By Kate Hayden, firstname.lastname@example.org
It looked like many other Christmas trees during this time of year — but when the strand of holiday lights were turned on Monday evening, Hospice of North Iowa staff hoped the twinkle brought more comfort to the audience than your average tree.
“The symbol is in the darkness of our grief, the darkness of a death. We light the tree in hope that our loved one will continue in our hearts and that we will make it through our grief journey,” Bereavement Coordinator Autumn Hawver said.
“Especially during the holidays,” she said. “No matter how long it’s been since you’ve had a death, the holidays are still very painful without your loved one.”
Hospice of North Iowa has held a Tree of Life ceremony in Charles City since 2009, although the tradition goes back to the 1990s, Hawver said. The organization holds eight programs in 10 communities it serves.
Each year the event receives a mix of returning visitors who wish to remember loved ones, and new visitors who have experienced a death in the past few months.
Names of deceased individuals, who are submitted by the event’s attendees, are read out loud before the tree is officially lit.
“The Tree of Life isn’t just for Hospice of North Iowa deaths. It’s for anyone who has experienced a death,” Hawyer said.
Past visitors have told staff that the event is a reminder that life can go on, she said.
“Just to look around us — we’re not alone in our grief, and that helps during the holiday time that we don’t feel so lonely,” Hawver said. “There is hope, and they will survive their grief, but they do have to do their grief work and it is a journey.”
“It takes as long as it takes.”