5 December 2023

Christmas can be hard following loss: Memorial services offer support across Illawarra

| Katrina Condie
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morning tea

Those grieving the loss of loved ones are invited to attend a special Christmas memorial service at the Wollongong Memorial Gardens. Photo Wollongong City Council.

For most, Christmas is a happy time to spend with family and friends, but for some, it can be lonely and traumatic as they remember loved ones who have passed during the year.

A series of special memorial services will be held throughout the Illawarra, offering support to those who have recently lost family members and who may be dreading their first holiday season without them.

Wollongong City Council Memorial Gardens Service Officer Maureen Steele said many people felt lonely and emotional at Christmas time, and the council’s Christmas memorial service on Wednesday 6 December was a way to support them.

She said the community event has been held for more than 25 years, with many people coming every year to remember loved ones lost around Christmas time.

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“For some people, Christmas time is an anniversary of a loved one’s passing, while for others, it may be their first Christmas without their child, spouse, mum, dad or grandparent,” she said.

“It can be hard to think about having an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table.”

Maureen said the service was “very inclusive” and open to anyone including individuals, families, grandparents and spouses who were feeling lonely.

“It’s a time to focus on them and their emotions around Christmas time,” she said.

“People talk about families and fun times, but it’s not always festive for everyone. It’s a very emotional and isolating time for a lot of people.

“There’s always a very nice group of people who understand each others’ grief and can share their experiences.”

rose garden

The service will be held in the Wollongong Memorial Gardens. Photo Wollongong City Council.

She said the event was very welcoming for both regulars and newcomers, with a heart-warming service followed by refreshments in the gardens.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery will open the memorial before a service given by local funeral celebrant Paul Cosmos. Poems will be read out by two Smiths Hill High School students and musicians Jason and Jennifer Turnbull will also perform.

Maureen said Cr Bradbery was a “good speaker who was able to touch the hearts of a lot of people”.

For the first time, paper baubles will be available for people to write the name of their loved one or a message, which will then be put on a Christmas tree.

The service will be held in the main chapel at the Wollongong Memorial Gardens on Berkeley Road, Unanderra, from 6:30 pm. While this event is open to everyone, people are asked to RSVP on 4227 7780 for catering purposes.

White Lady Funerals Illawarra will also hold a Christmas Remembrance Candlelight Service on Wednesday 6 December at 6:30 pm at Hansen & Cole Northcliffe Chapel in Kembla Grange.

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“We would love as many people there as possible to remember and honour special people in our lives and support those who are grieving,” funeral director Rhonwyn Matthews said.

The Tender Funerals Christmas and Holiday Memorial Service will be held on Wednesday 13 December at 6 pm, at the Lakeside Memorial Park Chapel and will include a special performance by the Tender Choir.

The Tender event will include activities alongside a traditional smoking ceremony by indigenous elder Uncle G, which will lead into an inclusive ceremony of remembrance. The Tender Funeral Choir will sing and there will be fires lit and warm soup provided.


The Tender Choir will perform. Photo: Tender Funerals.

“Last time people brought food that reminded them of whomever it was they were remembering,” Tender artist in residence Michelle Elliot said.

“There’s something about food that opens up conversations between strangers. It helps us heal individually, but also collectively.”

Tender Funerals Australia General Manager Jenny Briscoe-Hough said the community was coming together to recognise that death was a natural part of life, but also an ongoing journey.

“Please bring your children and grandchildren, because there is an enormous amount of joy and love to share when we remember precious people. This is a day for remembering, but it’s also a day of celebration.”

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