, mattresses, ceiling fans or lights, blinds or drapes. If you're unsure, please call ahead and ask.

The store is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donations may be dropped off during those hours. The phone number is 425-9771.

The store is staffed by volunteers, who also sort and price donated items.

"Right now, our biggest need is for volunteers," Christensen said.

Many of those the store has come to depend on have gone south for the winter, she said. Others are just too busy during the holidays to contribute a lot of time.

If you are interested in volunteering, Christensen asks that you call the store or simply drop in for more information. Love Light Tree dedication forms are also available at the store.