Sarah Moore and her family started a new Christmas tradition this year.
No presents. No eggnog. Not a single strand of tinsel on a tree.
Instead, Sarah, her husband Todd, and children Hayden, 19, and John Robert, 10, concentrated their holiday cheer at Tucker Hospice House in Kannapolis.
Nestled down a wooded path, the hospice, by its very nature, is a somber place where families say a final goodbye to love ones.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
The Moores spent a most memorable Christmas there two years ago and that led Sarah to make an unusual request of her family.
"I said, 'would you guys be mad if I didn't put up a Christmas tree, if we did not buy gifts, and instead of taking the money we were going to use to buy gifts, can we give to somebody who really needs it?'"
She doesn't remember anyone struggling with the decision to focus their attention on the hospice center, and she thinks she knows why.
"We had such an amazing experience out there," she said. "At an awful time, when you're experiencing the death of a loved one, it was just the perfect setting. It was comforting, quiet, and serene."
Sarah's grandmother lived through 100 Christmases; in 2009, her last one was spent at the Tucker Hospice House with her family.
It was a sad, but also a wonderful time to celebrate a woman who meant so much to them.
The hospice house, which resembles a cozy home, with its stone fireplace, sunroom, and formal dining area, gave them a comfortable and warm place to say farewell.
"They had the tree up and the fire lit," said Sarah. "Even though you weren't at home, you kind of felt a home environment."
They spent dinners around the dining room table, telling stories of their matriarch, who spent a good portion of her life helping hospice patients in her home state of Kentucky.
They licked their lips remembering the jam cakes, fried chicken and biscuits she would make. Sarah recalled the sewing and crochet lessons she got.
"We just sat there and told stories about my grandmother," she said. "It was just very peaceful."
Tucker Hospice House Director Shelly Hyde smiles when she hears such stories. The home's goal is to make it as serene and comfortable as can be.
"We always say we did our job making it as homelike as possible when they feel comfortable enough to go to sleep," said Hyde, who has caught glimpses of slumbering family members on the couches in the living room.
Even as it undergoes construction to expand, the house remains serene. Hospice will soon add 12 new rooms to its current 12, upgrade its kitchen from residential to commercial size, and add a new parlor and chapel.
Hyde said people who have experienced the hospice house firsthand like the Moore's, sometimes feel the pull to give or volunteer there.
"We have volunteers that help feed. We have volunteers that clean. We have one volunteer who comes and drives our golf cart, just to take our trash up the hill one time a week," she said.
The Moore's have focused on providing items to lift the spirits of patients and their families.
They've bought new towels, wash clothes and socks. They've brought boxes of tissues and juice boxes. They've made decorations, ornaments, hot cocoa and fresh bread.
"Anything we could think of," Sarah said.
She remembers the kindness of others who brought lip balm, baked goods and warm Afghans for their laps.
In the last month Sarah said she has seen a change in her family. Her daughter began volunteering at a senior center in Boone, where she attends college. Her son stays busy making decorations for the hospice home. She knows something changed for her two years ago.
"I don't know what happened to me there," Sarah said. "I don't even know a good word to use. It was magical in an awful and beautiful way at the same time, if that makes sense. I felt peace, love and serenity."