Hundreds gather for Northern Ireland Hospice remembrance ceremony
It's a poignant act of remembrance that brings comfort along with tears.
Around 1,500 people gathered last night to remember their loved ones who have died at the Northern Ireland Hospice over the years.
The hospice's annual Lights to Remember appeal held its special remembrance ceremony at Dominican College Fortwilliam in Belfast, giving those who are still grieving a chance to focus on their loved ones.
It is hoped that £200,000 will be raised to help fund the building of a new hospice at Somerton Road in the city.
For many relatives, the annual Lights to Remember is the first opportunity they have to meet again with the doctors, nurses and other staff who helped care for their family members who passed away this year.
Widower Andy Sims (51) along with his daughters Amelia (7) and Ava (4) attended the event in memory of their wife and mother Karen and switched on the lights after the audience took part in a moving candlelit procession.
Mrs Sims (40) passed away at the hospice on September 2, having been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
It will also be the first time that the family of 18-year-old Jonathan Roche have attended the ceremony.
The Carrickfergus teenager suffered from congenital heart disease and passed away on December 20 last year, having spent the last four weeks of his life in hospice care.
Other relatives who attended last night's ceremony included Lisa Smyth, the daughter of ovarian cancer campaigner and Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year Una Crudden, who died earlier this month; Glentoran football legend Mark Glendinning, who lost his wife Mandy to cancer; and Paul Collins and his children, who lost their wife and mother Kirsty several years ago.
Paul McKeown, programme manager for the new hospice build, said the facility will increase the comfort and privacy of patients and relatives when it is completed next year.
"Hospice care is very much a family thing and we become part of that extended family, so this act of remembrance at Christmas helps us reconnect with relatives again, many of who have been coming to this every year since their loved one died," he said.
The new £13m hospice still requires £2m funding, and aims to be a centre of excellence of hospice care.
'We will do things as normal but it's difficult'
It will be the first Christmas without Karen Sims for her husband Andy and their two daughters, Amelia (7) and Ava (4).
Karen would have been 41 on December 14 but she passed away in hospice care on September 2 after being diagnosed with terminal colon cancer earlier this year.
December would normally have been a busy and exciting time for the Belfast family as they celebrated her birthday and the festive time but this year they are switching on the lights at the NI Hospice's remembrance ceremony.
Describing his wife as "an amazing woman", Mr Sims told the Belfast Telegraph why Christmas will be so different this year compared to other years.
"We know it's going to be happening," he said. "We had to get over Karen's birthday first. We are normally always in the middle of Christmas preparations on her birthday, putting the decorations up and wrapping presents. It's going to be difficult.
"The girls want Christmas like any child of their age would. I would usually put the Christmas tree up and then the girls and Karen would decorate it.
"We will just have to try as much as we can to do things as normal, even though obviously it will be without Karen being there."
The 40-year-old lived less than four months after an out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis in May, before passing away in the Northern Ireland Hospice.
Mr Sims added: "She has been my friend, my companion, my partner - all these things which sound so clichéd - she was all of them. She was the best friend I ever had."
'Our son loved Christmas so much'
Carrickfergus teenager Jonathan Roche died in hospice care last December from congenital heart disease.
His family - parents Priscilla and Robert and sisters Nadia (18) and Christina (15) - attended the Lights to Remember service last night in memory of him.
"Jonathan loved everything about Christmas, he loved the lights, the trees, everything about it, it really was a special time of year for him," said Mrs Roche yesterday.
"Everywhere we go now we see the trappings of Christmas and just think how much Jonathan would have loved it all.
"Last year really was a blank and we got through it the best way we could. But we couldn't have done it without the support of the hospice, and they are still providing support to us."
'I wouldn't miss this for anything'
Wee Bisie — mum in a million, was Karen Humphreys poignant message to her mother at last night’s Lights to Remember ceremony.
Isobel Craig died at the age of 68 from bowel cancer at the Northern Ireland Hospice in September 1997.
“I just wouldn’t miss this night for anything and I haven’t since my mother died,” said Mrs Humphreys.
“I still think of her every day, but this event allows me to put aside some time and think of her.
"I always make sure to put it my diary.
"My mother only received hospice care for the last week or two of her life as she died within six months of being diagnosed.
"We really appreciated the care that she received.
“I love the procession of lights and I like to see my light dedication message each year.
“This year I’ve written ‘Wee Bisie — mum in a million’ — as that is what I used to call her — and it will make me feel proud when I see it.”
Mrs Humphreys is now chair of the Carrickfergus support group for the Northern Ireland Hospice.
Compiled by Joanne Sweeney