Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

It’s actually a lot about hope.

Most Christmas trees are special to someone. Families put up trees, offices put up trees, churches do too and even the City of Rome has a big ole tree on Broad Street for everyone to see.

And while all these trees — whether they’re in your kid’s bedroom or your living room or the sanctuary at church — are special to someone, there’s one particular tree in Rome that means a whole lot to some Rome residents brought together by unfortunate circumstances.

There’s a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the outpatient lobby at Redmond Regional Medical Center. There are bright gold and red decorations all over it and it’s topped by an angel.

But what makes this tree just a little more special is that there are dozens and dozens of little gold heart-shaped ornaments with wings. And contained in each of these ornament is the photo of someone who isn’t here with us anymore.

This tree is set up by a local group called Compassionate Friends. They’re brought together by grief. The mission of Compassionate Friends is to provide highly personal comfort, hope and support to families experiencing the death of a loved one.

The group is really active locally. I know they have activities and meetings for their members regularly.

So members of the group set up this tree and I guess each member placed an ornament on the tree with a photo of their loved one that died.

The tree rotates constantly. So as you stand there and it moves around, you can see the smiling faces of so many people go by. They are the sons and daughters and the sisters and brothers and the mothers and fathers of people in our community who choose to remember them and celebrate them in this really cool way.

I went to see the tree on Monday and there were people sitting in chairs near it. Some were looking at the pictures on the tree and some were reading the sign placed next to it. The sign tells people that it’s a memorial tree placed in memory of children who have passed away and lets them know that the group is for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings remembering children of all ages and causes of death.

The sign says “that their light may always shine.”

And I thought more people should know about this little tree. I know a few of the people involved with Compassionate Friends. I know DeeAnn Camp and I know Rome’s famous twins, Jeanne and Jane. They — and the other members of the group — are our friends, our neighbors and our coworkers. We see them around town and at school and at the grocery store.

And this time of year might be a little tougher for them because there’s someone they love who won’t be opening presents on Christmas morning. There’s someone they love who won’t be eating a delicious meal with the family.

I’m not trying to bring you down. I promise. I said this wouldn’t be a sad column. And it’s not.

If you have a chance to stop in at Redmond Regional Medical Center and look into the outpatient lobby, you’ll see the little tree. Don’t be afraid to get right up to it and look at the faces of the people in the ornaments.

Look at the smiles. There’s someone named Daniel on that tree. And there’s someone named Chase and someone named Jake and someone named Brandon. Their light is still shining. They can still teach us things.

I saw photos of some of the Compassionate Friends members helping to decorate the tree. I didn’t see any tears. They were laughing and smiling and probably sharing memories of their loved ones.

I think these people would be really happy if you had the chance to visit the tree. That’s why it’s there. I really don’t think it’s there to make anyone sad. It’s there to remind us that it’s still Christmas. And we can still celebrate and be joyful even if we’ve lost someone we loved. This is a way of including them and keeping them in our thoughts.

Who knows … this little tree might inspire someone to put up their own memory tree. We could have a tree to honor members of the military or members of law enforcement, or pets.

Thank you to the members of Compassionate Paws for sharing your loved ones with us this Christmas and thank you to Redmond for giving them a place to do that.


 Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune