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Memorial remembers hospice clients

April 29, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

As the 157 candles representing people who died in the past year were lighted in St. Mark's Lutheran Church Monday night, friends and family members hugged and consoled one other.

The memorial service was the largest held by Hospice of Washington County since the first one was held in 1985.

The Washington County residents represented by the candles were served by Hospice of Washington County, which provides services to the terminally ill and their families.

The Rev. Clayton Moyer told about 100 people that grieving is a natural - and indeed vital - part of getting over a loved one's death.

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"We must not allow our loved ones to take away our guilt, to take away our grief too soon," he said. "Our grief will never serve us as it was intended to serve us so long as we try to escape it."

Hospice, a national organization that formed locally 16 years ago, provides a variety of services to people who have been diagnosed as having only a few months to live. Nurses provide health care and try to make their lives as comfortable as possible, said Robert Rauch, the group's executive director.

Rauch said volunteers also try to help people come to grips will their illnesses, get their financial affairs in order and assist family members. In some cases, he said, volunteers are the only people that patients see in their last days.

"Some of our patients have no family," he said. "They're completely alone."

Several people at Monday's memorial service said Hospice was invaluable as they were caring for family members. Sharpsburg resident Joyce Crocker said the organization was a great help in the days before the death of her stepdaughter, Carla Hollinger, who died of cancer at age 34.

"It sure was great to have somebody there those last 11 days. It was wonderful. I don't know what we would have done," she said. "I just felt like I really needed somebody."

Just as vital, Rauch said, is the bereavement counseling that Hospice provides to family members after their loved ones have died. They meet with family members for up to 13 months after the death, he said.

Hagerstown resident K.C. Combs said Hospice bereavement sessions were a big help in the wake of her fiancee's death last October.

"They were there for me when he passed away," she said.

Hospice also provides counseling for volunteers who sometimes experience great feelings of loss themselves.

Rohrersville resident Douglas Seekins, who has been volunteering for 10 years, acknowledged that it can be difficult.

His own 78-year-old mother lives in New York, he said.

"I kind of do it here as a stand-in for all the children elsewhere," he said.

Faye Altizer, the group's bereavement program manager, said volunteers must walk a fine line. But she said the return is worth it.

"It's difficult work. It's stressful work," she said. "But it's rewarding work. They invite us into their homes during one of the most important times of their lives."

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