Schneck Hospice honors patients who passed in 2023


A special relationship is often forged between a hospice nurse and patient.

To establish a genuine connection with a patient’s loved ones is to provide a beacon of light in difficult times. One could compare a hospice nurse to a luminary, defined by Oxford Languages as “a person who inspires or influences others” or “a natural light-giving body.”

When she turned 40, Schneck Hospice nurse Tracy McKinney decided she was tired of social work and wanted to do something different. She thought back to her early 30s, when her mother went through a period of health issues and eventually passed away.

“There were some amazing nurses who took care of her,” McKinney said. “Not only did they take care of my mom, but they took care of me. I decided I wanted to do for someone else what those nurses had done for me.”

McKinney said when a patient passes, it is almost like she has lost a loved one herself.

On Monday evening, McKinney was among the nurses present at Schneck Hospice’s annual Luminary Memorial, held on the third floor of the Professional Building at Schneck Medical Center. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was known as the Luminary Walk in 2021 and 2022.

This was the fourth year for the event. According to Stephen Barnett, who has been a chaplain for Schneck Hospice for 13 years, the hospice previously conducted an annual dinner in the Evergreen Room at The Pines to honor hospice patients who had passed on in the last year.

“The Luminary Memorial is a chance for families who’ve had someone pass away in the previous year to talk with the nurse who took care of their loved one,” said Barnett. “It gives them an opportunity to reconnect. It helps the nurses as much as it helps the families.”

Familes in attendance are greeted by hospice volunteers and staff and then guided to find the luminary with their family member’s name on the bag. Each luminary bag has intricate cutouts of butterflies, which are a symbol for hospice. Inside the bag, a battery-powered candle shines. Each family also receives an ornament with a poignant message: “Those we love don’t go away. They walk beside us every day. Unseen, unheard but always near, still loved, still missed and very dear.”

Mary Jan Koop, who has been a hospice volunteer for 30 years, said, “The luminaries we have each year are to honor families’ loved ones while reconnecting with the family to share memories and to offer support. When I started volunteering, I was new to town and wanted to get involved and read about it in the church bulletin. I just enjoy caring for people and I’ve gained a lot of relationships over 30 years with families. We will always have that connection.”

Peggy Findley, who was a nurse at Schneck for 42 years starting in 1971 and began volunteering at the hospice in 2019, knows what it’s like to have a loved one in hospice care.

“My husband got sick in 2017 and he was in five hospitals in five weeks,” Findley said. “He was only in hospice for three days, but I was intrigued by the hospice that came. They were really nice and gentle with him.”

Following the passing of a loved one, families are encouraged by Schneck Hospice to participate in GriefShare, a free 13-week program that provides a support group for people to understand the difficult emotions that come from grief. GriefShare is offered at four churches in Seymour: Calvary Baptist Church, Central Christian Church, First Baptist Church and The Point. It also also offered at Brownstown Christian Church and at First Baptist Church in North Vernon.

Joyce Corya, volunteer coordinator for Schneck Hospice, is one of the people responsible for facilitating GriefShare classes. Corya was a nurse for 44 years before becoming a volunteer. She said she is always on the lookout for more volunteers to provide companionship or help out at the office.

“My husband passed away five years ago, and then I did a bereavement class as an attendee, which made me more aware of what hospices have to offer,” Corya said. “The goal (with the Luminary Memorial) is to let families who are still in the process of healing come back and see some the staff that meant something to them, and let everyone connect in a happier and healthier time. While not everyone comes, we still offer it because the familes who do come cherish this.”

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