Family and friends gathered at the Christ Lutheran Church in Valparaiso on Tuesday evening for the VNA of Northwest Indiana’s annual Tree of Remembrance Ceremony. The tradition allows people to honor passed loved ones during the holiday season.
The ceremony first occurred back in 2005, when families gathered outside for a brief memorial. Years later, they moved indoors and the Christ Lutheran Church offers to host the event each year. Families who take part each receive a personalized ornament, adorned with the name of their loved one, which they place on one of three different Trees of Remembrance.
“We’re remembering about 320 people tonight,” said Maria Galka, Director of Development for the VNA of Northwest Indiana. “That’s a lot of people. This church is just going to ring with love. There’s really no other way to describe it.”
After attendees placed their ornaments, VNA Hospice Chaplain Rev. Allen Wright led a prayer and discussed how the lights on this year’s candle-like ornaments represent the loved ones honored that evening.
“I want to thank you for taking that walk across the parking lot and joining us in sharing that light, that life with other people,” Wright said. “These people, their light should be shared and expressed freely. They’ve left that light for us, they’ve left those memories for us to carry on.”
The holidays are often one of the most trying times of the year for grieving families, and the ceremony offers them a chance to unite, share the burden, and celebrate their loved ones.
“It’s humbling to see the response,” said Bob Franko, President and CEO at VNA of Northwest Indiana. “There are a lot of people who come back every year for this, to remember loved ones, family members, and friends. It turns into a bit of a Christmas tradition, it becomes a way for them to include people that they’ve lost over the years in the holidays.”
Annette Arnold had attended the ceremony in years past to honor her parents but returned to celebrate the life of her husband.
“I think it’s great because it’s a way for us all to share a common bond,” she said. “We’re all grieving, and it helps us remember them at a really difficult time. It’s absolutely amazing, it’s a beautiful way for us to honor our loved ones.”
The ceremony closed with the VNA Hospice Choir leading the gathered crowd through a rendition of “Silent Night, Holy Night.” There were only a few dry eyes in the room by the song’s conclusion.
To learn more about the VNA of Northwest Indiana, visit www.vnanwi.org.