Northern Wilds Magazine
This year’s Light Up a Life ceremony will take place Dec. 7 at the Johnson Heritage Post in Grand Marais. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Gathering in remembrance: Annual Light Up a Life ceremony honors loved ones

Gathering with our community to remember and pay tribute to friends or family who have passed away holds a profound significance in our lives. In coming together, we find solace in knowing that we are not alone in our grief, that others share our pain, and that together, we can provide each other with the support and comfort needed to heal.

For nearly 30 years, the Light Up a Life ceremony has served as an opportunity for individuals worldwide to come together during the holiday season to share their stories of loss and remembrance. The annual event took form in Grand Marais in 2009 with the help of the North Shore Health Care Foundation and a core group of dedicated individuals who would later form Care Partners of Cook County.

“I think it’s just a safe space to speak and share together,” Julie Wilson, the executive director of Care Partners of Cook County, said. “It’s a beautiful and meaningful and a deeply moving and healing event.”

The annual community event will be held at the Johnson Heritage Post in downtown Grand Marais on Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. It includes a short ceremony of reflection and connection, an opportunity for individuals to light a candle in remembrance, followed by the lighting of a Memory Tree. Wilson said on average, between 20 and 30 people attend the event. For those unable to attend in person, Wilson said the ceremony will be available via Zoom.

“I think, at the core, the visuals are an important part of grieving and the healing process,” Wilson said. “It’s that important piece of gathering together in a space where people have a shared journey and want to come together to remember.”

Julie Wilson (right) lighting a candle. | SUBMITTED

A longtime attendee of the Light Up a Life ceremony is Jack McHugh, who serves on the Care Partners board as secretary. He has attended the Light Up a Life event for 10 years, and it holds a special place in his heart:

“Light Up a Life is a peaceful gathering that provides an opportunity for members of our community to pay their respects to family members or friends who have passed away recently. They often share their emotions and memories of the ones they have lost. On occasion, the person remembered is someone who passed long ago and has always been important in their lives.

“I’ve participated in Light Up a Life for 10 years now. Here’s something I’ve come to appreciate about the evening. Some people show up to share their grief and memories. Others come to show their friends and neighbors that they aren’t grieving alone. Others grieve with them and for them.

“Light Up a Life is a combination of being able to release some of our own grief while being able to show compassion and caring for each other. Of course, there are tears, but there is also the joy of remembering lives appreciated and well lived. It’s beautiful.”

The Light up a Life ceremony is a single aspect of the extensive array of valuable services that the 50 volunteers and staff at Care Partners of Cook County offer to the community. The nonprofit organization, officially established in 2015, supports those needing help navigating aging, serious illness, or end-of-life. The organization also provides support to caregivers. The long list of beneficial services includes:

  • Volunteer visits for companionship or check-ins.
  • Senior rides for medical or personal appointments, errands, or social activities.
  • Senior chore program.
  • Caregiver coaching and respite.
  • End-of-life doulas.

“Little things make a big impact,” Wilson said. “I think that’s the magic of Care Partners.”

Each year, the organization implements a new program or expands on existing services. Most recently, Care Partners partnered with The Hub in Grand Marais to offer a monthly ‘Death Cafe’ seminar and workshop where doulas help people develop a more conscious relationship with mortality. In addition, Wilson said Care Partners has “really hit it hard this year with a lot of education.” The expanded educational efforts have blossomed into numerous collaboration opportunities with local organizations while helping people in need identify readily available resources in the region.

Wilson said she feels incredibly grateful to be a part of Care Partners. “I can’t say enough about the board, the volunteers, and the staff. It’s just an extraordinary organization, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”

For more information about the Light up a Life ceremony or to receive the Zoom link, contact the Care Partners director at 218-387-3788 or by email at:

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