When days are short and the nights are longer, dealing with the loss of a loved one can be particularly difficult during the Christmas season. For over 20 years, people who have lost a loved one, whether recent or in the past, have gathered to illuminate a memorial tree that is planted outside of the Civic Centre at 99 Foster Drive.
This year’s Memorial Tree Lighting will take place on Saturday, December 21 at 7 p.m. This date is selected because it is the Winter Solstice - the annual day with the least amount of sunlight hours. For attendees, knowing that the next day brings even a few extra minutes of daylight can renew hope.
Often referred to as the Tree of Hope, this symbolic exhibition offers a way to remember a loved one while helping a local cause. In memoriam, a tree light can be purchased by donation and placed on the Tree of Hope. Money received goes to a pre-selected organization. Originally founded by the Bereavement Group, the Tree of Hope has since become an annual community outreach program of the Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel.
“Some people come every year, without fail, because it is a meaningful time for them,” said Joni Cooke, general manager, Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel. “Others may have experienced a loss more recently and are feeling the intensity of grief during the holiday season.”
Typically, a couple of hundred people gather for the peaceful remembrance which sees the tree lit with blue bulbs.
“Everyone knows that everyone else is there for the same reason,” she said. “It can be a tough time of the year and it is good to share it with others who are reflecting on family and what the holidays mean to them.”
The tree lighting also draws continued representation from the Bereavement Group members who founded the evening.
“We do have people from the original group who help us out that evening,” said Joni. “People like Sheldon and Shelley Rathwell have helped with hot chocolate and doughnuts while Denise and Doug Radford (who has since passed on), along with their son Josh, help build a stage area and set up the PA system.” Doug was one of the original founders of the Bereavement Group.
Donations raised originally went to the Bereavement Group. Funds were used to purchase a granite memorial bench near the planted tree, which is located outside the Civic Centre.
“For many years, THRIVE was the beneficiary of donations but then we decided to reach out to other groups as well and donated to the Special Olympics last year and, this year, St. Vincent Place will be the recipient,” said Joni. The beneficiary is selected by the staff at the funeral home.
St. Vincent Place is an emergency shelter for men over 18 years of age. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting community members with basic needs and skill development.
“We appreciate every single donation, and we're grateful that the Arthur Funeral Home staff selected us,” said Sara McCleary, Marketing and Fundraising Coordinator, St. Vincent Place. “These donations will help us to meet our goal of making sure that everyone who comes to St. Vincent Place can have the merry Christmas they deserve.”
Clients will be provided with gifts and served a full Christmas dinner that they might not otherwise be able to enjoy.
“We'd like to say thank you to Arthur Funeral Home for helping us to give hope to the Sault's hungry and homeless,” said Sara.
The 2019 Memorial Tree Lighting will take place on Saturday, December 21 at 7 p.m. All are welcome. Team Enchante from Soo Sings for Kids will perform and light refreshments will be served in the Civic Centre immediately following the service.
Donations of any denomination will be accepted up to the end of day on Dec. 13. Cheques must be made payable to St. Vincent Place and can be dropped off with the donation form at either the Civic Centre (99 Foster Drive) or Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel (492 Wellington Street East).