After closing its end-of-life care home, the Serenity House, because of COVID-19, the Friends of Hospice are still working on assisting families in the region with grief and end-of-life care.

Annie Pillers, executive director of Friends of Hospice, said they’ve been around for more than 25 years and are maintaining their focus on providing comfort. They had to change many things when COVID-19 started, she said — mainly by moving some events online.

“Our entire focus is celebrating the end of life and maybe actually bring comfort to the end of life,” Pillars said. “That’s both for the person who died and for the family that loved them, and we want to make that experience less fearful.”

One event they moved online is the Tree of Light ceremony, which Pillers said is about remembering and honoring people. Before COVID-19, they would meet in person, but with COVID-19, they realized there was no way to meet safely, so they switched to an online format.

The Tree of Light Ceremony is a yearly event the Friends of Hospice put on to remember those who have passed. They usually have it in person with music, readings and then at the end they turn the lights on on the tree.

“For the first time ever, last year, we held a virtual ceremony. Oh my goodness, I never would have expected -- it was incredible,” Pillers said, “Families were writing ‘oh my gosh, Annie I can now share this with my family in Wisconsin.’”

The Pullman tree will be located at Lily Bee’s Boutique on Main St. The Colfax tree will be at the Whitman County Library as part of its Festival of Trees display. The virtual Tree of Light ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 13-28.

Friends of Hospice also provide a variety of services to families who have loved ones in hospice care, including helping with transportation to see a dying relative, or even assisting with covering the cost of a caregiver.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is none of us do this world by ourselves,” Pillars said. “So I think the way to be very effective is to have a broad partnership with community members that maybe have an opportunity, in a different way than we do, to provide services.”

Recently, the group gave out four grants to assist in grief counseling and quality of life programs, along with the regular assistance they provide. The recipients were the Willow Center, Pullman Regional Hospital Palliative Care Program, Circles of Caring and Whitman Hospital and Medical Clinic.

PRH’s Palliative Care Program received a $4,800 grant to support telehealth services and to get fleece blankets and informational booklets. Whitman Hospital and Medical Clinic received $4,699 to furnish a space for patients and family that is calm and soothing. Pillers said they wanted to make the space feel less like a sterile hospital. Circles of Caring received $5,000 to purchase new recliners that are easier to clean for their Adult Day Health Program.

Willow Center Executive Director Gabriel Iacoboni said they are using the grant to start up a young adult support group. The group is for anyone ages 18-25, and works to give them the coping skills to handle the death of a friend or loved one. They also offer general grief sessions for those who might want to attend one or two meetings.

The support group meets once a week for six weeks and just finished their first six-week session before Thanksgiving break. The first one was in person, but Iacoboni said they hadn’t decided on if they wanted to have an online option for the next session.

“It’s kind of back to, we really believe in partnering with our community members. We want to make life and death and in all in between part of our everyday life and maybe help people be less fearful of what that might look like and be like. And that there are resources and people available to help them,” Pillers said.

Those interested in signing up for the young adult group can reach out over email office@Willow-Center.org or call the Willow Center at (208) 791-7192. For information on Friends of Hospice, or to ask about assistance, call (509) 332-4414.

Kali Nelson can be reached at knelson@dnews.com.

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