Sylvan Lake Funeral Home was filled with people Sunday, but there was no funeral.
With hymns and candles, those attending remembered deceased loved ones from years past, or more recent times. Boxes of tissues sat at every row of seats.
“It becomes very poignant at Christmas, their loss, because the person is no longer there,” said Diane Flinn, who helped organize the service and co-owns the funeral home with her husband Gordon.
“Hopefully it helps them through the Christmas season with their grief.”
Both Diane and Gordon have organized the service, together with Ed Stevenson, since 1995. Diane said she hopes those attending take away a sense of closure, release, and peace. Every year, she and her husband invite those who used the funeral home at other times in the year to the service.
“It’s just a way of giving back to the community as well,” said Diane.
Near the end of the service, Diane and Gordon lit the hand held candles of those attending. The candle represents the light of a loved one’s life, said Diane. When extinguished, it releases them.
“Both Diane and I have lost a family member at Christmas time,” said Gordon. “When we light the candle, it kind of remembers all the family members.”
The last couple years, they have given glass angels, engraved with the deceased’s name, to those who lost a family member in the past year. They can be hung on a tree, and have become increasingly popular. One family from Rocky Mountain House, where Diane and Gordon own another funeral home, asked for 15 angels.
The services have changed since they first began. For the last five years, they have included a slideshow, set to music, of the names of those lost in the past year.
“Each service is unique in its own way,” said Diane. “We have some people that come every year.”
Cliff Watt has attended the service every year since 2007, when he lost his mother. That year, he said, the service helped him gain a sense of closure. He continues to attend and remember.
“It’s just a peaceful way to remember,” said Watt. “Believe it or not, it’s the serenity of the whole thing … Of being there.”
Watt likes how those attending are from many different church denominations.
“They’re all there for the same reason,” he said. “The thing is that everybody’s got their reasons for attending.”
Rev. Jin Woo Kim, from Memorial Presbyterian Church, has taken part in the service for six years. He said those suffering the loss of a loved one can gain comfort from coming together with others.
“Most people come and even though we have people from different churches there is a community. We can encourage each other,” said Kim. “Hopefully we can reach out to the people in the community so they can come and be a part of this.”