‘Grief shared is grief diminished’

For nearly 25 years, Gunderson Funeral Home and Cremation Services has been holding the A Time For Angels service of remembrance for the Fort Dodge community. The event is to bring people together during the holiday season when people’s grief can be at its greatest.

The service will be at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, 239 N. 11th St.

Owner and funeral director Phil Gunderson spoke about the origins of the service, saying “We started this service in 1998. My wife, Keely, was the one who established this way back then. We recognized that the Christmas season is a very difficult time for those who are going through grief and loss. Especially during that first year after a death and so we started a service as a way to bring people together. With a service of remembrance, you help to remember and to support people, and help people with their grief and loss and give perspective.”

“It’s been at St. Olaf for many years now,” he added. “We have the Rev. Emily Sauer and this year from St. Olaf and then Father Ross Caniglia, who is a Catholic priest. We invite the families that we have served during this past year, and then we have opened it up to the community to come and people will call in names of their loved ones. We read the names as part of it, there’s messages of hope, and of comfort, and music. We remember those who have died not just during this past year, but in years past as well because there’s no time limit on grief. So we read the names and we have the handmade angel ornaments that we then present to each family, one per family and they can also purchase additional handmade angels after the service for $15 each. But we present each family with these ornaments when the name is read and remembered. We get about maybe 300, sometimes three to 400 people at the service each year. And over the years, we’ve probably distributed around 1,000 angels per year so it’s been about 25,000 angels that people have as a keepsake. A number of people will get an angel each year to remember different loved ones as well because each year the angel is different.”

Gunderson highlights the importance of the assistance this service offers to those who are grieving.

“We believe this is a very special and important community event for people to come together,” he said. “When someone dies, and especially in that first year, everything is new. Everything is different. Everything’s turned upside down. And to come together with other people in the setting, and hear the messages of hope and comfort in the music and to have the symbolism of an angel ornament, which is very special to people. It also helps with your perspective that you’re not alone in your grief. There are a lot of others that are experiencing that same thing.”

“I’ve always believed that grief shared is grief diminished,” he said.

“We always try as best we can to help ease the pain and ease the grief. We can’t take it away, but we can help that journey through grief.”

Gunderson wished to express gratitude to everyone that helps make this service possible, saying “I’d like to give mention to my wife Keely and all of our staff. It’s a very special service. We know that it can be a difficult day for people. We appreciate that we can help make differences in easing one’s grief and loss. And I’d also like to mention St Olaf’s Church and Holy Trinity Parish and the support that we got from the community as a whole. We’re collaborating with lots of people to help have a very meaningful service of remembrance.”


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