COCHRANE— Creating space for families to honour the lives of those who have passed on, The Cochrane and Area Hospice Society will once again be lighting up the Remembrance Tree project this holiday season.
The Remembrance Tree project was launched for the first time in 2019 and served as a way to bring the community together while giving friends and family an opportunity to celebrate loved ones who have died, said Cochrane and Area Hospice Society chair Ozzie Sawicki.
“It was so well-liked last year we didn’t want to have a year that we missed. Right now, with COVID, there’s a desire for connection that people are lacking right now desperately,” Sawicki said. “This is a scenario that allows people to create a connection with people they lost. It allows them to create connections within their families, and I think, it's healthy for them to get out and have that remembrance.”
The Remembrance Tree projects takes place from Nov. 28 to Dec 31. In crafting the tree, the Hospice Society has decorated evergreen trees at the Historic Cochrane Ranche with white lights. People who sign up to have a loved one remembered can then replace a white light with a coloured Christmas bulb of their choosing.
To participate in the Remembrance Tree project, email the Hospice Society at email@example.com with the name of the loved one to have a coloured light added to the tree in their memory. Their name will also be included in the Cochrane and Area Hospice Society Remembrance Tree book.
“They can go at their leisure individually to go see the trees and remember their loved ones with their families within a safe cohort,” Sawicki said.
Last year the community was able to gather for the lighting of the tree and enjoy music from local musicians.
“It turned into a really popular event. We had a lot of people come out,” Sawicki said.
This year's project will look different due to the COVID-19 public health measures in place, he said, but the Hospice Society felt it was critical to make sure the Remembrance Tree project was able to take place this year.
Members of the society felt it was critical to create a space for conversations about loved ones who have died, he said.
The Remembrance Tree is a unique event because people have the opportunity to reflect and share stories about those they have lost, Sawicki said, while being close to family and friends who can share in laughter and tears.
The event was an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the end of life journey, Sawicki said, and each light on the tree represents a personal experience of individuals.
“Societally talking about death is difficult a the best of time for us,” Sawicki said. “I think what we forget is death is equally an important part of life as birth is. It’s part of the journey. Sometimes we forget to celebrate the the end of the journey as much as the beginning of the journey— It’s more important now than ever."
The Society has decided to forgo donations this year to participate in the project, he said, and will instead focus on providing the community with a chance to connect.
Sawicki said they are still encouraging any community members who can do so to donate to the Society to help it take root in the Cochrane community.
The organization is developing a rich support system for the Cochrane area, Sawicki said, including providing end of life take-home comfort kits that are facilitated through home-care nurses. They also have a volunteer pool of palliative trained members on call.
The ability of the Hospice Society to connect with clients and the community had been complicated by COVID-19 especially in regards to the isolation vulnerable community members are experiencing. Sawicki said, to overcome this adversity they have held card campaigns, hosted phone calls and other forms of communication to ensure people are receiving the help and support they need.
“The isolation is difficult— It’s lonely for people. It creates anxiety. It creates mental stress,” Sawicki said, adding they have begun collaborating with the Cochrane Seniors Advisory Committee to find the best way to support seniors in the Cochrane area— This includes family members of those who are at the end of their life.
The Cochrane and Area Hospice society formed in May of 2017. It quickly grew through word-of-mouth and community interest, he said, because of the important meaning and role of the Society.
“It’s been something that has been worthwhile to be a part of,” Sawicki said.
The long-term goal of the organization is to build on community partnerships to ensure the needs of the Cochrane community are being met. Sawicki said they are hoping to eventually create two hospice beds in Cochrane to ensure families can stay in the community when an individual is at their end of life journey.