Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that the time after the passing of someone close to you can be an emotional rush of events as you move through the rituals of the viewing, funeral and burial.
It's usually not until months later that you begin to feel a sense of peace as the grieving process slowly progresses.
That's why Debbie Finochio of Altoona was surprised that a few days after her father-in-law, John Finochio, had died, she found herself sitting in a welcoming atmosphere, feeling relaxed and comforted.
"I found it to be a very peaceful and respectful service,'' Finochio said. "It was just very calming.''
Finochio and her husband, Mike, attended the first memorial service in May sponsored by the Pastoral Care Department of UPMC Altoona. The service recognized people who had been connected to the hospital and who had died during the previous six months. Their families were invited to attend, along with friends and relatives they wanted to bring along.
Last night, the hospital held another service for people who have died since May, which was led by Tony Conrad, the hospital's Pastoral Care Department director.
The service opened with a welcome and a prayer, followed by the hymns, "God of Our Fathers,'' and "It Is Well with My Soul,'' sung by a trio formed by residents of Altoona Family Physicians that is part of UPMC Altoona.
Dr. Jenny Wang, one of the residents who sang, said she's honored to be a part of the service. She said she felt she needed to come because, as an intern who often works the overnight shift at the hospital, she is frequently the one who has to inform relatives that their loved ones have passed away.
"I think it's so beautiful to see the families come out for this,'' Wang said.
After the hymns, relatives lit candles in memory of their loved ones.
Conrad said that many of the faith traditions represented at the service have different ways of incorporating the concept of light in their beliefs.
For example, some Christian traditions have a candle that is first used at the Easter Vigil and then at various times throughout the year, he said. In the Jewish faith, the symbol of light is perhaps best expressed in the celebration of Hanukkah, when the Temple's lamp burned for eight days when it only contained enough oil to burn for one.
"But ultimately, light means God's power over death and his promise of eternal life, regardless of one's faith tradition,'' Conrad said.
While the relatives lit the candles, the names of the people who had died were read and then the gathering sang "Amazing Grace.''
The relatives were able to take home the candle that they lit, so that they could light it anytime they wished in memory of their loved one.
Conrad said memorial services have been offered in the past but he has opened them up to more people. In the past, they only included the relatives of people who had been patients in the hospital's palliative care unit.
Palliative care is "specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses'' geared not only toward the patient but the entire family, according to a website for the Center to Advance Palliative Care.
Last night's service also included those who were in any way associated with the hospital, including a hospital employee and a hospital volunteer who had passed away. Conrad also opened the service to anyone in the hospital who had a relative who had passed away in the past six months.
About 200 people attended last night's service at the Altoona Alliance Church, 3220 Pleasant Valley Blvd..
Finochio, who is director of the hospital's nutrition services, said she liked the candle-lighting part of the service and the fact that she and her husband could take home the candle. She often looks at it and thinks of her father-in-law.
"It makes me feel comforted to see it,'' she said. "He suffered for so long but now I know he's at peace.''