Mary Williams believes that nobody should be left to grieve alone — especially during the holiday season.
Williams is the executive director of Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba, which once again has erected its Hospice Memory Tree at St. Vital Centre.
The 25-foot tree, located near the Bay, is a way for individuals to help ease the pain of grief during the holidays by hanging a card of remembrance for a loved one who died in a meaningful and symbolic way.
"Over time, people have become more aware of the tree and why it’s there," said Williams, noting an average of 2,500 to 3,000 cards are placed on the tree annually. "It’s something they see each year, so it becomes easier for them to approach someone to talk about their feelings."
Williams said the organization — which was joined by members of the Compassionate Friends at the tree’s recent launch — has a team of "trained, supportive" volunteers that have taken bereavement courses, adding that many individuals find it difficult to deal with their grief.
"A lot of people still don’t want to go there and are reluctant to talk, because they find it hard sometimes. They don’t know what to say or how to engage about their loss. So when they come to the tree, they have the opportunity to talk about their loved ones," she said.
This year not only celebrates the 20th anniversary of the tree, but marks the launch of HPCM’s new program called Kids Grieve Too, which is designed to help kids of all ages and their parents or caregivers cope. It’s a service that Williams said is lacking in the province.
"Kids are often forgotten. They’re the forgotten grievers. And kids experience grief somewhat differently to adults. As far as we know, this is the first program of its kind in Manitoba that deals with kids directly," Williams said.
"We want them to work with their feelings, acknowledge their grief and to learn coping techniques to help them in the long-term. The reality is they often feel very isolated and think nobody else is going through a similar thing. Whether they’ve lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or a good friend, this program will bring similar kids together, which is a positive thing."
Long-time volunteer Jim Krokosh, who lives in St. James, said the holiday season is a crucial time for community members to reach out and offer support.
"This is an opportunity for me to serve a good cause and offer comfort at the same time. It gives them peace of mind and fond memories of others. It’s a chance to express their feelings and loss," he said.
"Christmas is a hard time for people, as it seems to be the time of year you miss your loved ones the most."
HPCM is partly funded by United Way of Winnipeg. For more information, or to talk to someone about your grief, call 204-889-8525.