A small crowd gathered this week beneath the overhang of Onslow Memorial Hospital’s lobby with one purpose: to remember lives lost.

Thursday’s ceremony was one many would expect to be somber, but it was full of life. Little girls in sparkly boots, toboggans and red berets danced along to New River Harmony Group’s tunes, as mothers sang quietly along.

Each light on the tree symbolized a family member or loved one that was being remembered. The ceremony, done every year since 1985, serves as a way for the community to remember loved ones who have passed over the year.

One light on the tree memorialized the late Shirley Marsicano who died in February.

Frank Marsicano attended Thursday night’s ceremony in her honor. Last Christmas they’d gotten a big Christmas tree, he reminisced, but she hadn’t gotten to enjoy it much. He said he had expected to be able to take her home from Pineville Rehab Center following her cancer treatments.

Marsicano mostly expressed gratitude at friends and neighbors who had helped take the tree down after Christmas last year. They had also donated in memory of Shirley to have a light in her honor on this year’s tree.

New River Harmony kept the ceremony’s mood light, as they drew smiles and laughter from the crowd in their animated songs. In between, speakers provided solemn messages of remembrance.

“I think this is one of the highlights of the season, where the community comes together to remember those that have passed. This year one of our board members, Jimmy McGlaughon, passed,” Pat Alford, chairman of the Onslow Memorial Hospital Board, said. “We certainly miss him tremendously, but he certainly would have wanted to be here to see this tree lit this evening.”

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cabana’s first encounter with Onslow Memorial Hospital was when his 5-year-old daughter broke her arm.

“This hospital, its staff, that’s one of their big things is family. It’s not just treating the local citizens, us, the community as family, but it’s also treating each other like family and you can see it by walking through the hospital. You can see it when they’re dealing with patients,” he said.” And I know from our family at least we absolutely felt that while we were here.”

Toward the end of the ceremony, everyone in the crowd was given a balloon to release in honor of a loved one who passed — a new addition to the annual tradition.

Elke Lyszczarz, with the Onslow Memorial Auxiliary, remembered her parents and younger brother as she released a balloon in their memory.

“I’m still shaky because it’s just so sentimental to me because it is for everyone that’s passed,” she said.
The balloon release she thought was a success and hoped it would continue in next year’s tree lighting.
Randy Thomas, a City of Jacksonville councilman, acknowledged that while the holiday season is a time of joy, it can also be difficult for those who have lost a loved one.

“(The holiday season) is a time when friends and family gather together in a time of celebration, yet for many of us there are those we will miss this season,” he said. “The tree of hope will help brighten this Christmas with the lights that will be lit and brighten our hope for the future.”