A sacred event held earlier this year to honour those remembered during Peace Arch Hospice Society’s Celebrate a Life campaign left participants with goosebumps, Amanda McNally recalled of her first experience with the Dove Ceremony.
Held at the society’s supportive care centre in South Surrey, it gathered hospice staff and volunteers around a fire in the backyard, where each took a handful of paper doves – bearing names of loved ones lost – from the glass urn where they had been carefully stored since the close of the 2021 Celebrate a Life display.
After quietly reflecting on the doves and who they represent, each person approached the fire and placed their handful of doves on top, pausing for a moment of silence as the flames carried the names away.
It was a “very emotional” ritual,” McNally said.
But what made it particularly memorable was what appeared in the sky above.
“Someone who came into the building noticed something outside,” McNally said, recalling a photograph that was sent to the society immediately following the ceremony.
”In the sky, there was a cloud that was a dove, and not the kind where you think oh, I can kind of see it. Very clearly, it looks like a dove.
“It just gave us goosebumps.”
While the campaign is one of the society’s three key annual fundraisers, it’s important for people to know it goes beyond raising money, organizer Emiko Angus said, and the dove-burning ritual is a key part of that.
“We wanted people to know that’s something we do, because the names and the doves are so special to people. We don’t want to just put them in the recycle bin or throw them out.
“We wanted to do something special and meaningful, where we could honour those names and those people who wrote down the names.”
Time is running out to add a dove to the 2022 Celebrate a Life tree or donate to the campaign. Those interested may write their loved one’s name on a paper dove and add the ornament to the tree on display at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre during mall hours, until closing on Dec. 23.
All donations support the society’s grief and palliative programs, which are offered free of charge to the community.
In addition to raising funds, the campaign is an opportunity for the community “to honour their loved ones during the holiday season, a time that’s very difficult if you’re grieving,” Angus said.
The death of a loved one can be a difficult subject to bring up at any time, but especially around the holidays. Some fear the topic will make others unhappy or uncomfortable. But that is not the case at hospice, where the priority at all times is to provide a place to talk about death; whether one has lost a loved one, or is facing a terminal illness themselves.
The Celebrate a Life campaign is one of those places.
Angus said this year’s campaign launched with a “very generous” first donation of $500, received Dec. 1 by longtime hospice volunteers Doreen Bruce and Jean Walker, who took the first shift. The seniors are among some 75 volunteers who are helping out with the campaign.
Donations of any size are greatly appreciated, Angus said, “because every dollar makes a difference in the lives of people in our community who are grieving the death of a loved one.”
Last year, just over $20,000 was raised.
Volunteers – who contribute some 415 hours over the course of the 2022 event, not including the time spent making the wooden and clay doves – will be on hand to help or share information if needed, and those who donate $20 or more will receive a hand-painted wooden or clay dove as a keepsake.
For more information about hospice or the Celebrate a Life campaign, call 604-531-7484 or visit www.peacearchhospice.org
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