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Loved ones and miracles remembered at ceremony

December 09, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

For Verda Phetteplace, Friday night's remembrance ceremony at Rose Hill Cemetery was about remembering a loved one and her own "miracle."

Phetteplace, 62, of Hagerstown, said she came to her first remembrance ceremony at Rose Hill because she could when many people told her she wouldn't be able to.

Even her doctor told her he was amazed at her recovery following surgery for a brain aneurysm six months ago, Phetteplace said. Then she went to the emergency room recently for a heart problem.

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"But I'm here and no problem," Phetteplace said.

Phetteplace, her daughter, Teresa Billman, and her grandson, Brandon Billman, came to remember Billman's husband, Chester Adam Billman. Billman died six years ago of a heart attack at age 36.

More than 100 people attended the ceremony in the South End despite chilly weather and slippery conditions.

Because of the weather, Rose Hill Executive Vice President Bill Divelbiss wasn't expecting such a crowd so he didn't get a public address system this year for the tree lighting ceremony.

Instead, Divelbiss spoke loud enough for the crowd to hear him recite two poems about the ceremony and loved ones. Then Divelbiss led the crowd in singing "Silent Night."

The E. Russell Hicks Middle School choir did not sing as scheduled because schools were closed Friday.

Approximately 350 lavender ribbons adorned the remembrance tree in front of the cemetery, Divelbiss said. People can buy a ribbon with their loved one's name on it for $2.

Some people came to remember more than one loved one buried at the cemetery.

Amy Haines, 36, of Hagerstown, brought her husband, Jeff, to remember her grandparents, a great-grandparent and a great aunt. A home health care worker, Haines also knew two women she once cared for who are buried at the cemetery.

Haines said she attended the candlelight ceremony to share the joy of Christmas with her loved ones.

Tammy Messersmith and her half-sisters, Tina Sirbaugh, 24, and Angela Sirbaugh, 23, just learned about the ceremony this year. They came to remember several loved ones they had lost in recent years.

This will be their first Christmas without their mother, Opal Sirbaugh. She died last February from a stroke after surgery, Messersmith said.

Messersmith's father, William Messersmith, was murdered two years ago on Dec. 5 after a violent struggle during a robbery in his home west of Clear Spring. Two men are serving lengthy sentences in connection with the attack.

The women had explained the ceremony to their young cousins, Arielle Sargent and Kiah Miller, 4, who had been in Opal Sirbaugh's custody.

"Kiah is very familiar with the cemetery and knows this is where her Nanny is," said Messersmith, 20, of Hagerstown.

When Messersmith asked Kiah where Nanny was, the little girl replied, "Up in Heaven."

The Messersmith-Sirbaugh family kept warm with hot chocolate as people huddled under the 65-foot pine inside the cemetery. Hagers-town Mayor William Breichner turned the switch to light the candles' white bulbs.

Participants carried white candles in plastic cups as they crunched their way across frozen snow and ice to walk to City Park for the lighting of the park's Christmas tree and light display.

Divelbiss thanked everyone for making the effort to attend.

The temperature at the beginning of the remembrance ceremony was about 25 degrees and dropped to about 20 degrees by the time they reached the park.

The cold didn't deter Pat Hartle, 50, of Hagerstown, and her boyfriend, Douglas Wray, 48. Hartle came to remember her nephew and a little boy whose plight was well known in the community.

Hartle's nephew, Paul Randall Stark, died two years ago at the age of 22 from a rare blood cancer called Burkett's lymphoma, she said.

The little boy, Tyler Miller, died at age 6 in September from adrenoleukodytstrophy. The disease damaged the fatty covering of nerve fibers in his brain and his adrenal glands.

"We've had a terrible three years," Wray said.

Hartle said the ceremony "really does help."

"You feel a closeness," she said.

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