FOREST CITY | A Christmas tree was lit, the other lights in the room were dimmed, and more than 120 names of the deceased were read aloud during a Tree of Life ceremony earlier this month.
Hospice of North Iowa holds these ceremonies in the areas it serves, including Forest City, every Christmas season.
A person's loved one does not need to have been a Hospice patient to recognized during the ceremony.
The Rev. Art Zewert, spiritual care coordinator for Hospice of North Iowa, gave the message during the ceremony.
He said Hospice is grateful for all the people at the event grieving together and sharing stories.
During the season of Advent, "we confront some tough stuff," he said. "We are missing loved ones."
Zewert lost his mother last year.
"It hits me every holiday," he said.
Zewert took a class on understanding grief and loss offered to Hospice. He said he met people whose situation is worse than his, including a man who lost two family members in the middle of December.
Staying involved during the holiday season is "a symbol of life continuing," he said.
Those who are grieving need to be with their remaining loved ones and not leave them out, according to Zewert.
Families can remember those they are missing during the holidays by "giving it a time and place," he said.
Lighting a candle in memory of the member of the family who has died is one way to do this, according to Zewert.
But those who are grieving during the Christmas season also need to give themselves a break if they feel overwhelmed, he added.
"Now more than ever we need to be gentle with ourselves," Zewert said. "Don't do anything that doesn't serve your soul."
After the ceremony those who have lost a loved one were invited to take an ornament from the tree home to remember him or her.
Marjorie Hall said she tries to attend the Tree of Life ceremony each year.
"I see a lot of people that I went through grieving with," said the 91-year-old Forest City resident.
Marjorie has lost three loved ones whose names are read aloud during the ceremony: her grandson, Timothy Hall, who died in 1976 when he was six months old; her husband, Merle Hall, who died in 2005; and her daughter-in-law, Bonnie Hall, who died in 2009.
Marjorie's daughter, Sue Reese, worked for Hospice for more than 20 years. Marjorie recently retired as a Hospice volunteer.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it," she said.
By talking to different people who are grieving, "I learned so much about life," she added.