On July 12, VNA Hospice of Northwest Indiana held a luminaria memorial tribute for families that have recently lost a loved one on VNA’s services. The event allowed families to come together to decorate and light luminaria in remembrance of their loved ones.
“Three times a year, we provide memorial services for families who have been on our service,” VNA Bereavement Coordinator Sarah Kingsbury said. “This is our first time doing a luminaria event. We're really excited. Families can come to decorate, have some light refreshments and enjoy some live music and memorialize their loved one.”
While families were arriving and beginning to decorate their luminaria, Kristen Kearney and Caleb the comfort dog spent some time interacting with the families. Kearney explained a comfort dog is slightly different than a therapy dog and a lot different than a service dog.
Caleb went through two years of training and is one of around 130 comfort dogs throughout the United States. Comfort dogs are trained to go into disasters and comfort those processing the aftermath, but when they are not deployed they are able to support members of their local communities at events such as this one.
“When we're not being deployed to major catastrophes, we come up to events like this, and we come to the VNA to the hospice center once a week. We go to almost every single nursing home in Valparaiso and see all of the residents and try and bring joy to people's faces,“ Kearney said. “This is such a nice way to give back to your community, and I really feel like Caleb is Valparaiso’s community dog.”
After Caleb greeted everyone and the luminarias were done being decorated, Kingsbury led the lighting ceremony. Following the lighting, VNA Chaplain Ben Polhemus explained the significance of lighting the luminarias as a way to remember the light the lost loved one shed on the lives of those they cared for.
“As we think about life as a journey, journeys are not very good if it's dark. We can't see a whole lot if we're in total darkness. We can't see pitfalls; we can't see things that are beautiful, and these people that have gone before us were our lights,” Polhemus said. “They were the people that helped us avoid pitfalls in our lives, along with lighting up problems and lighting are things that to stay away from. They also shined a light to make our lives better, to enhance our lives.”
The lighting ceremony symbolizes the light that loved ones bring to the journey of life. Erica Kerkes, VNA volunteer services coordinator and We Honor Veterans program coordinator, explained what an honor it is for the VNA to be involved in supporting this part of their journey.
“This really is an honor for us to be invited into this part of people's lives because this is the person that means so much to them that they've lost, and for them to come out tonight and be with us is really awesome,” Kerkes said.
The VNA Hospice NWI supports its families throughout their entire journey. Being present in the lives of the families is extremely meaningful and organization volunteers dedicate their time and dedication to providing this support.
“It feels awesome to know that I have an organization and a group of people that support this type of thing, to be able to provide this service to the families and to help them know that the VNA is here for them still,” Kingsbury said. “We want them to know that we support them continuously through their journey.”
VNA Hospice NWI serves all of Lake, Porter, La Porte, Jasper, Newton, and Starke Counties. For more information, please visit vnanwi.org.