On July 8th we celebrated the first Family of Friends Reunion at Hope & A Future (H&F). About 70 people representing three generations (four by spirit) gathered to dedicate the memorial garden developed by family and volunteers and displayed the finished Family of Friends Tree mural painted by Ruthie (activity director at H&F).
In this post, Ruthie, a staff member, and Karin, our founder, share what this experience meant to them.
All of the residents kept checking up on me as I was painting the tree mural. The evening that I started painting, Rick and Katie, my band mates in the Krause Family Band, came down the hall with guitar and music in hand and we had an impromptu practice as I worked, singing Beatles songs to honor the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Brad, an oldies expert, stood close by and sang along to the songs. At one point, Joanna popped her head out of her bedroom door and said, "What happened out here anyway?" We had a good laugh, and I explained that I was painting a mural—an apple tree that we would call our "Family of Friends Tree". I told Joanna that the purpose of the apples would be to represent the people in our lives who had made their exit. Joanna smiled, nodded and said, "How nice! Good for you!"
As I progressed in my work, Rosemarie took an interest and kept checking up with me. After the branches and leaves had been painted she kept coming up to me and saying, "I'm anxious to see those apples on that tree!"
Rosemarie helped me pick out the frames for each person from among several that Michelle, a former resident's daughter, had donated specifically for the tree. After thoughtfully looking at the pictures, Rosemarie surprised me by saying, "Boy, they all had such beautiful white hair."
And they did! Katie looked at the photos in the tiny frames and said, "They look so sweet—like three little dolls."
Rosemarie asked questions about Nadine, who had lived in Rosemarie's room before she moved in. Brad, who lives in what used to be Margaret's room, has asked several questions about Margaret, keeps a copy of her obituary in his room, and has had dreams that he and Margaret are flying through the air with the dogs they both knew by their sides. Rosemarie and Brad feel connected to these women because, even though they didn’t live with them, they know that they are part of the Hope & A Future family.
After the tree had been painted, I was in Bettye's room for our regular "Manicure Monday" date. As I filed and polished Bettye's nails she said, "The tree you painted in the hallway is so beautiful. What a wonderful way to remember the people who have passed away. I enjoyed watching you progress as you painted it. It's such a joy to watch you live."
The whole experience was so sweet and healing for me. Every time I walk by the mural, I look at the smiling faces in the golden frames hanging on the apples and have such peace in my heart.
Last Fall, at the Celebration of Life party for Margaret Hall, family members of residents who had lived and died at Hope & A Future approached me to ask if they could host a Family of Friends Reunion the following summer. They also wanted to develop a memorial garden on our grounds and a Family of Friends Tree on a wall in the hall of our accessible wing.
Margaret had decided in the last months of her life that she no longer wanted her ashes to be taken back to England—but to be spread in a flower garden at Hope & A Future. Her family desired to continue hosting their family reunions at what had become not only Margaret’s last home, but a family home to them as well. For me, this was overwhelming proof of the development of real community at Hope & A Future. Most long-term care centers welcome you to join their community. But how many of them have residents that want their ashes spread on their grounds? How many family members wish to continue holding family reunions on their grounds?
The ceremony started with Amazing Grace played on bagpipes under a sunny sky with puffy clouds and a friendly breeze. We sang, shared stories, laughed, cried, hugged, prayed, ate, swam, relaxed and loved each other. And that, folks, is celebrating life together in community—in its richest sense! Thanks be to God for His abundant blessings!
Get new blog posts, events, and updates from Hope & A Future each month!
Written by members of the Hope & a Future community including residents, volunteers, and staff.