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Trina Tuzzio lights candles Wednesday, as names of loved ones that have died are read, during Dignity Health Hospice's annual remembrance ceremony Light Up a Life, at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Maria.

Len Wood, Staff

Hoping to brighten the holiday season for individuals grieving the loss of a loved one, Dignity Health Hospice hosted its annual Light Up a Life ceremony Wednesday evening at First United Methodist Church in Santa Maria.

Nearly 200 people from the Santa Maria and Lompoc valleys filled the sanctuary of the downtown Santa Maria church to honor and remember the lives of family and loved ones.

The service began with an invocation by Chaplain Pat Sturm, who likened the loss of a loved one to losing a home to fire, with its periods of devastation and rebuilding.

“I am not here to tell you how to feel or to tell you to put a smile on your face. Just open your heart and something will be given, I am sure,” Sturm said. “In this world of mystery and fire, we can have peace.”

The service continued with a special candle-lighting segment. As each candle was lit at the front of the church, light danced on the ceiling and began to brighten the dark sanctuary.

“As we light the candles, we see a glimmer of light -- a flicker of flame that brings clarity to our memories. As the light grows stronger, it takes some of the darkness away,” said Christine Meugniot, Dignity Health Hospice volunteer supervisor.

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Linda Stone reads a selection from "Sacred Dying, Life Prayers from Around the World" on Wednesday during Dignity Health Hospice's annual remembrance ceremony Light Up a Life at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Maria.

Before Wednesday’s Light Up a Life service, Dignity Health invited the public to submit names of those that have died to be remembered, along with a photograph. A slideshow of the photos was shown during the service.

After some well-chosen readings and music selections, Meugniot joined with Dignity Health Hospice nurses Kim Passmore and Patricia Yeates, along with Hospice Medical Director Dr. Richard Zachrich, to read about 200 names aloud during the service.

The sounds of quiet crying could be heard in the church, along with movement of nearby friends and family comforting each other while the names were read.

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Community leaders Joni Gray, who died last month, and Henry Grennan, who died earlier this year, were among the names read during the ceremony.

After the speakers were done reading the submitted names, Meugniot invited the audience to offer the names of anyone else they wanted to remember.

About 30 more names were remembered from those seated at different parts of the sanctuary during that part of the service.

“This significant Light Up a Life ceremony is a very special way to start the holiday season and honor loved ones we have lost,” Meugniot said. “The ceremony is very meaningful, and the many attendees understand and share the feelings of grief that come along with the loss of a loved one.”

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Participants watch a slideshow of loved ones who have died, during the Light Up a Life ceremony Wednesday at First United Methodist Church in Santa Maria.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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