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First the Tree, Then the Party
Created by hospice on 12/13/2010 3:43:41 PM

Woodbury woman gathers friends in a 7-year Girls Night Out tradition.

A widow at the age of 31, Woodbury resident Jan Pine (right) was still mourning the loss of her beloved father Robert C. Travilla in November 2002 when her brother Muggs passed away less than a year later in Chicago on 9/13/03 at the age of 53.

“My Daddy received excellent care from Samaritan Hospice and it was shortly after my brother’s passing that I received the brochure about the Samaritan Hospice Tree Lighting Ceremony in West Deptford,” said Jan. The annual event is open to the public as well as family members of those who received Samaritan’s care.

So began what has turned into an uplifting seven-year tradition for Jan and an ever widening circle of family and friends. Following the annual tree lighting at the West Deptford Municipal Building, the group returns to Jan’s house for ample supplies of “hugs, conversation, cocktails and munchies” according to the email invitation that Jan created for this year’s event.

In 2003, friends and family first joined together to support Jan as a tribute to both her father and brother. She explains, “My father was cremated and no services were held at his direction. A memorial service was held in Chicago for my brother, but none of my friends was able to make the trip to be there with me. The Tree Lighting Ceremony seemed to be an appropriate avenue to attend to honor and respect their passing.”

During that first year, Jan’s long-time friend Paul visited and helped her decorate her father’s Christmas tree in preparation of the Tree Lighting/Girls Night Out. “It was all of about two feet tall and was better known by my high school friend Sharon as the Christmas Twig,” recalls Jan. “It was one of the hardest things to do in decorating Daddy’s tree, but in the long run, it has brought a comfort to me. That tree, aka twig, is still being decorated and we have the “twig lighting” before we go over to the Municipal Building for the tree lighting.”

Jan enjoys the beauty of the tree lighting ceremony as a fitting way to begin each holiday season. “I look at the tree and pick out a light and say, ‘That’s Daddy’s light; that’s Mommy’s light, and there’s Muggs’.” She recalls one moving night when it began to snow just as the tree was lit. “There was a father with his young son, about 2 years old. The father put him down and he just stood there and pointed at a lit reindeer moving his head under the tree. It was truly a precious sight and it made me think of when I was a little kid with my Daddy.”

That first year, said Jan, “We all got back to the house and some tears were flowing…but we all held our glasses high and toasted my Daddy, aka Papa Fox as well as my brother Muggs. Longtime family friend ‘Aunt’ Gwen said, “we knew that they would appreciate the fact that we were all together and celebrating their lives as well as continuing our lives in a positive direction since their passing. They both enjoyed a good party and people laughing.” Jan agreed.

The “girls” who continue to make this night so special include her Aunt Leni and ‘Aunt’ Gwen as well as 15 personal and work friends from various employers. “Last year, my friend Paul who is married to Barbara, crashed Girls’ Night with his wife. Since he knew everyone there, we all had a good laugh and a great time.” While most of the attendees are local, two of the friends travel from the Bridgeton area and the Jersey Shore. One friend, Kim, tries to arrive early each year to help put Jan’s stromboli casserole together, while another friend, Marcia, extends the fun with an overnight stay and a day of shopping the day after at Cowtown.

In addition to the stromboli casserole, this year’s menu will include steamed shrimp, artichoke spinach dip, clam pizza, breaded ravioli, buffalo wing dip, cheese and crackers and Jan’s homemade mustard “with a kick.”

Jan said, “Even though this started as a way to support me, over the years many members of our group have had losses including a few within the last few months and year. Several of them were cared for by Samaritan.” Jan chuckled as she showed the graphic she found for this year’s invitation of a trendy woman saying, “Some call it cocktail hour…I prefer ‘support group.”

“So, the beauty of the night is that it gives us a reason to make time in our schedules to come back here, enjoy each other’s company, laugh, remember our loved ones and support each other through the good times and the bad times of our lives.”

‘Aunt’ Gwen agreed, “The day is something special each year, just like a birthday.”