Tree of Hope service provides support to those grieving

Linda Fraser is preparing for her family’s first Christmas without her mom.

“Mom was the anchor of our family who brought it all together,” says Linda.

Her mother, Anne Perin-Serediak, was a patient in the Palliative Hospice at St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital, moving in after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at the end of July 2018. She died on Oct. 27—an absence that is continually felt, but even more so during the holidays, says Linda.

Recently, Linda took part in a memorial service at St. Joseph’s, which gave her the opportunity to celebrate her mother's life and to grieve her loss. Held on the first Monday of December, the Tree of Hope service was created when staff at St. Joseph's recognized the need to support family members.

The poem "Merry Christmas from Heaven," as read by Cecilia Marion at the Tree of Hope service

“This is a way we bring love and hope into people’s lives, acknowledging that it’s not an easy time of year for those who have lost loved ones.” —Cecilia Marion, Senior Director, Operations

The Tree of Hope is a symbol of hope in the resurrection and therefore a source of consolation to all who are mourning their loved ones during the Christmas season. At the end of the service, the Tree of Hope is lit, representing hope in the darkness. 

The service encourages people to pause, remember and reflect on the person who has passed away. People light candles. Music and readings are chosen to provide comfort.

“We recognize that Christmas can be a very hard time for people who are going through loss and grief," says Janet Eggert, Program Manager at St. Joseph’s.

“Everything isn't always jolly and merry for people. We know that people are not all at the same place, and some are more vulnerable and sad than others. These are family members of our residents, and they are part of the continuum of care we provide.”

For Linda, who attended the service with her sister Sylvia Burden, the service provided an ongoing connection to the people and the place that assisted their mother in her final days.

“When we brought Mom to the palliative unit, what we found was that the staff were there for Mom, but they were also there for us,” says Linda. “The week after Mom passed away, we got a call from the chaplain’s office and the social worker—they didn't forget about us.”

Families and staff come together to reminisce about loved ones, which is important, says Linda.

“We never got the feeling it was just a job; it felt like the staff were family through the whole thing and (the) ceremony is what you would do for your family,” says Linda. “It was beautiful.”

The service is also a chance for families and staff to reconnect. One of Anne’s nurses, Waiman Osborne, sang during the service. “Singing makes me happy, as does seeing the families—I miss them, I really do,” says Waiman. Photo: (From left) Linda Fraser, Waiman Osborne and Sylvia Burden

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