The holiday season can be a difficult time for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Your funeral home can help them honor their loved one’s memory by hosting a holiday remembrance program.
Haase-Lockwood & Associates Funeral Homes and Crematory has been doing just that, every year, for the last 21 years. They go above and beyond for their community with their meticulously-planned annual holiday remembrance program.
21 Years and Counting
What started as holiday cards for families became something more when the funeral directors at Haase-Lockwood & Associates were inspired by the idea of a holiday remembrance program that they saw at a funeral convention. It was 21 years ago when they decided to host their own holiday remembrance program for the first time.
Over the years, the owners and staff of Haase-Lockwood have perfected their holiday remembrance program to everything it is today.
“The big improvement came about 10 years ago when we ran across the ornament that Frazer has on the market and we found that that was the ticket that we were looking for,” said Tim Lockwood, one of the owners of Haase-Lockwood. “The ornament just puts class to what we do.”
Originally, they hung tin ornaments on an outdoor tree that families gathered around during the program. However, the ornaments rusted easily and they didn’t want families to stand outside in the cold, so they switched to an indoor 12-foot tall artificial tree to hang the ornaments. The first time using the indoor tree, there were so many ornaments that it was slightly wobbling.
“There was nothing we could do about it at that point, so we kind of held our breath that whole ordeal, so the following year we reinforced it with some tie-down chains and made it so it’s rigid and holds it because when you put that many ornaments on, it’s a lot of weight,” said Tim Lockwood.
Precise Preparation Process
The annual event is for all five of their Wisconsin funeral home locations: Eagle, Elkhorn, Genoa City, Palmyra, and Twin Lakes. The event has grown in size over the years and is now hosted in a banquet hall next to their Elkhorn location. Last year, they had more than 400 people attend, and on average about 20% of their families attend.
The event preparation starts months in advance with preparing the invitations and ornaments. They use the Frazer Holiday Remembrance Ornaments to add even more meaning to their event and provide personalized tributes to families.
Mary Lockwood, Tim’s wife and a member of the Haase-Lockwood staff, organizes the ornaments and invitations. She has a precise system intact throughout the year for labeling and storing the ornaments until the big day. She also prepares the invitations that families receive at the beginning of November.
Kate Brugger, a funeral director at Haase-Lockwood, said Mary’s organization streamlines the program and ornament ordering process.
“We have everyone on file because of Mary’s record keeping,” said Kate Brugger. “We know the ornament, how the name was written on there and the person’s date of birth and date of death.”
For the service, they find a local minister and musicians who volunteer to perform. Mary Ellen Kanthack has played the piano at the event for about seven years and also has been a member of the choir.
“The glow,” said Mary Ellen Kanthack. “The warmth. The emotion. The sweet sound of our voice blending to sing beautiful words. The tree is always just beautiful. Each ornament is hung with such care…in the same manner as Haase-Lockwood serves their clients.”
This past remembrance event meant even more to her since her mother was honored. She said being surrounded by supporting and loving people helped her cope, especially during the holiday season.
Holiday Ornament Organization
For the past two years, they’ve had around 300 ornaments on their tree. Every family they’ve served throughout the year has an ornament on the tree to honor their loved one. They’ve even created a special system for hanging them to make things easier for the families to find their loved one’s ornament. The ornaments are at eye level for families who are attending the event, and the ornaments for those who aren’t attending go higher or lower on the tree.
They also alphabetize the tree by six sections divided by ribbon based on last names: ABC, DEFGH, IJKL, MNOP, QRS, and TUVWXYZ. This makes it even easier for families to find their loved one’s ornament. They can take the ornament home with them right away after the event, or they can receive it in the mail.
“Everybody comments on how pretty [the ornament] is,” said Mary Lockwood. “It reflects the light from the trees. It just glitters and people have talked all the time or put pictures on Facebook of their ornament on the Christmas tree with the reflection of the white lights or colored lights on their trees. They’re very, very pretty on the tree.”
The Big Day
The holiday remembrance event is the first Sunday in December. They start first thing in the morning getting the banquet hall and tree ready for the holiday remembrance program.
When it’s time for the event, they keep the lights off on the tree until the choir begins to sing Silent Night. Then, the warm glow lights up the room as families see their loved one’s ornaments shine in their honor.
Daniel Lockwood, Tim and Mary’s son and second-generation funeral director at Haase-Lockwood, said that when the tree lights up, you can almost hear a brief gasp where everyone is taken back by the tree’s beauty.
“I think just the Frazer ornaments having the glass and the different shapes … just takes that light that’s on the tree and helps it bounce across the whole room, which makes it look that much more brilliant,” he said.
After the service, families can grab their ornament from the tree, order more if they wish, and have refreshments while visiting with other guests and the funeral home’s staff.
Kate Brugger said families just need to complete a brief form to order more holiday remembrance ornaments.
“We do [ornament ordering] during the program and then we have multiple families call within the next few weeks to see if they can order any more … because they want to give it to someone for Christmas,” she said.
What It Means to Families
For some families, the remembrance program acts as their funeral service. Whether their loved one opted for direct cremation or they weren’t able to attend the funeral, the remembrance program provides them with an opportunity to grieve and honor their loved one.
Having the program and the ornament keepsake means so much to families who are grieving during the holiday season. It helps them honor their loved one, cope with their grief, and find hope.
One attendee said that the event helped her and her brother cope and honor their parents.
“I enjoyed the service along with the care shown from the staff from Haase-Lockwood Funeral Home,” she said. “When I entered I was taken to the tree to show me where my parents’ ornaments were hung and this provided a personalized approach even though there were many people in attendance.”
Kate Brugger said she’s been a part of the program for four years now, but this is the first year that a family member of hers has been on the tree.
“My husband’s grandma passed away, and having this ornament to take home on my own tree and look at every day during the Christmas season, gives us that remembrance that grandma’s with us and it’s meaningful. I mean it’s just a special thing to have for our family to think of her,” she said. “Grandpa received it and was like ‘this is stunning’ and he ended up getting eight additional ornaments for me and my cousins to place on our own trees at home.”
What It Means to the Funeral Home’s Staff
The holiday remembrance program takes a lot of preparation and work, but it’s all worth it for the staff at Haase-Lockwood. Everything that they do is for the families that they serve.
“I think what’s been most inspiring to me is the ability to serve the families in a small town,” said Tim Lockwood. “You’re coming into their lives at probably the most difficult time they’ll ever experience, and to be able to be that guiding rudder in that stormy sea to help them through I think is probably the most rewarding.”
Daniel Lockwood said the holiday remembrance event is important to him and the rest of the staff because their families have shown they need and appreciate it.
“They get a little bit of reassurance from us knowing that we’re thinking about them and we’re able to put the service on. And reassurance from the minister’s words — knowing that even though they don’t feel like it, they have the strength to get through the grief that they’re going through at the time,” he said.
Does your funeral home host an annual holiday remembrance program? Share your experiences with us in the comments!