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Special Christmas Tree Provides Local Families with Meaningful Way to Remember Loved Ones

The anonymous quote, “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure,” aptly describes the sentiment behind the 25-year tradition of the North Oaks Hospice Memory Tree.

Located in the lobby of the E. Brent Dufreche Conference Center on the North Oaks Medical Center campus, the tree’s branches cradled a very special assortment of unique Christmas ornaments. From year to year, these ornaments celebrate the lives of former Hospice patients who passed away due to life-limiting illnesses and medical conditions. The tree and related gathering held Dec. 7 are components of Hospice’s bereavement program for patients’ family and caregivers. Bereavement services are provided for one year following each Hospice patient’s passing.

drumset ornament

A miniature red drum set, emblazoned with the initials, “WAM,” and a vintage, purple Louisiana State University (LSU) truck hauling a snow-covered tree were among the ornaments added to the collection this year.

On Dec. 7, Virginia Maranto of Runnelstown, Mississippi, traveled back to Hammond for the Hospice Memory Tree Gathering to hang the drum set on the tree for her late husband Wayne Maranto. He was an accomplished musician who passed away at the age of 71 in May 2017 from complications following a series of strokes.

She purchased the ornament from a nonprofit organization from which a portion of proceeds will provide food to homeless animals – a cause near and dear to both her and her late husband.

The Marantos met on an online Christian dating site and married Dec. 20, 2013. A second marriage for her and third for him, they enjoyed dancing at Mardi Gras balls and going to Wayne’s gigs on the New Orleans music scene together.

In early 2017, the couple enlisted Hospice’s help to enable Wayne to remain in his Hammond home with Virginia and their beloved dogs following a massive stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

With Wayne’s dancing days behind him, the couple turned to another favorite pastime on his good days with Hospice’s blessing -- “country driving” to explore the highways and bi-ways surrounding their Northshore home.

“We always let Hospice know we were going out, and we would just point the nose of the car in a given direction and go,” Virginia reminisces.

On Valentine’s Day, special memories were preserved when a photographer friend came over to take photographs of them dressed in their Mardi Gras finery – a tuxedo for Wayne and a ballgown for Virginia. Following another stroke around Mother’s Day, Wayne’s health rapidly declined culminating in his passing May 22. Through it all, Virginia shares that the Hospice team’s support was a blessing to her husband.

“No matter the time of day, they were always available to help keep Wayne as comfortable as possible, answer questions and provide emotional and respite support to me,” Virginia explains. “In my heart of hearts, I know that Hospice gave us more time together than we would have had if we had taken a different route when we received Wayne’s prognosis. They were with us until the end. I will always be grateful.”

For Gobel Lynn of Hammond, the decision to use North Oaks Hospice meant leaning on an organization that he considered to be his second family. He worked with the agency first as a volunteer and then as an employed social worker for 14 years.

ornaments on a tree

Mollie Lynn is his wife of nearly 50 years, with whom he has two adult children, Pam and Jeff.

She notes, “He really had a passion for it. It was fulfillment for him. He took real satisfaction in being able to help people. Of course, it did take a toll on him from time to time because he would get so close to the patients and families. Naturally, losing them did take a toll. He would sometimes think about retiring, but something always pulled him back. He just felt a calling for it.”

Facing a diagnosis of throat cancer in December 2016, Gobel began chemotherapy and radiation treatment. When it was discovered in September 2017 that the cancer had spread, he resolutely decided to enter North Oaks Hospice on September 25.

The decision was in keeping with Gobel’s disciplined, independent nature, according to Mollie. That discipline was harnessed during his four years of service in the U.S. Air Force before completing his undergraduate degree in social work at Northwestern, followed by his master’s degree at LSU. Before his illness, Mollie points out that he was the picture of health and always ended his workday with his “Air Force exercises.”

“He wanted to call the shots,” she continues. “He felt strongly about people making their own choices and setting the pace. He believed hospice did just that.”

Mollie worried that it might be too difficult for the staff to care for one of their own.

But Gobel reassured her saying, “Oh, it will be OK. They’re professionals. They’ll do fine, but you can ask them.”woman with ornament

“So I did,” Mollie affirms. “I called Courtney (Ridgedell), the hospice manager, and she talked to the staff, and they all said they would be honored to take him on as a patient.

“When he felt good, he would sit on the patio or walk around the yard. As he got weaker, he asked for a hospital bed to replace his recliner in our living room, and three days before his passing Oct. 9 at the age of 80, he asked to be moved to the Richard Murphy Hospice House in Hammond. I think it was his way of trying to protect us,” recounts Mollie. “I was impressed with the way Hospice cared and that they were always available.”

Mollie attended the memory tree gathering with their daughter, Pam. Together, they found the perfect spot on the tree for Gobel’s LSU truck ornament.

“I originally wanted to find a hat ornament because everyone knew Gobel for his Tilley hats,” Mollie explains.

When a hat proved challenging to find, Mollie came across the LSU ornament online.

“He loved his trucks and LSU – particularly football. During the Christmas season, he loved a real tree and the way it smelled,” she continues.

A social worker herself, Mollie understands the value and importance of North Oaks Hospice’s bereavement services.Molly Lynn and daughter

“Sister June (Engelbrecht), the bereavement counselor, has visited and called to check on me, and it has helped,” she notes. “Now that the holidays have passed, I plan to attend the bereavement support group meetings.”

Hospice is a special kind of care given in the home that provides support in a sensitive manner for patients with life-limiting illnesses. The North Oaks team focuses on the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the patient and emphasizes the importance of the patient’s quality of life.

If you know someone coping with a terminal illness whom may benefit from hospice care, call North Oaks Hospice at (985) 230-7620 for a complimentary consultation with no obligation.