Families of 70 East Texans participated in Hospice of East Texas' annual Light Up a Life ceremony at the Butler-Clyde home at the corner of Fannin and Charnwood streets.
Organizers said the ceremony is the largest fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, which provides end-of-life care and grief counseling to families in 24 counties.
Nancy Lamar, vice president of community relations for Hospice, said the organization hopes to raise $100,000 to continue providing its services, but the 10 Light Up a Life ceremonies planned this season help the grieving process for the communities it serves.
“It's part of Hospice of East Texas' mission,” Lamar said “Our bereavement program follows families after the death of a loved one and also offers grief support and counseling to the communities we serve. The holidays can be a tough time for those who are grieving, and this is a way to offer something positive for them.”
Among the crowd was Steve Hicks, 52, of Tyler, and 20 of his family members, all clad in matching T-shirts to honor the late Tracie Hicks, of Tyler.
“They made her passing easier,” Hicks said. “She didn't suffer. They made her comfortable and also made my family comfortable.”
During the ceremony, Dennis Harvey, chaplain for Hospice, spoke on the importance of holding on to memories of loved ones. He said the holidays are filled with events that can feel overwhelming if it is the first year without a loved one.
“May this holiday season be filled with memories for you,” Harvey said. “May you go through the events that you choose to go through, be able to honor those memories, and honor those memories in a very special way.”
The Bishop T.K. Gorman Regional Catholic School Choir sang carols, and members of the crowd joined in on the final number of Silent Night.
Names of each honored person were read aloud before a tall tree made up of lights was turned on to symbolically keep their memories bright.
Hicks said it was a ceremony his sister would have liked to see.
“She was the type of person that liked the spotlight, and I thought, 'Oh, she would love this' — to hear her name called out with this many people here and honor her and the tree lit up,” he said. “It felt special, but it was kind of sad.”
Suzanne Liles, the choir's director, said the group has participated in the event for the past several years, but it has taken a personal note over the past few years.
“All of the kids were touched,” Liles said. “I heard them take a breath. Sometimes you forget what other people have gone through.”
Hicks said it is his faith that has gotten him and his family through.
“It gets better with time …” he said. “Without our faith, we would all probably fall apart”
Light Up a Life ceremonies are planned in the cities of Rusk, Henderson, Jacksonville, Hawkins, Mineola, Ben Wheeler, Palestine, Athens and Nacogdoches.
Donations will continue to be accepted through the end of the year.