People mourning the loss of loved ones during the last year gathered Thursday evening to remember, reflect and console each other in the glow of a Tree of Light ceremony at First Church Congregational.
It was the 22nd annual remembrance service sponsored by Visiting Nurse Services of Connecticut. Twelve other VNS-hosted ceremonies took place simultaneously across the state Thursday. The First Church service featured poetry readings, music, a tribute to Connecticut residents in the military lost during the year, a tree lighting and reception.
"During the holiday season, the effect of the loss of a loved one is very emotional," said Maurice Magnotta, the local co-chairman of the service. "Families reflect on their loss. We put this event in place so that people could express their grief and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. We also honor fallen soldiers who were Connecticut residents."
VNS hospice social worker Susan Henry, who in past years has coordinated a Tree of Light ceremony in Bridgeport, said the event is special on many levels. "Besides being open to the whole community, it serves as a fundraiser to help us help the uninsured and underinsured with end-of-life care and bereavement support," she said.
The VNS Hospice's main mission is to help people facing the end of their lives to die peacefully and comfortably, according to Henry.
In opening remarks, from a stage area trimmed with poinsettias and large wreaths, Magnotta elaborated on the pain felt by those grieving over a loss at this time of year. "Grief is very multi-faceted," he said. "A companion is change. When we lose someone, we want things to stay the same, but that's not always the way. Year after year, something new comes up and challenges us. You can't let the grief steal your life. Never minimize the importance you have on others. You deserve to be happy again."
Magnotta was followed by an acoustic guitar rendition by Robert Roush of "Amazing Grace," then readings by Randy Lester and Susan Henry of two poems -- "Slow Dance" by David Weatherford and "Don't Tell Me That You Understand" by Joanettea Hendel -- before Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau took the podium.
Tetreau delivered a "Tribute to Our Fallen Soldiers," who shared insights from the perspective of having a brother, Lt. Col. William Tetreau, on active duty. Last year at this time, Bill Tetreau had recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. "Today, he headed out for another tour," Tetreau told the gathering.
The first selectman read the names of the two Connecticut servicemen who died in the line of duty during 2012. Spc. Philip C.S. Schiller was killed April 16 by enemy fire in Afghanistan. Even after he was wounded, he continued firing, according to his father and aunt. Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner, a New Haven native, also died in Afghanistan, on Feb. 3.
"With a just God as our guide, let us remember those that are lost," Tetreau said. "May God bless them and may God bless the U.S.A."