Hamilton resident John Trangmoe volunteers on the Marcus Daly Hospice Board and attends the tree lighting ceremony year after year for the purpose of giving back and paying it forward.

The annual Tree of Lights event is Thursday evening, Dec. 7.

“For anyone who has lost a loved one any time, this is an opportunity to come,” Trangmoe said. “The service is special and being with others provides the opportunity to reminisce and remember loved ones.”

Trangmoe became involved with hospice when Missoula doctors recommended he enroll his wife in one. He found a hospice connected to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital.

Within the first 15 minutes of being there, they were impressed, he said. The hospice center has a living room, kitchen, bedrooms with extra space for a guest to stay overnight, and patients are invited to bring what they want to feel comforted.

“We had a birthday party in the kitchen for one of our grandchildren,” Trangmoe said. “My wife stayed here two and a half weeks, then asked to go home. She was at home another three and a half years, all the while under hospice care.”

Trangmoe appreciated how hospice treat's not just the patient, but the entire family.

“I was the caregiver 24/7 and one day I got a call and a hospice volunteer said she wanted to come sit with my wife,” he said. “When she came she said I could leave. Those little breaks were just wonderful – just to get out do my own thing and know my wife was in good hands.”

After receiving the benefits, Trangmoe decided to give back. He has served on the Bereavement Committee and Advisory Board for 13 years, and helps coordinate the Men’s Bereavement breakfast that hospice hosts every two weeks.

“Those breakfasts are a home-cooked meal and very meaningful conversation,” he said. “We keep it light and talk about hunting, traveling, or managing to cook without your wife. It is meaningful to me to know these men are in the same situation I am.”

Trangmoe calls himself a “volunteer geek” with more than 50,000 hours of helping other; about 15,000 of those in Hamilton, mostly with the Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce and Marcus Daly Hospice.

“I volunteer with hospice for the feeling I get from being around people that have the same situation I do – they’ve lost a family member,” he said. “I feel like I’m giving back. In return, I’m receiving that companionship by getting together with others.”

For 12 years Trangmoe has attended the Tree of Lights. He remembers how difficult the first one was, just a few months after his wife passed away.

“But I looked around and said to myself ‘I’m not alone, all these other folks have lost a family member.' Every year I purchase a light on the tree, an ornament, and attend the festivities. It is healing, comforting, and brings back good memories,” he said.

The event includes a light meal of homemade soup, bread, and holiday treats with family and friends at 5 p.m. followed by a ceremony of music and reflection, and at 7 p.m. is the Lighting of the Tree in the Hospice Center, at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive in Hamilton.

Each year special ornaments are designed and dated. The 2017 ornament is a snowflake. The funds from the sale are used for personalized patient needs.

“Some families purchase an ornament in honor of their loved one and have it mailed to them,” Trangmoe said. “It helps them honor the deceased and keeps them connected across the miles.”

Trangmoe said he wished families knew that patients can be enrolled in hospice care longer than just the end of life.

“Some folks say they wished they had come in several weeks earlier or enrolled with the service so they could have had help at home,” he said. “Hospice can help in the transition, help family members better understand what is happening, and provide access to services.”

To have a loved one remembered with a light on the Tree of Lights donate $5 or more; a dated ornament is a donation of $15 or more; and donors giving $100 are recognized as a Tree of Light sponsor and receive a letter of appreciation. Businesses can be recognized as a Beacon of Light in the hospice's publications for donations of $250 or more.

To purchase a Tree of Lights memorial ornament or light call 363-6503.

Trangmoe encourages community members to experience the Tree of Lights event.

“Please come - try it, experience it, and maybe reconnect with hospice staff and volunteers that will be there,” Trangmoe said. “Come have soup and enjoy the program that is well done. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it. We have open hearts and look forward to meeting you.”