Nancy Palmer smiled as she remembered antagonizing her stepmother as a child.
"From the beginning, we tried to oust her, but she let it roll right off her back," Nancy recalled. "She didn't push herself on us, which is probably why we loved her so much. We saw the real her, and the real her was really nice."
Since her stepmother Jenni died last fall of lung disease and pneumonia, the feeling of loss hasn't abated, Nancy said. She still misses the woman who played a strong role in her upbringing, especially as the holiday season approaches and Jenni isn't around to share in the traditions.
"I think I miss her more this year than last year, because the shock was still sinking in then," said Nancy, a Coeur d'Alene resident. "It was still brand new."
At least she didn't have to be alone with those feelings this year.
Nancy was among hundreds who turned out on Saturday for the 10th annual Ceremony of Remembrance, hosted by the Lake City Community Church. As always, the church invited anyone mourning a loved one to gather, talk and cry over their memories.
"This allows me to be with other people who are hurting. It's a wonderful thing to be down and hurting and not have someone say, 'Perk up, it's not the end of the world,'" Nancy said. "They understand here."
At the door, volunteers welcomed individuals with hugs and greetings. Some people shed tears, others chatted or just sit quietly. All were invited to enjoy a warm meal, and to inscribe their loved ones' names on a Christmas decoration.
Later on, those names would be read aloud as families hung the decorations on trees.
"When you mention someone's name, you help keep their memories alive," explained Pastor Rodney Wright. "That's the most important thing we can do."
Noting that about 225 were signed up to participate, Wright said the event allows grieving individuals to witness that they're not alone, especially during a time of year when the pressure is high to be jolly.
"When you're navigating loss, the holidays represent the most painful part of that," Wright said. "People wish they could sleep through December and wake up and move on. We provide an event where people can laugh and cry, where it's OK to talk about a loved one without being a downer to everyone in the room."
Wayne Crook of Post Falls wasn't entirely sure what to expect, attending the event for the first time.
He just hoped to find some support, he said, after losing his brother Marvin last month to lung cancer.
"We were fairly close," Wayne said, adding that he simply planned to take in the atmosphere and reflect on memories.
Wayne remembered his brother as quiet, he said, his own person.
"I was always the little brother, you know that syndrome, 'Don't tag along with me,'" he said, tears gathering in his eyes. "I know life has to go on. We still miss him."
Bill and Jan Guenther come to the event every year, they said, both to mourn and celebrate family members' memories.
Jan had just lost her uncle two months ago, the Coeur d'Alene woman said. He had become the patriarch of the family, she added, after her father died decades ago.
"He was a big influence on my life," Jan said. "This is a great way to remember you family and friends who have gone on to be with the lord."
Bill, meanwhile, still feels the pain of losing his father in the early '90s.
"I remember doing things with my dad, and I wish I could still do them with him," Bill said, recalling days of the two toiling in the woodworking shop together. "We were real close."
Anna Means and her father Merle Eason journeyed from Naples on Saturday to sit in the church, where they penned a decoration with the name of Merle's wife and Means' mother, Nancy Eason.
It has been difficult adjusting since Nancy died unexpectedly in September of kidney failure, said Means, who had been living next door to care for her mother.
"She became my purpose. My own kids have grown up and moved out, and you have a purpose in life," Means said. "It was like my calling to move to here to have a really good relationship with her."
Of the event on Saturday, Means said, "I'm hoping it will bring some closure."
Merle said it is a challenge letting go, after 48 years of marriage.
His daughter the only other family in the area, he said he feels his wife's absence every day.
"I can't put it in words," Merle said. "What's hard for me is I go home at night and there's nobody there."
But at least on Saturday he was surrounded by empathy, others just like him hurting from loss and yearning to express it.
"It's not closure for me," Merle said. "It's a release."