What began with the gesture of a single shiny ornament has blossomed into something infused from top to bottom with the weight of memories of loved ones lost.
Lolly Wilkinson was elated to share the story of how the Christmas Memory Tree came to be at Esquimalt Lagoon.
“Last year my dear long-time friend Judy lost her beloved grandson, Michael,” Wilkinson said. “I walked the lagoon several times with Judy as she cried her heart out.”
“One time as Judy and I passed this lonely fir tree, I said why don’t we paint a Christmas ball in memory of Michael and put it on this tree,” Wilkinson explained. “Judy smiled and said she would love that.”
|The Christmas Memory Tree at Esquimalt Lagoon began with one decoration commemorating the loss of a loved one. (Photo contributed by Marlene Regier Mitchell)|
When she got home, Wilkinson painted Michael’s name on a Christmas ornament and met with Judy to place it on the tree. Wilkinson and Judy then began adding ornaments in memory of Wilkinson’s husband, John, and friends and family they have lost since they placed that first ornament in November of 2019.
“One by one we added more until the tree was covered with our cherished loved ones that are in heaven,” she said.
Following a wind storm after Christmas last year, Wilkinson and Judy went to gather the ornaments to keep them safe only to find they were gone.
“There was a lovely note in a zip lock bag telling us someone had gathered our decorations and promised to return them for Christmas,” Wilkinson said. “Our decorations were carefully, lovingly returned this year with another note that read ‘Be kind. Be calm. Be safe.’ How beautiful is that gift of kindness? I hope I get to meet the couple who did that one day.”
Dec. 13 marked the second time Judy’s family from across the Capital Region have gathered at the tree to add more ornaments.
“They all said it was a truly heartwarming experience,” Wilkinson noted.
“There are so many stories I could share about how the tree has moved so many people. One time I heard someone say ‘I’ll never forget you’ as they walked away from the tree with tears streaming down their face.”
She spoke fondly of a First Nations man who approached her during one of her regular walks past the tree.
“He asked if he could put a cedar ball on the tree with a message for his brother who passed away. I told him it was for everyone. His wife called to thank me after. She told me her husband was having a difficult time and placing the message gave him closure.”
Wilkinson has a tight-knit group of friends who are widows as well that help her take care of the tree. “It’s been very healing for all of us,” she said.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t walk past that tree. It seems every time I’m down there, another heartwarming story of love and loss has appeared that really touches your heart. I’ve lived at the lagoon for 50 years and love everything about it. It’s a bit of heaven down here.”