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Ashland Memorial Service Aims To Help Those Grieving During Holiday Season

Organizers Say Service Seeks To Support Those Suffering From Loss

Photo: Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Many people celebrate the holiday season with family or friends, but the holidays can be a difficult time of year for those who have lost loved ones.

With this thought in mind, a holiday memorial service in Ashland offers support to people who are grieving this time of the year.

A tree stands in the corner of the room lit up and decorated with ornaments at the Tree of Life service. The ornaments represent the loss of someone dear to those who are singing.

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Andrew MacGregor, the spiritual care coordinator for Regional Hospice in Ashland, said they hold the service to give people a way to remember those no longer living.

“Very often, it’s very hard for people to feel like they’re a part of the holiday season. In a way, we kind of thought that it would be a gentle way for people to have some holiday connection and almost some cheer that was a little less threatening than the maybe some of the hype and other things that go on at this time of year,” he said.

Diane Heapy said that Regional Hospice supports an average of 75 people in Ashland throughout the year. As a bereavement services coordinator, she understands just how difficult the holidays can be for some. Heapy said she lost her partner and daughter to cancer within eight months of each other.

“Many people will say, ‘You know, I started to feel really sad and I couldn’t figure it out and I looked at the calendar and realized it was the anniversary of the death of my mother’ or whatever. I think the holiday has a mixture of remembering sadness and a lot of joys,” Heapy said.

Christmas is a difficult time of year for Edith Olson, of Rice Lake. Olson said her husband, Marvin, passed away six years ago when they were sitting down for Christmas Eve dinner.

“I’m personally glad when Christmas is over and that’s not a good attitude, but here, we’re all ready to sit down and have this wonderful Christmas Eve dinner. My granddaughters wouldn’t let me in the kitchen because they said, ‘You’re always doing the cooking. We’re taking care of it.’ Right as we sit down, it was all over,” she said.

Olson said she hasn’t had Christmas at home since.

“It’s very sad because memories of such good days and now those days are gone forever,” she said.

Olson and her sister, Gloria Mattakat, of Duluth, Minn., have come in memory of their brother George who passed away earlier this year. This is the first time Mattakat has been to the Tree of Life service, but she said she’s been to similar gatherings since losing her son, Tom, 21 years ago on Thanksgiving.

“People are afraid to talk about your loved one because they don’t want to make you feel bad. If people only knew, the best thing they can do is to bring up our loved ones names,” she said.

Mattakat said it’s important to remember them.

“We’ve got to keep celebrating our loved ones lives because they lived and they want us to keep on living and as long as I live I want to keep these loved ones memories alive in a positive way,” she said.

Retired Washburn pastor Dan Zei spoke at the service. Zei said he hopes people draw strength and support from one another as they remember those they’ve lost.

“It’s important when we lose somebody to help fill the void that the loss of that person creates for other people as well. In participating in that, we can have a fulfillment that we’re not replacing that person, but we’re helping to carry on that person’s presence and legacy,” he said.

Zei said they’re not alone in their grief and certainly not forgotten.

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