Our Memory Tree began with a question. One bereaved mom wondered, “Could we have a tree at the Children’s Hospital at Christmastime to remember our children?” At the time, it seemed like an insurmountable task. But with persistence, organization, and support, the Memory Tree Event came to be an annual event for grieving families in Calgary, Alberta.
Fortunately, at the time another support group, called Caring Beyond, already had a tradition of providing a decorated tree to an infant unit at Alberta’s Children’s Hospital (ACH). So we knew it was possible to have a tree. But Journey Through Loss of a Young Child wanted to have our tree in an open area at ACH and we wanted to host an event as part of the tree decorating. With collaboration and support from the grief support professionals at ACH, our group was able to successfully organize our first Memory Tree Event in December 2003.
The first Memory Tree Event was held in the solarium at the old Children’s Hospital, located on Richmond Road Southwest in Calgary. Grieving parents and grief support counsellors, including Marcel from spiritual care, attended and placed ornaments upon our tree in remembrance of our children who had passed. Initially, the event was designed for adults and the Memory Tree Event was held in the evening. But after the first year, we changed the date and time to the weekend and extended the event to children, family and friends. That first event included an introduction with words on grieving and the holidays, tree decorating, and candle lighting followed by refreshments. Current Memory Tree Events still follow this format.
That first Christmas tree was a bit of a “Charlie Brown” tree and it only supported about 25-30 ornaments. It proudly took up space near the cafeteria in the old Children’s Hospital. We were surprised to hear how meaningful the Tree was for staff members, many of whom may have cared for our children. We have since had two new trees donated to Journey Through Loss of a Young Child for the Memory Tree Event. In 2016, Steel Reef Infrastructure donated a much larger tree so now we are able to hang all the ornaments from previous years on the tree. Each year, the Memory Tree remains lit for over 1000 hours during the Holiday Season in remembrance of our children.
When the Alberta Children’s Hospital moved to its new site in 2006, we relocated our event as well. It took a few years for us to regain our numbers as some families did not feel connected to the new ACH as the place to honour their child. Since the opening of the new hospital, the Memory Tree Event has been held in the 4th floor in meeting rooms of ACH, with the tree relocated post-event to its home for the Holiday Season, on the 2nd floor across from the Family Resource Center.
In 2009, there was an H1N1 pandemic, so we could not have our tree event at the hospital. Rotary Flames House was not yet accepting children and families, so we were blessed to host the Memory Tree Event at the Rotary Flames House. It was an intimate and lovely setting for the small number of families who attended that year. We were very thankful for the use of the space.
Each year, a core group of volunteers organize, set up, and host the event. They later take down the Tree the first Sunday after New Years in January. For the past few years, we have been fortunate to have volunteers from the ACH Child Life program who provide a craft table and supplies for children. This allows for parents to participate in the Memory Tree Event while their children create a craft.
Our numbers continue to grow with last year being our largest group of parents, grandparents, children, and friends and we reached 100 people. The Memory Tree Event is a safe space to share our emotions and our memories. We feel privileged to create and hold space for grieving parents and families to honour our children’s memories and to meet other bereaved families.
We are so grateful to the original founders of the Memory Tree Event: Barb, Debbie, Geri, and Patti. Your inspiration and dedication to grieving families have created a legacy of love through the Memory Tree Event. Thank you.
Learn more information about our Memory Tree Event. If you have any questions, please contact us.