Hundreds gathered Aug. 27 for Joliet Area Community Hospice’s annual Interfaith Memorial Service and Balloon Release.
The program aims to provide a space for individuals grieving for people who died in hospice between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 to reflect on the lives of their loved ones.
“It’s for any one who has participated in our programs,” said Mary Ann Burns, director of bereavement services for Joliet Area Community Hospice. “The idea is to remember their loved ones. It’s a meaningful way to celebrate.”
The program began with an opening song performed by musicians Ken Plese, Janet Russ and Mike Zolecki and subsequently Mary Sheehan, chief executive officer of Joliet Area Community Hospice, took a moment to welcome the crowd for coming out.
“Thank you for being here today,” she said. “I know this isn’t easy for you. It takes a lot of courage to come… Here, you’re in a safe place to grieve the way you want to grieve and be accepted for how you grieve. Please keep in my mind your loved ones who died and [your] family.”
Four grief candles were lit during the ceremony to represent the grief, courage, remembrance and love that people will share for loved ones who died.
Ahead of the interfaith memorial service, attendees wrote letters to their loves ones, and later they attached their messages to balloons.
“It gives them a way to find a ritual to remember their ones,” Burns said.
Burns said people often think they’ll forget their loved ones when they die, but she believes programs, like the Interfaith Memorial Service and Balloon Release, serve as reason to beg to differ.
“It’s great to see people share a ritual to celebrate their loved ones,” she said.
This year, event organizers had approximately 300 people pre-registered for the program.
“They like to connect,” Burns said. “We like to connect with them. They get to connect with their loved ones.”
The program was made possible thanks, in part, to a number of volunteers.
Betty Mahoney, a volunteer for Joliet Area Community Hospice, said seeing the program come together was nice.
“It was really great because it brings me back to the time three years ago when my husband passed away,” she said. “I can feel what these people feel.”
By the program’s end, attendees of all ages gathered outside to release their balloons in unison.