The holidays can be a challenging time for residents who have recently experienced a loss, but an annual ceremony hosted by Airdrie and District Hospice Society (ADHS) is intended to help families grieve and reflect.
ADHS will host its seventh Tree of Hope lighting Dec. 1 at 5:45 p.m. on the opening night of the Airdrie Festival of Lights at Nose Creek Park.
“Our Tree of Hope offers a time for people to reflect at the Festival of Lights, and then come for a brief interdenominational service and connecting with other people that have had losses as well, or people that are going through struggles with life-limiting illnesses,” said Lise Blanchette, executive director of ADHS.
The Tree of Hope is essentially a city-wide memorial, she said. This year, the lighting ceremony will be a little different. In the past, Blanchette said, the ceremony has taken place entirely at Nose Creek Park. This year, after the tree is lit, the ceremony will move indoors to the Nose Creek Valley Museum.
At the museum, ADHS will have a second tree where those in attendance can write the names of their late loved ones on a card and hang it from a branch. Refreshments will be provided, and people will have an opportunity to mingle in the warmth.
“What we found is that, it is a memorial service, and people want to hang back and chit-chat and talk about their loved ones,” Blanchette said.
The hope is for the tree to be displayed somewhere in Airdrie following the ceremony, but details have not yet been finalized, she said.
A fundraising campaign accompanies the Tree of Hope, Blanchette noted, and ADHS will accept donations in honour of the deceased throughout December. Funds collected will go towards ADHS programming, which provides comprehensive and compassionate end-of-life care, as well as community support to those who have recently experienced a loss. Donations can be made online at airdriehospice.ca, or in person at the event.
The Tree of Hope will be set up near the Festival of Lights' main tent, and will remain lit each night throughout December.
The holidays can be fraught with frequent reminders of the deceased’s absence, Blanchette said, and the Tree of Hope is meant as a way to commemorate the dead, while providing people a safe place to reflect. She added those processing their grief have welcomed the annual observance.
“I got a donation yesterday, and the person said, in the write-up, such a wonderful thing. ‘My son’s been really struggling with the death of his grandparents, and we went last year and it really helped him get through that grieving process,’” Blanchette said.