By Joe Pisani
The Fairfield County Catholic Cemeteries will host two Trees of Remembrance events during Advent and Christmas to give families an opportunity to remember loved ones who have passed by hanging ornaments in their memory.
Members of the community are invited to take part in the events, which will be held at St. Mary-Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich and the St. Joseph Center in Trumbull. The family members do not have to be buried in the Catholic Cemeteries.
“Hanging an ornament with the name of a person you love who has died can be so healing,” said Carolyn Killian, Director of Bereavement for the Diocese of Bridgeport. “It can take a hard time and transform it into a healing moment, not just for you but for other members of your family.”
Jenine Berardesca, Family Services Director for Catholic Cemeteries, began the tradition last year in Greenwich, where some 200 people gathered to put ornaments on a 10-foot-tall spruce, which was lit throughout the Advent and Christmas season. She says they are already getting inquiries about this year’s event from throughout the diocese.
“It will give families a time to come together mutually and celebrate their loved ones during the holiday season,” Berardesca said. “The event is family friendly, and it will be a celebration of the season and a celebration of life. It is not limited to families of any denomination or to families only from Greenwich. Our invitation is joyously extended to everyone.”
Berardesca recalls that last year one of the employees of Catholic Cemeteries, who had lost his father, volunteered to hang the ornaments and was surprised to be holding one that said, “Merry First Christmas in Heaven, Dad.”
“It had a great impact on him and showed him that all people have a common bond when it comes to grief,” she said.
Another employee was observing the 20th anniversary of his brother’s death and was moved by the impact the Remembrance Tree had upon him.
“It gave them both an outlet for their grief,” Berardesca said. “And showed them that the miracle of Christmas can turn even grief into hope. It’s not an evening about loss, but about the reunions that are sure to come. The Holy Spirit was with us, and it wasn’t a time of loss. It was a time of hope.”
The tree at St. Mary-Putnam Cemetery will be available to the public from Monday, November 27 until Friday, January 5, 2024. There will be a lighting ceremony with a special blessing, music and complimentary refreshments on Thursday, November 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. at 399 North Street in Greenwich. Berardesca requests that you do not bring ornaments that have great sentimental or financial value. For further information, call (203) 742-1510 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Killian, who is organizing the event at St. Joseph Center in Trumbull, said individuals and families can bring an ornament or choose a complimentary one to place on the tree, which will be blessed by Father Nick Pavia, chaplain, during a lighting ceremony on Wednesday, November 29 at 4 p.m. St. Joseph Center, which is a nursing care facility, is located at 6448 Main Street in Trumbull. Complimentary refreshments will be provided by Abriola Parkview Funeral Home.
For further information, call (203) 404-0820 or email email@example.com
“It is very healing to have rituals in place at Christmas because they help you remember to hold the person you’ve lost in your heart during what can be a difficult time of year for those who are grieving,” Killian said. “In the holiday season, everyone seems to be very happy, but when you’re grieving you often feel you can’t do this stuff anymore.”
She encourages anyone, who knows someone suffering a loss, to reach out with simple acts of kindness, such as helping them set up their tree if they plan to decorate one, saying a prayer for them, and offering to assist them any way possible during a painful time in their lives.
“These small gestures will help them on their healing journey — along with other members of their family because we never grieve alone,” Killian said. “When you hang an ornament on the tree with the name of someone you love, you recognize your grief, you remember your loved one, and you perform a small act that moves you forward and helps you heal.”
Killian also said the event at St. Joseph Center is intended to help the elderly community, many of whom have seen many losses in their lives.
“We have to support our seniors,” she said. “And knowing how difficult the holidays can be for them, I thought an event like this would recognize them, give them a way to grieve, and provide an opportunity to come together.”