The Memory Tree outside the 100 Mile House Fire Rescue Hall. Max Winkelman photo.

Memory Tree light-up shares grief support

Hospice helps families, friends remember lost loved ones

The Memory Tree light-up brought out many people once again this year to a ceremony in the 100 Mile District General Hospital cafeteria on Dec. 8.

Held by the 100 Mile District Hospice Society each December, the ceremony began with five candles lit with some sentiments of healing and several people stepped up to share memories, poetry and songs of remembrance.

Individuals and small groups then quietly went to the front as those who had purchased a coloured light in the name of a lost loved one were invited to place it on a small tree at the indoor ceremony while the names of lost loved ones were read aloud.

This followed a single bulb lighting in honour of other people lost that year, with a list of names read out of all who had been helped by the local hospice society and its trained volunteers.

Then the large tree in front of the 100 Mile Fire Rescue Hall across from the hospital was lit up, just following the ceremony at 7 p.m.

Families and friends went outside to witness the Memory Tree now shining with bulbs representing those lost and remembered by loved ones who were not able to attend or chose to remain private in their memories.

Two long-time hospice volunteers were there lighting bulbs in remembrance of their own lost family members and shared their thoughts and feelings about the Memory Tree with the Free Press.

Andrea Martin said she was remembering family members Gianna, Lia and Doug, and talked about the benefits of holding this annual event.

Martin has had a key role in organizing the Memory Tree program every year since its inception 20 years ago, and explained some of why it is so important.

“I just love the way it gives people a safe environment to come to and … know that everybody here is on their journey, which is working through the loss of a loved one.”

She shared the very first Memory Tree she took part in herself was following the death of her daughter, where she had agreed to read a poem.

“I remember just as I started to read, I started to choke up, and I felt this hand on my shoulder. It was Kelly De La Mare, who wrote a poem talking about the Memory Tree right from the start.”

Martin said the moment she felt that reassuring hand, she calmed right down and was able to do what she was there to do.

Past hospice chair Gayle Dunsmuir said she came up with the idea for the Memory Tree program two decades ago along with another volunteer, Leslie Dickie.

“Half of what hospice does is grief support, and it wasn’t long before we realized that at Christmas many of our clients struggled with the loss. So, we offered this as a gift to the community and it still is a gift to the community. It is not a fundraiser, it is to help people.”

Dunsmuir was suffering a huge loss of her own, along with all the others remembering their loved ones.

She lost her mother, Lena Storey in January, she says.

“It’s very meaningful to me this year.”

Both long-time hospice volunteers recall how the Memory Tree was originally placed on top of the “green government building” downtown, now called the South Cariboo Business Centre.

Encompassing losses both recent and those from many years ago, the program has grown since then, along with the size of the tree required, which now illuminates the lawns outside the fire hall.

Every Christmas, the Memory Tree reminds the community there are always others suffering losses and that none are alone in their pain and memories.

To find out more about the Hospice Society, call 250-395-7680 or e-mail 100milehospice@shawbiz.ca.

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