About 250 people were in attendance to honor their loved ones and gather a renewed sense of holiday cheer at the Rockland Elks Lodge Dec. 7 at the 14th annual event titled "Keep the Memories Shining this Holiday Season."

Sponsored by Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home of Rockland, the idea was born out of the knowledge gained by the funeral home through serving numerous families over the years — families who all face the same event of the holiday season without their loved one.

"Many people shared with us that they were thankful for the event, as it made them so much more aware of how many people were actually in the same position they were," J'Anna Hutchins Hedrich said.

"Loneliness is a big part of grief, and coming together with others who understand some of your feelings can be very helpful for many," she added.

Hedrich said one gentleman who lost his father somewhat unexpectedly this year told her father, Walker "Hutch" Hutchins, that the event was "The nicest event he never wanted to attend again."

The evening also brought the opportunity for new connections. People shared their stories, and simply being in a room filled with hundreds of other people facing the same reality can be very healing, Hedrich explained.

Families are informed of the event with a personal invitation from the funeral home. Families receive a commemorative gold star ornament engraved with their loved one's name and date, as well as a specially labeled luminaria.

Attendees also enjoyed a memorial video presentation of their loved ones.

"We were so thankful and honored to be able to give back to the families that put their trust and confidence in us," Hedrich said.

Siblings Brianna and Brandon Bodman attended the event to honor their father, Brett Bodman, with their new puppy, Angel — named for their dad.

"This first year will be the hardest," Brianna said, adding, "The ornament makes it emotional, too." Both agreed it was nice of the funeral home to have such an event.

"We couldn't thank them enough. They really helped us," Michelle Bodman-Colier said.

Another pair of siblings, Sally McLellan and Deb Allen, attended to honor their mother, Mary Matson, and Allen's fiancé, Jeffrey Sprague — who had passed within six weeks of each other.

"This is just perfect," Allen said.

Carla McCorrison and daughter Michelle Hardy were on hand to honor Charlotte Johnson, their mother and grandmother, respectively.

McCorrison said her husband had died 10 years ago, and she was overwhelmed that Hutch did such a wonderful thing.

"That's just his personality," she said.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com