NEW MILFORD — Hundreds of area residents transformed their grief into hope Sunday afternoon as 300 monarch butterflies were released into the Memorial Garden at Harrybrooke Park.

The ceremony, organized by New Milford VNA and Hospice, was meant to provide healing for those who have lost a loved one. Families of those who had been in hospice care and other members of the community could purchase a butterfly to launch in their loved one’s honor.

“This is such a beautiful event,” said Deborah Matta, director of special events for New Milford VNA and Hospice. “It was so special for so many people who were grieving or remembering.”

An estimated 200 to 250 people attended the first annual “Wings of Hope” event, which was meant to represent the fact that there is hope after a loved one dies, said Catherine Vlasto, a hospice social worker at the VNA.

Just like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, people too are transformed when they lose someone, Vlasto said, adding that after grief, comes hope.

“Human beings strive better on hope than despair,” she said in a speech. “Remembering how well we loved our family is better than remembering their suffering. Because hope is a driving force for good, because hope makes us stronger. It might even give us new wings to fly.”

Wanda Kovacs, of Newtown, recognized this, even on the first anniversary of her mother’s death. Kovacs’ mother was in hospice care before she passed.

In a speech, Kovacs described her mother’s love and selflessness.

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mother and what she taught us,” she said. “My daughter said it best when she said my mom taught us everything, except how to live without her. But participating in this event, sharing this day with all of you and launching a butterfly in honor of my mom, is all part of the healing process.”

Georgette Megyeri, of New Milford, also remembered her mother on what would have been her 84th birthday. Megyeri and her mother used to have lunch in Harrybrooke Park and a bench in the Memorial Garden is named in her honor.

Megyeri’s mother was also in the care of New Milford VNA and Hospice.

“Without them our family probably would not have made it through as graciously as we did,” Megyeri said in a speech.

New Milford VNA and Hospice were inspired to hold the event by a Hospice in Vermont that has held the ceremony for several years. “We wanted an event where it was more personal and it was, as you can tell by the smiles, the joy and the tears, tears of joy,” Matta said.

After the speeches, a song and a poem on remembrance, attendees released their butterflies, which had arrived in New Milford from Flutterby Gardens in Florida before Hurricane Irma hit.

Wings fluttering, some of the butterflies soared above the garden, while others dipped into the grass. Several lingered on people’s palms or landed on heads, leaving onlookers smiling and snapping photos. Event organizers hugged and Matta wiped her eyes with a tissue.

“The butterflies felt the love here,” Matta said afterward.