York County Coroner Sabrina Gast and her staff have worked on more than 1,600 death investigations in 2014. That’s 1,600 families in the area who lost a loved one in the last year.
“Every time someone dies, they leave behind a family,” Gast said.
To help those families, the coroner’s office and York County’s CARE team have once again put up a “Remembrance Tree” in the lobby of the coroner’s office. They’re hosting a tree-lighting and open house for families on Thursday.
For the last four years, the CARE team, which stands for Connecting, Advocating and Responding with Empathy, and the coroner’s office have encouraged families to hang an ornament on the tree in remembrance of those who have died over the course of the year.
“(Families) see it has a healing process,” Gast said. “They like that we’re not forgetting their loved ones.”
The tree is covered in ornaments, some large and some small, of many types, but each has a story behind it.
There are angels, ballerinas, a piano and lots of other symbols for people’s memories.
The hanging of ornaments also lets Gast and her staff meet with family members of those who have died, she said, and put what they do into perspective.
In 2014, the number of death investigations was much higher than in previous years because of a change in protocol that has Gast and her staff investigate almost every death, regardless of where it happened, to simplify the complicated procedures that come after death, such as life insurance and death certificates.
Gast said she and her staff have been busy but also more productive and effective than in years past.
Around 80 percent of all deaths in York County are of natural causes, Gast said, so while people may link the coroner with a crime scene, they might not realize how many families the coroner’s office and CARE team come into contact with.
The tree, Gast said, can help families cope with their loss and see the face of someone who helped handle their loved one’s death.
“We hope the tree will bring them some peace,” Gast said. “We hope it helps them through the holiday season because the holidays are hard.”