On the Wings of Doves

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Doves are considered a symbol of those who are deeply missed.

By Rafael J. Sciullo

During the holiday season, thousands of families across Western Pennsylvania were making their way to area malls to do their shopping. With lists in hand, the search was on for just the right gifts. Then, onto the grocery stores, to buy everything needed for those special dinners and get-togethers. After all, the holiday season is a perfect time to spend with the ones we cherish most

It’s also the ideal time to remember those we’ve lost. Those who have meant so much to us.

A certain family of five made their way to the mall on a cold Saturday afternoon. But before they ventured into any stores, placed an order at the food court, or went to visit Santa, mom said “See those trees over there, I want us all to go and take a good look at them.”

The youngest child asked “Why Mommy? What’s so special about those trees?”

“Well,” Mom replied, “Grand Pap’s name is on one of those trees. Let’s look for it and then we’ll take a picture next to it.”

Grand Pap had died earlier that year and his daughter wanted to make sure he was remembered in a special way during the holiday season. His name was inscribed on a dove adorning a beautiful holiday tree. It was part of Family Hospice and Palliative Care’s tenth annual “Holiday Memorial Tree” campaign.

For a donation to our non-profit organization, those who have lost a loved one can have that person’s name on a dove, adorning trees at seven local malls during the holiday season. In our most recent campaign, over 1,300 people were remembered in this manner.

The Holiday Memorial Tree campaign allows participants to not only honor those they’ve lost, but, through their donations, benefit thousands of families here in Western Pennsylvania who annually receive compassionate care, regardless of their ability to pay.

It is really amazing to think that a simple fundraising appeal that began a decade ago has become such a cherished local holiday tradition. It’s now commonplace for our Family Hospice staff to get requests for doves from people before the campaign even begins – and for Memorial Tree donations to continue after it ends.

When the campaign began in 2001, there was one tree on display at The Galleria in the South Hills. Now, the campaign has grown to cover seven participating malls: The Galleria, Century III Mall, Ross Park Mall, Monroeville Mall, The Mall at Robinson, Clearview Mall and Shenango Valley Mall.
So, the family of five made their way to the trees, and after just a minute or so of looking, the middle child found Grand Pap’s name. “Here he is!” The rest of the family gathered around, pausing for a moment as each quietly called to mind a special memory.

Then, as they got into place for pictures, smiles came to their faces one-by-one. This was their special way of celebrating holiday time with their cherished loved one. Not only was it a special way to remember Grand Pap – but pay tribute to him by letting everyone know he was special and missed.

Of course, this scene was repeated over and over – each in its own unique way – by families all around our area. Family Hospice and Palliative Care is proud to be a part of this annual remembrance and we’re grateful for the hundreds of families that take part each year.

Before leaving the mall, the family of five passed by the trees again. “Mom,” the oldest child asked, “can we put Grand Pap’s name on the tree again next year?”

“Sure,” Mom said, “We’ll do it every year. Let’s make it our holiday tradition.”

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at rsciullo@familyhospice.com or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. Its website is www.familyhospice.com.