More than two dozen people gathered Sunday, in a snow-covered gazebo in downtown Vermilion, to remember the lives of loved ones lost.
The men, women and children huddled together for warmth and comfort as Mark Riddle of Riddle Funeral Home, welcomed them to the 9th annual “Tree of Remembrance” ceremony.
“This gives people a different way to remember a person they’ve lost,” Riddle said. “It started as a way to help our clients, but everyone in the community is invited.”
Each year, the group decorates a tree or two in front of the gazebo, stringing lights and bows, and encourages anyone who’s lost a loved one to add an ornament.
The ceremony, Riddle said, became a Vermilion tradition after starting at the funeral home; a camaraderie with Friends of Harbour Town brought it to the gazebo in Victory Park.
There are no restrictions on who or what the ornaments depict, and several visitors Sunday held handmade creations bedazzled with glitter, photos and lace.
Many came in pairs, some in groups and a few stood alone, holding shiny bulbs and stars. Some hid their faces with oversized hoods or sunglasses, while others let tears flow freely, freezing on their flushed cheeks.
At 1 p.m., Riddle welcomed the guests and told them their presence was a step forward in the grieving process.
Each was asked to sign his or her loved one’s name in a book and to remove the ornament for safekeeping once the holiday was over.
“These ornaments are your way of remembering your loved ones and taking part in the Christmas spirit,” Riddle said. “Take them home with you so you can remember the hope that each new day holds.”
Following several tips on how to grieve, and a short prayer, the names in the book were read aloud as a vocal tribute while the relatives and friends who had signed them marched silently out of the gazebo to place their ornaments on one of the two trees at the entrance.
Aside from a few emotional sniffles and sobs, there was hardly a sound as each visitor waited for his or her turn. Even the handful of children who attended were solemn, understanding the importance of silent memories.
Carla Young and her children, Ava Ann, 5, and Corrinne, 7, arrived after the last name in the book had been read.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to bring the kids,” Young said. “But they helped make the ornament and it’s important for children to heal, just as much as adults.
Young’s father, Tom Stacey, died less than three months ago, and although he lived out-of-state, Young said the loss shook the children.
“It doesn’t matter how far away someone is, a child knows,” she said. “It wouldn’t be fair to say, OK, they’re gone, that’s it.”
After placing a square ornament with their “poppa’s” photo on a vacant branch, the Youngs left as quickly as they had come.
Both trees were chock-full of angels, doves, bells, hearts and bulbs, by 1:30 p.m., yet provided just enough small spaces for the ornaments in the hands of the carloads of people that steadily continued to arrive.
When all was said and done, the majority of the group stayed for light conversation, cookies and hot chocolate as others piled into and pulled away in their warm cars.
Riddle said, because of Ohio’s uncertain weather, he doesn’t know if all the ornaments will survive the weather come January, but he does not the people who put them there will “never forget.”