One by one, candles spread a glow through a quiet room in Toms River. Lights on a simple, sturdy evergreen begin to gleam like a galaxy of stars. Then, the air fills with prayers and hymns that transcend categories and unite everyone gathered. The Tree of Lights ritual at Holy Redeemer Hospice aims to bring comfort and courage to people lost in grief.

More than 50 folks in mourning are attending today's ceremony that begins at 1 PM. Director Jane Lynn Piccolo says that the tradition is in its second year in Toms River but is already well-entrenched throughout its regional system.

"It's a yearly fund-raising program that Holy Redeemer's had in Pennsylvania and in our hospice programs in New Jersey," she told us. "For the past three years, it's been in Atlantic County and Cape May."

Proceeds from donations to the celebration benefit the Holy Redeemer Hospice Foundation, Piccolo noted, which encompasses a myriad of initiatives and support programs.

"It's used for care, for patients and families as needed, or education for staff on providing better care for our patients," said Piccolo.

An emotional undercurrent informs the celebration, she agreed, but hospice workers are more prepared to channel it than most of us.

"Our staff are workers, nurses, chaplains," she explained. "We have memorials twice a year, but the Tree of Light is's a little bit more spiritual, more prayers and more singing. Families are having a more difficult time in coping."

This year's celebration honors veterans as well as civilians.

The Tree of Lights and the representative star ornaments remain aglow through the holiday season. See more about it at the Holy Redeemer Hospice web page.