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Hospice society's Tree of Remembrance ceremony in Olds draws overflow crowd

The gazebo in Centennial Park in Olds was jammed with people, many of whom spilled out onto the sidewalk as they participated in the annual Olds & District Hospice Society’s Tree of Remembrance ceremony

OLDS — The gazebo in Centennial Park was jammed with people, many of whom spilled out onto the sidewalk as they participated in the annual Olds & District Hospice Society’s (ODHS) Tree of Remembrance ceremony. 

That event, held to honour the memories of loved ones who had passed away, was held the evening of Nov. 18. 

Executive director Mary Smith began the proceedings by thanking the Town of Olds for allowing the society to make use of the gazebo and the nearby large tree for the ceremony. 

She also thanked École Olds High School students who once again made stars for participants to hang on the tree in memory of their deceased loved ones. 

“It takes a community beyond Olds to have a Hospice Society here and offering that support to the community,” she said. “Olds has really rallied behind the Hospice Society for support to help us share in the care.” 

Mayor Judy Dahl and ODHS president Harvey Walsh addressed the crowd. 

“This is amazing to see everybody here this evening; such a testimony to the heart that the town of Olds has,” Dahl said.  

“I really do want to say on behalf of hospice that 12 years ago when we gathered for the very first time that that heart is still here with us today.” 

Walsh thanked all the volunteers who helped make the ceremony possible. 

“Without the volunteers in this community this hospice would not be as successful as it is,” he said. 

Walsh also gave a shout out to members of the ODHS board of directors who were on hand. 

“It is a community event and we’re quite pleased to be able to help do this for everybody,” he said. 

As part of the ceremony, ODHS bereavement facilitators Dennis and Nan McKernan lit five candles to represent various aspects of bereavement. 

As they did so, Smith explained the significance of each. 

“The first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing our loved one is intense. It reminds us of our love for those we have lost,” she said. 

“The second candle represents our courage. The courage to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other and the courage to change our lives. 

“The third candle is lit in memory: the memories of the times we have laughed, the times we have cried, the times we were angry with each other. The silly things that made our life and the care and the joy we remember with you. 

“The fourth candle is the light of love. We cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for our loved ones. We are grateful for the gift your living brought to us.   

“And finally, the fifth candle is the light of hope. It is a reminder of the love and memories that are ours forever. 

“May the glow of the flame be our source of hopefulness now and forever,” Smith said. 

She also recited a Christmas blessing.  

“Christmas is the tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. 

“It is the fervent wish that every cup may overflow with the blessings rich and eternal and that every path may lead to peace. Blessings and love for Christmas.” 

With that, participants grabbed small lit candles and proceeded from the gazebo to the tree for the remainder of the ceremony. 

Several hung stars and other decorations in memory of loved ones as lights on the tree were lit up. 

ODHS service coordinator Cindy Palin sang a song she wrote many years ago entitled The Dance of Life

In part, the lyrics of that song read: 

“From my weakness comes  

“A new strength we are learning 

“One more step through the sands of time 

“So let’s dance like we’ve never danced before.” 

The crowd sang Silent Night.  

Then former ODHS service coordinator Ruby Elliot read a couple of poems. 

The first poem read, in part: 

“I wish that I could talk to you. There’s so much I would say 

“Life has changed so very much since you went away. 

“I miss the bond between us and I miss your kind support. 

“You’re in my mind and in my heart and every Christmas thought. 

“I’ll always feel you close to me and though you’re far from sight 

“I’ll search for you among the stars that shine on Christmas night.” 

The second one said in part:  

“I still hear the songs, I still see the light. 

“I still feel your love on cold, wintery nights. 

“I still share your hope and all of your cares. 

“I even remind you to please say your prayers. 

I just want to tell you, you still make me proud. 

“You stand head and shoulders above all the crowd.” 

Another portion of the poem said: 

“To my family and friends, please be thankful today 

“I’m still close beside you in a new, special way.” 

Elliot said the hospice society has a bereavement program and one of the exercises within that program was to write a letter or a memory of those that we love. 

“I really want to encourage you, if you have time or if you want to do that, it’s very good for the heart,” she said. 

As the ceremony ended, participants were encouraged to come back to the gazebo for treats, hot chocolate and fellowship.