A crowd of some 250 people gathered around the Hospice Christmas tree Wednesday night for the annual lighting ceremonies outside Doctors Hospital of Manteca.
This year’s theme was “Light up a light – Light up a life.”
The East Union High School Choir under the direction of Jennifer Grover provided the opening music that was followed by registered nurse Jacqueline Bagatta welcoming those in attendance. Bagatta also serves as a board member of Hospice of San Joaquin headquartered in Stockton.
Pastor Pat Walker of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church offered the invocation for the solemn event that drew dozens of families of former Hospice patients who were remembered in their personal lights that had been hung on the tree at the corner of Cottage Avenue and North Street.
Shasta School eighth grader Rachael Sedlacek was the artist who provided the cover for the evening’s program. She was lauded for her sketch.
Doctors Hospital of Manteca CEO, Nicholas Tejeda, welcomed the families surrounding the tree. He recalled his grandmother’s experience Hospice and with that of his family who were with her every day after she had been diagnosed with a terminal disease.
He said it was two years ago that his grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Immediately she was enrolled in Hospice. Between the time she was diagnosed and entered Hospice care and the time she passed, her family had the opportunity to celebrate her life during her final birthday.
“She danced, she cried, she laughed, she sang and at the end of the day she had a wonderful experience from that point on until she passed, because she had Hospice, she had that companionship with the emotional care, the physical care. I had the privilege of giving her eulogy after she did pass,” he remembered.
Comments from friends and family at her funeral was that of seeing she had a wonderful life that she lived to the fullest. What was so great is that she was able to live her life all the way to the end, stressing that he felt it was all because of Hospice.
“That’s the story of my grandmother – just one of many stories that everyone here tonight can share with much the same story or a similar story to tell. And that’s why it is such a powerful program,” Tejeda said of Hospice.
“It wasn’t her style to write,” he said of his grandmother at 84. “Instead she would talk. From the time she was diagnosed until the time she passed, she would have family members spend the nights with her and they would talk – and that’s what she did – always surrounded by family and with Hospice.”
The hospital CEO said he was donating $500 to the Hospice program in the name of Doctors Hospital to help in its South County service.
The entire family of the late Jack R. Birmingham - 28 strong - was called to the podium at the entrance to the hospital’s conference center to honor the life of their husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
Daughter Connie Adams spoke remembering her dad in happier times and seeing him go through his disease with care in and out of Doctors Hospital and finally with the similar concern and caring from the Hospice volunteers.
She and her brother told of a personal story of a monarch butterfly that appeared the day he died and stood as a sentry near their home.
“That afternoon when the funeral home was there to pick up our father, the kids noticed a single, huge monarch butterfly flying around the park that landed on dad’s truck. It stood beautiful and stately until my dad passed in the van and this beautiful butterfly flew away,” the son recalled.
His sister Connie continued, “There is an old Irish saying that appears to have a symbolic meaning with butterflies. ‘Butterflies are the souls of the dead begging to pass through purgatory.’ I believe this butterfly was an angel there to lead him to his next life in heaven,” his daughter said.
“When a caterpillar perceives its end, it is just the beginning for the butterfly,” she added. “An in death, it is the end of this life on earth and begins our new life in heaven with our heavenly Father.”
She thanked everyone who had come out for the tree lighting and offered her deepest condolences to the other families represented Wednesday night who share in her family’s grief with their own grief. She hoped they were able to experience joy as their lives continue because they all must be able to go on with their lives.
“Thanks to all for letting us share our story and light this tree of hope. God Bless you all.”
Doctors Hospital staff members hosted the family groups in the Conference Center where they offered hot chocolate and cookies to everyone. The hospital chief said it has been an honor for Doctors Hospital to have been associated with Hospice for the last 21 years.