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Turning grief into something good during the holidays

Woman gathers decorations for local nursing home
Posted at 6:02 PM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 18:10:01-05

NOBLESVILLE — After years of dementia and other health issues, Mary Sutherland passed away in October. She was 88-years-old.

“My mom was amazing. She was a school teacher, she was the daughter of a minister, she was very active in Children’s Bureau and United Way and any charity she could work on, but here love was the opera. So she decided that Indianapolis needed an opera, so she got together with some of her friends and they created the Indianapolis Opera,” said Libby Sutherland, Mary’s daughter.

Mary lived an exciting and full life, one that daughter Libby wanted to honor. The 88-year-old spent time at Riverwalk Village nursing home, before coming home to her daughter’s house a week before she passed away.

Now, Sutherland wants to give back to the other residents who are still in the nursing home and will not be able to be with their family this holiday season. She posted in several community Facebook groups asking for holiday decorations and lights to bring some joy to the residents.

“The response was overwhelming, people were beyond kind and generous,” said Sutherland.

Her dining room is now piled high with wreaths, ornaments, garland, Christmas cards, pillows, blankets and other holiday decorations. She and other people in the community will be taking the items over to the home so the staff can distribute the decorations to residents rooms.

Hundreds and hundreds of lights were also donated. LA Landscaping has volunteered to string up the lights and create a winter wonderland outside of the resident's windows.

Sutherland knows from experience that having the lights outside will help bring a little happiness to those behind the glass.

"The joy on my mom’s face when a bird would fly up to her windowsill when she was there brought tears to my eyes. So I know she enjoyed looking out her window and I’m sure all the other residents do too but right now it’s a little bleak,” said Sutherland.

Along with lights and décor, students at North Elementary School and Noblesville High School have made cards and pictures to pass out to residents. Sutherland has also received donations of pajamas, blankets non-slip socks as gifts for the people living in Riverwalk Village.

At a date-to-be-decided, Sutherland, community members and relatives will gather outside of the home and stand outside of resident's windows and sing carols. Residents will then get hot chocolate distributed by staff to put them in the holiday spirit and feel they are sharing in the moment with their loved ones.

She says before starting this project she was feeling very sad about the loss of her mom, and while it still weighs heavy on her heart, giving back is helping her cope. “It really made my heart feel good and it made this feel like Christmas, even without mom. And I won’t have her, but I can adopt 96 residents at Riverwalk Village and sing with them and in their smiles I’ll see her,” said Sutherland.

Dr. Anne Gilbert, a Psychiatrist at IU Health says for all of the Hoosiers experiencing loss this holiday season, finding a way to honor the person, like Sutherland has, is a good way to handle grief. “I think that one of the ways we honor our grief is by honoring that person with rituals or doing things that they would like us to do or giving in a way that that person gave to us,” said Gilbert.

For information on grief counseling and handling loss during the holidays click here.

If you would like more information about this project or want to lend a hand click here.

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