The death of a loved one is a difficult subject to bring up, especially around the holidays.
It can often make people uncomfortable or sad, and many times the subject is pushed aside.
For the White Rock South Surrey Hospice Society, providing a place to talk about death has been a priority for more than two decades. Each holiday season, the hospice puts up a tree in the middle of Semiahmoo Mall, inviting those who have lost someone to put a paper dove as a memorial for their annual Celebrate-A-Life event.
Carole Whynott, a hospice volunteer and chairperson of the event, says it may come as a surprise to see how many people want to remember a loved one around the holidays, whether it’s simply putting a dove up or speaking to the volunteers at the hospice. Whynott often meets people who are unable to bring up the topic for fear of making others unhappy and have no one else to talk to.
“It’s really amazing how many people stop by to tell us their story. We’re there to listen and it just opens the doors,” Whynott said. “It’s OK to talk about the loss of a loved one and we listen.”
The paper doves covering the tree are a way to pay tribute those who have died and to provide some relief to those who are in pain, said Whynott.
Despite the decades that have passed, she still places a paper dove in honour of her daughter, Jackie Michael, who died as a baby. She will also place doves in memory of her cousin, Billy, who committed suicide; her cousin, Joe, who was stabbed to death; and her parents and friends who have passed.
Decorated in glitter, with ribbons to tie to the tree, the doves have been a symbol for the hospice for many years, symbolizing peace. By placing the doves on the tree, Whynott said she hopes it brings peace of mind to those struggling with the loss of a loved one.
She recalls meeting three girls, all cousins who had lost their grandfather, with their mothers trailing behind them. Whynott invited the girls to share their story. The 10-year-old girl, the youngest of the three, spoke about the recent death of their grandfather.
“She said that her papa had been such a good man, and that they all really, really missed him,” Whynott said.
The girls had all scraped and saved $75 each to donate to the hospice in honour of their Papa, in lieu of gifts.
“You could see their moms were crying, it touched them deeply to know that their girls only wanted to remember their grandfather for Christmas,” Whynott said. “That in itself is the beauty of Celebrate-A-Life.”
The doves have become a tradition for many in the community, including hospice volunteer Margaret Rodgers.
In 1958, at the age of 20, Rodgers was diagnosed with bone cancer. Against all odds, she has lived for decades longer than originally expected.
Her early introduction to the subject of death didn’t make her hide from it. Instead, she devoted her life to helping others who had cancer, eventually working with the hospice.
For the last 15 years at the hospice, she has seen many people whom she cared about die, including her husband. Every year, Rodgers would put up a dove in honour of the people she loved and lost. This will be the first year she is unable to because of medical issues, but she encourages others to participate.
“It’s like a vigil,” said Rodgers. “It’s a closing for some, and a way to meet others who are grieving.”
This week, as the Celebrate-A-Life campaign comes to a close, the society gathers all the paper doves and bring them back to the hospice for the Dove Ceremony. The paper doves are burned one-by-one as a final goodbye.
“It closes the gap between life and death and sends the spirits up to the sky,” Whynott said.
The campaign runs until Friday. Anyone can place a dove on the tree, and those who donate $20 or more will be able to take home a wooden dove, hand-painted by the Grade 11 students at Southridge School.
Money raised will go to the hospice for care and services of terminally ill patients, their families and friends.
For more information, visit www.whiterockhospice.org