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HOSPICE EVENT REMEMBERS THOSE WHO DIED

One by one, 572 names were read, and small candles symbolized the flames of memory that keep them alive in the hearts of their loved ones.

"If our tears can be shared, it keeps the wound from being quite so deep," said Patricia Evans, co-founder of Niagara Hospice, the private not-for-profit agency that attends to the needs of the dying and their families in Niagara County.

It marked its 17th annual Day of Remembrance on Sunday with a ceremony in Prince of Peace Catholic Church.

About 350 attended, including Sally Porter, a retired Lockport teacher whose husband, William, died Dec. 13 after a long illness. During his final month, Niagara Hospice ministered to him.

"This is one of the sad parts," Porter said before the service. "He should have been longer (with Hospice). The doctor told him he needed help."

Mrs. Porter knows first-hand the value of hospice care, and not just from her husband's experience. She has been a Niagara Hospice volunteer since retiring from Anna Merritt Elementary School in 1990.

"Hospice provides a great deal of support, which is especially needed for sudden deaths or young deaths," she said.

The agency also counsels the survivors.

"Perhaps it's a bereavement counselor from Hospice calling at exactly the right time, and the day doesn't seem so dark," Evans said.

The faces of those walking up the church aisle to light candles showed few traces of few tears.

As the ceremony's "Litany of Remembrance" put it, "Though the bitter grief has softened, a dull pain abides."

Porter said her husband, a retired engineer with Wendel Engineers of Lockport, made sure to have a health care proxy. Hospice can assist with that, too.

She also said that since the extensive publicity in the case of Terri Schiavo, who died in Florida last month after being kept alive by a feeding tube for 15 years, "Everybody's interested in a health care proxy now. Everybody should have one, even young people."

Patricia Degan, director of public relations and marketing, said Niagara Hospice is planning a $3 million fund drive to construct facilities for the dying and their families at its headquarters on Sunset Drive in the Town of Lockport.

Already, she said, $1 million has been raised through "quiet donations." A formal announcement of the campaign is expected next month or in June.

The plan calls for an eight-bed residential unit and 10 beds for inpatients.

Porter said Hospice service is nondenominational.

Evans said it aims to offer "a legacy of love and a circle of support."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com