The evening began with a multi-faith service, which took place at St Johns Wood Church.
A choir set the tone for the evening with a powerful rendition of the Christmas carol, Once in Royal David’s City, and were followed by verses from the Qur’an chanted by a member of the Ensemble Mogador.
Family and friends of people who spent their last days at the hospice delivered emotional readings to the congregation, as did a patient from St John’s currently attending the day unit.
The church service offered a mix of prayer, song and a time for reflection.
Reverend Dr Anders Bergquist who was leading the service encouraged people to acknowledge the grief that they may be suffering, but also to remember the good times they shared with loved ones who have died.
The Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim faiths were all acknowledged during a unique and touching event, before the choir led the congregation down the aisle and out of the church into the bitterly cold evening.
In the church car park, a candlelit procession formed and began the short journey along St John’s Wood high street back to the hospice, each person remembering somebody special as they carried their light.
A choir from the Sylvia Young Theatre School greeted the 300-strong procession and a warm marquee in the hospice grounds offered respite from the cold.
Mulled wine and mince pies were served as people reminisced about loved ones, some laughed or cried, others offered a toast in their memory.
Bright yellow stars were hung on the wall of the marquee, each one dedicated to someone who had died. Heartfelt messages filled the stars. One read: “For my sisters.” And another: “Thinking of you always.”
Dr Christopher Farnham, Medical Director of St John’s Hospice, offered some words of comfort to the people gathered in the marquee and said: “Light up a Life offers a few minutes in a very busy life to remember those people who have died … to remember the times we spent together”
And Councillor Jan Prendergast – representing the Lord Mayor of Westminster at the service – said she had a affinity with the people at the reception, as she too had someone very close to her die at the hospice.
Bernie, a patient and supporter of St John’s, said: “It was the best Light Up A Life yet. There was a wonderful congregation, the service was beautiful and the choirs were magnificent. It was also really lovely to come back to the hospice afterwards to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in a long time.”
To conclude the evening, Anastasia Laszcziw spoke fondly of her aunt Maria, who spent her final days at the hospice earlier this year.
Anastasia’s children, Elliott and Grace, were given the honour of turning on the St John’s Christmas tree lights in their great aunt’s memory and received a rapturous round of applause.
Anastasia’s family praised the work of the hospice and the staff who made a very painful time much easier to cope with. They described the hospice as “warm and caring” and said they were made to feel so welcome.
So far, the St John’s Light up a Life appeal has raised more than £18,000. You can see a selection of images from the evening on ehospice.
Search for details of local Light up a Life events on the Help the Hospices website.