There’s an eclectic mix of ornaments hanging on the tree in the lobby of the York County Coroner’s Office.
Some of them sparkle while others light up or flicker. Some are doves, Santas or other traditional Christmas figures. There’s one shaped like an electrical drill, and another from last year made from the ball of a trailer hitch.
Each ornament represents someone who died in York County during the last year, and each one was hung on the tree by a loved one. This is the fifth year the coroner’s office has set up its Remembrance Tree.
“It just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Tammie Hinson said as she stared teary-eyed at the angel ornament she hung that flickered blue and green lights. Hinson hung the ornament in memory of her husband, Leonard, whom many knew as “Len.” He died in October from a heart attack.
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“I just was walking through the store and saw it and I liked it best,” Hinson said. “I didn’t even know it lit up and glowed like that until I got home.”
Barely two months after her husband’s passing, Hinson said she knows the holidays will be tough but said she’ll celebrate “the best I can.”
“I done all my Christmas shopping,” she said. “There was a lot of things I have to take back that I bought for him.”
Hinson was one of at least two dozen people who stopped at the coroner’s office Tuesday afternoon. Coroner Sabrina Gast said the waiting room was filled with at least 20 people at 3 p.m. when the open house began.
“Most of them talk to us,” she said. “A lot of them cry. It’s a good time for them to be able to remember.”
Many of the family members took pictures with their loved one’s ornament, Gast said. The family of a young man who died this year put an ornament on the tree, and because Tuesday was his birthday, planned to go home afterward and eat birthday cake.
The event was put on, in part, by York County’s CARE team – Connecting, Advocating and Responding with Empathy. The team, which has been in place for four years, is responsible for outreach after someone has experienced the death of a loved one.
“It’s painful for them but it gives them a good feeling to do it,” team member Linda Finley said. “I think in a way, it helps them remember but it also provides some closure.”
Gast said team members go on calls with the coroners.
“Their focus is to take care of the family in whatever way that is – sitting there and being silent, helping them make phone calls, holding hands, getting tissues,” Gast said. “Whatever it takes so they’re not alone.”
Team members will call and follow up with family members after a death.
“They’ve been really helpful, especially the night it happened,” Hinson recalled. “We sat down and talked a long time.”
Family members who brought ornaments can pick them up any time before Jan. 12. Gast said they’re not required to retrieve the ornaments, and that any that aren’t picked up will be stored and put on the tree next year.