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Remembrance tree offers reflection amid holiday rush

MANATEE — Beginning today, there will be an oasis of calm between the jingle bells and the nerve-jangling shopping rush at DeSoto Square mall.

Tidewell Hospice and its teen volunteers are sponsoring the annual Tree of Remembrance, a spot to reflect and share memories of loved ones who have passed away.

Linda Anderson, Tidewell’s volunteer coordinator, has noticed the tree’s effect on frantic shoppers during the eight years it has been at the mall.

“You’ll see them walking through the mall, and everybody’s harried and they’ve got bags. Then all of a sudden, they see us, and they think, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go over there and talk about grandpa,’ ” Anderson said.

The tree will be staffed by teen volunteers and adult companions from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Tuesday. Anderson hopes the tree will be near Macy’s department store, but she said demand for that spot might push the tree toward where Santa resides.

For a suggested donation of $1 or more, participants receive an origami crane to place on the Tree of Remembrance. They can write messages to or memories of a late loved one on the crane. A second crane goes home with donors for placement on their trees.

Hundreds of cranes, chosen to symbolize peace, have been crafted by the 15 volunteers in the teen program, which will receive all proceeds from the tree. Anderson said the program has brought in as much as $700 in a holiday season.

Southeast High School siblings Juhi and Simrun Mirchandani will help out at the Tree of Remembrance for the first time.

Juhi, a 14-year-old freshman, is volunteering because she wants to become an emergency-room doctor or a pediatrician someday, but her 16-year-old brother has no such medical aspirations. He wants to become an accountant or an orthodontist.

“I just wanted to help out and make a difference. I’ve helped the elderly by serving them,” said Simrun, a sophomore.

They’re not sure what to expect at the Tree of Remembrance, but they have plenty of experience working with families coping with loss during their time at Tidewell’s Hospice House on 26th Street West.

“This is my first year, so I don’t really know what it’s about that much,” Juhi said of the Tree of Remembrance. “It’s helping people and making them happy.”

There’s an added bonus. “I know it’s going to be fun,” Simrun said. “You’re going to be in the mall.”

Anderson said the Tree of Remembrance has given her a chance to slow down and reflect on what her late parents meant to her.

“They both loved the holidays,” she said. “Holidays are a wonderful, joyful time, but they also bring back lots of memories of losses that you’ve had. If you can just take a minute and remember those people, it’s really centering for the holidays.”