Hospice of Humboldt has been serving families with end of life care for many decades – in their homes and in nearby facilities. The scope of this care is expanding to include a new in-patient hospice center. It will provide a place for some patients to go when it is no longer feasible for them to remain at home. To build this center on newly purchased woodland required a decision to cut down some of the trees – and as our administrator expressed – a decision that was not made lightly. A ceremony was held to bless these trees and to express gratitude and respect for their lives . . .
The sun glinted through the branches as we stood in a loose circle under the canopy of the forest. The fragrance of the trees and the rich organic matter blanketing the floor smelled sweet and earthy. Time did not feel ordinary here.
We were an eclectic group: hospice staff members from myriad disciplines; the architects that designed the new center; the contractors who would oversee the building of it, and the people who would be responsible for removing the selected trees and rendering the ground ready to accept the new structures that will soon grace this land.
The haunting melody of a wooden flute resounded amidst the trees, bringing to a hush the conversations of those who had gathered. Eyes naturally closed – some bowed their heads. I felt tears well up and saw that I was not alone. When the music ceased we continued to stand in silence for some time. Then our chaplains, some with guitars, lead us in a song paying homage to the holiness of this land, followed by a reading of “The Giving Tree”, by Shel Silverstein.
It was a short and simple ceremony, but a deeply poignant and respectful one. The professionals who will be responsible for building this center said they had never attended such a blessing, and felt honored to participate.
As I stood there in that forest, I imagined the patients who would come here to spend their remaining days. I thought of their loved ones who will be at their bedsides; of the paths that will wind amongst these trees for them to walk on, and of the chapel that will be built for them to find quiet and solace. The cycles of life and death will play out here in an environment of beauty, dignity and respect – held by an organization that had the sensitivity to bless the trees . . .
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
(Pete Seeger with words adapted from Ecclesiastes)