The holidays are a time to spend quality time with friends and loved ones. For those who have loved ones who have passed, an event is held every year to help them remember those family members and as way to still include them in holiday celebrations.
The VNA Friends of Hospice puts on the Tree of Remembrance event each holiday season. This year is the fifth year that is has been held. While the event used to be outside, it is now inside the Valparaiso YMCA.
Each year, members of the community are invited to remember loved ones who have passed away. Those who have been through the Hospice program and have attended before receive and invite, as well as those who have just recently lost someone.
There were three Christmas trees at the ceremony, covered with dove-shaped ornaments displaying the names of the loved ones. While there was not a cost to purchase an ornament, those interested in having one were asked to make a donation of any amount as a fundraiser for the Hospice program. Funds raised went to the Visiting Nurses Association of Porter County.
The Hospice Choir performed at the beginning of the ceremony, singing a few well-known tunes and then finishing with "Silent Night". The audience was invited to sing the last verse of the song with the choir. Then, the Hospice Reverend Craig Forwalter blessed the trees and the ornaments.
To close off the ceremony, everyone was welcome to remove their ornaments from the trees and take them home. There was also coffee, cookies and hot chocolate available for before or after the ceremony.
According to Maria Galka, Vice President of Development for the VNA of Porter County, the event is special because it allows the people of the community to remember someone they love and miss, and also to include someone they lost in their holiday celebrations. She said it is a way for people to spend time together.
"My favorite thing is seeing the people, year after year," Galka said. "It's a good way to kick off the holidays and to be with people going through the same thing."
According to CEO Rick Rhew, it would not be Christmas without the event.
"It's my personal onset of Christmas," Rhew said. "It's a great opportunity for us."
Rhew wants to continue the tradition in upcoming years.
"I want to keep it going. I think it is something that folks really look forward to," he said in closing.