Reasons for the Holiday Memorial…

It might only be fall but the Wake the Nation team is preparing for winter.

Each year, the Wake the Nation team looks forward to hosting our annual Holiday Memorial. Though we dread the ever-increasing amount of ornament requests, not because of the work, but because it represents such loss, we feel sincerely privileged to be part of your family’s holidays.

Over the next week we will share all the details for requesting an ornament, but today, we want to explain what the memorial is, how it came to be and the many purposes it serves. The memorial is as significant to our team, as it is to honoring your loved one. If you aren’t already familiar with its origin, allow me to explain.

In 2012, my significant other passed away from a drug overdose, leaving behind our three-year-old son, the many nephews who looked up to him, his sisters, parents and dozens of friends. Wake the Nation was created within two months of his passing and was honestly, a way for me to avoid my grief. Six months later, while at the zoo with my son for the Holiday lights exhibit, I was overcome with the emotions I had been sweeping under the rug.

2012 Holiday season
My boyfriend’s nephews and our son the first holiday season without him, 2012.

Brookfield Zoo was the location of my boyfriend and I’s first date in high school, it was where we went so I could walk myself into labor, where we went for our son’s first outing after birth, and where we went regularly as a family on the weekends. It was our family’s spot and I was there without him.

Crying among the holiday trees and happy families I realized there was a way to maintain the significance of the zoo, my loved one’s memory during the holidays, and other’s loved ones, while simultaneously calling attention to the disease that took him from me. Thus, the Wake the Nation Holiday Memorial at Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic was born.   

Holiday Memorial 2017
My boyfriend’s nephews (they are mine too!) and our son, 2017. They love decorating the tree!

Today the memorial’s purpose is threefold. It first and foremost honors the lives of those we’ve lost to overdose. It is not only about them, it is for them. In the months it takes our team to collect and hand write each loved ones’ name and prepare their photos, we come to genuinely feel connected to their stories, as so many of you share with us.  

Secondly, it becomes a space where families come to meet, share their love for the person they lost, and celebrate the holidays with others who know the pain of spending the holidays with grief, instead of their loved one.

Many of the families who come to decorate with us have come every year and we can’t tell you how much their friendship has come to mean to us and each other. This past year we ended up hosting a “tree undressing” just so we could all spend time together again! Please know, each ornament is prepared, handled, hung, and removed by our team and volunteers as if it was our own.

2017treegroup
The many people we’ve come to call friends who join us each year to decorate the holiday memorial.

Finally, the tree, being located at Brookfield Zoo, is seen by thousands of families visiting each weekend throughout the holiday season. Not only does the tree make a statement and raise awareness, as it represents the overdose epidemic our world is facing, but it let’s those impacted by it know they are not alone. Moreover, it reminds those who have not been impacted by overdose that those with substance use disorder, matter.
They are worthy of our love, honor and remembrance.

Look for our flyer in the coming days!
In the meantime, visit our Facebook page to see more photos of the holiday memorial’s evolution.

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