Members of grieving families gathered together in downtown Tyler Monday night to remember and honor their loved ones while creating a happy memory to combat the sadness of the holidays.
Families of about 80 East Texans participated in Hospice of East Texas’ annual Light Up a Life ceremony at the Butler-Clyde home at the corner of Fannin and Charnwood streets.
Organizers said the ceremony is the largest fundraiser for the nonprofit, which provides end-of-life care and grief counseling to families in 23 counties. This year the organization served 2,200 families.
“The holidays are a tough time for people who have lost someone,” said Vicki Harvey, director of community outreach at Hospice. “We invite anyone who has lost anyone in the community, whether they were a Hospice patient or not, to build a happier memory around the holidays and to honor the person they lost.”
Families lit candles for their loved ones as the Southern Oaks Church Al Fine Little Big Band played upbeat Christmas tunes in the background.
“We decided a big band was just the ticket to put a smile on everyone’s face,” Ms. Harvey said.
Dennis Harvey, chaplain at Hospice, said it can be hard to celebrate when a loved one is no longer around to participate in the joy. He said this Holiday season, families should embrace the memories and remember the good times, but allow for time and change if a certain tradition is still too painful.
“Celebrate faith, celebrate family and celebrate memories also,” Harvey said. “May this holiday season be one that you can mold all three together in a way that brings honor to them and to you.”
Names of each honored person were read aloud before a tall tree made up of lights was turned on to symbolically keep their memories bright. The families then joined the band in singing “Silent Night.”
Among the crowd, 83-year-old Jerline Hembree stood with her son and granddaughter.
This is the first Christmas Mrs. Hembree will be without her late husband Ray Hembree, who died in February. The pair was married for 62 years, she said.
Mrs. Hembree said the 11 days her husband spent in Hospice’s care were a Godsend.
‘They are Earth angels,” she said. “They are so wonderful. They made the passing bearable because they were so sweet.”
She said the ceremony was touching.
“This was very sweet, so upbeat and very nice, but everything Hospice does is first-class,” Mrs. Hembree said.
Hospice’s bereavement program stays with families for over a year after their loss, Ms. Harvey said.
“We are not through with a patient and a family until we know that they are all OK,” she said. “That’s why we offer grief counseling, that’s why we do workshops — to teach them going through grief is not like anything you’ve gone through before, and there is no one way to do it.”
Mrs. Hembree said the holidays would be hard, but she has a good support system.
“Anytime I feel sad, I try to remember the happy times we had together,” she said.
Ten more Light up a Life ceremonies are planned this holiday season throughout East Texas, and donations will be accepted until the end of the year.
For more information on the ceremonies or to donate, visitwww.hospiceofeasttexas.org .