Earlier tonight I participated in a Candle Lighting sponsored by our local South Suburban Chapter of The Compassionate Friends. As many of you know, it is part of a much larger Worldwide Candle Lighting that takes place every year on the second Sunday in December at 7:00 p.m. around the globe.
Though every year since our baby girl Molly was born and died I have lit a candle on this night in her honor and memory, this was the first time that I participated in this memorial service with others who have also lost a child. The service was incredibly moving and very cathartic.
I went with a friend from the perinatal bereavement support group called Caring Connection that I attend at our local hospital. When we arrived we met up and sat with other friends from our group and some of their family members.
I am still digesting the experience, but wanted to write and share about a few things tonight while they were fresh in my mind.
When we first arrived at the church where the Candle Lighting was held, I had to go to the bathroom. My friend waited for me while I went before we entered the chapel. As I entered the bathroom I noticed there were two stalls, both of which appeared to be occupied and there was a young girl standing outside one of them. The service was due to start in a few minutes and I was anxious to go and make my way into the chapel. But I knew that it was going to be at least an hour long and didn’t want to have to wait that long to go to the bathroom. As I waited for my turn I heard the young girl call out to her sister, “Hurry up Molly! We’ve gotta go!”
I believe it was the first sign that I received from our daughter Molly tonight, but not the last.
After my friend and I made our way into the church we found some of our friends from Caring Connection, took our seats and waited quietly for the Candle Lighting to begin. What followed was a beautiful and moving mix of readings shared by other bereaved parents and songs (mostly sung by one woman with a gorgeous and angelic voice) that related to our experience mourning the loss of our children and finding the courage and the grace to be able to learn to live without them in our lives, but knowing they are always in our hearts.
Further along in the service there were five big candles lit near the alter in honor of our children. One representing grief, one for memories, another for courage, the next for love and the last for hope. A bereaved mother or father lit each one and then shared a reflection related to the theme for the particular candle.
Then there was a photo presentation during which those of us who had sent in a picture of our child ahead of time got to see our child’s name and image on a big screen at the front of the church as part of a video/music montage. The names and pictures were shown in alphabetical order which added a dynamic of anticipation (as the letter of your loved one’s name was approaching) that made the whole experience even more emotional for my friends, me and I imagine many others who were there. It was so moving to see the names and pictures of both those children whom I know their parents and siblings, as well as those who I didn’t know before tonight, but now feel a strong connection to after participating in this candle lighting together.
One of the pictures that moved me the most tonight was that of a single foot print, along with the name of a baby boy that left this world too soon. I found out later that the footprint belongs to the deceased son of a friend of a friend, who attended our Caring Connection support group regularly years ago. This woman still attends this Candle Lighting annually with our mutual friend (who is actually the awesome facilitator of our group and has ministered to me, and so many other bereaved parents, in that role ever since I began attending the meeting almost year after our ectopic pregnancy, our third pregnancy loss, in September 2006).
My friend, who I went there with tonight, daughter’s name begins with an “M,” just like my baby girl, but the second letter of her name comes before the second letter of my first daughter’s name, so before experiencing viewing my child’s name and photo, I got to see my friend’s beautiful baby girl grace the screen at the front of the church. Soon after that I got to see this photo of our Molly and her name on the screen. I was overcome with emotion and so touched to feel my dear friends from Caring Connection reach out to me during that moment, holding my hands and touching my shoulder.
After the photo presentation came the actual Candle Lighting part of the service. One by one each person who was there and felt comfortable doing so had the opportunity to approach the front of the church, receive a candle and then speak the name of their child or loved one into a microphone. As the man who introduced this part of the service said, “we need to speak our children’s names and for you to hear them.” So true.
When it was my turn I got choked up, but I did it. Initially I only intended to say “I light this candle in honor of my daughter Molly,” but after hearing many others share the names of other loved ones in their life that have died, in addition to their children or siblings, I also chose to share the name of my old and dear friend who died earlier this year.
After each person shared the name(s) of those they were there to honor the memory of we walked to the outer edges of the chapel and formed a circle. It was so crowded tonight that people also had to fill in some of the aisles and pews after saying the names of their loved ones out loud.
After saying “I light this candle in honor of my daughter Molly and my dear friend,” I made my way over to one side of the church and stood in between the friend that I came with and my friend/the facilitator of our Caring Connection group. At that moment I looked up and across to the other side of the church and saw this:
It was the second time tonight I felt our baby girl (represented by the butterfly) was speaking loud and clear to me, only this time it seemed to me that our three angel babies (represented by the three roses) were joining the chorus.
There have been a handful of times since our Molly-girl was born and died that I felt she has tried to communicate this directly with me and though I get that not everyone believes it is possible for her to do so, it works for me and was a wonderful and very special experience for me tonight.
After everyone at the service who wanted to share the names of their children and other loved ones they had come to honor the lives and memories of did so, a few people lit candles from those initial five (representing grief, memories, courage, love and hope) and then slowly, one by one, each person turned to the person next to them, so that they could spread the wave of candle light around the room. It was beautiful and reminiscent of the many Easter Vigil candle light church services that I have attended and participated in throughout my life.
For those of you who have attended a Candle Lighting like this you know what a wonderful and moving experience it is to be with those who understand what it means and feels like to lose a child. If you have lost a child and haven’t had the opportunity to participate in a Candle Lighting such as this and you get the chance to next year or another time in the future, I encourage you to go and see for yourself what a beautiful and healing experience it can be.
For those of you who participated in a group Candle Lighting service tonight or lit candles in your homes in honor of your child(ren) or other loved ones that have gone to soon, my thoughts and prayers go out to you as you keep their memories alive…
…that their light may always shine.
I was touched at the end of the service tonight to receive a beautiful, handmade ornament that will hang on our Christmas tree this year, and in the years to come, as a reminder to me of this night and in memory of our Molly-girl and Babies Benson. I also got to take home a CD which has all of the songs that were shared in the service tonight, including one that I will leave you with the lyrics of. It was the second song sung at the Candle Lighting tonight and one I had never heard before. I listened to it a few times on the way home and find that it is yet another piece of music that captures so well how I feel about our daughter and babies that have gone too soon, but who I believe we will be together again with someday. The song was written by Katherine J. Cochran.
Until We’re Together Again
Some believe a star shining brightly in the heavens
Represents the love of someone they can’t see
Others feel the butterfly dancing in their garden
Is a symbol of a spirit flying free
But when a gentle breeze caresses your hair
Or you see an eagle soar in the air
Should you smile and remember me in prayer
Oh, I will be there.
(Chorus) There’s no need to say good-bye
One day we’ll be together
Remember me and smile
I’m in your heart forever
I’ll feel the love you send
Until we’re together again
Close your eyes
You’ll find me sailing in the sunset
Riding waves of bluest oceans ever seen
Holding hands of all the others here before me
My head upheld to hear the angels sing
I can do all the things I’ve always dreamed of
I’ll be watching over you from above
Don’t worry about me because
I brought along all your love
It doesn’t matter where you are
My love will shine upon you from that star
Like the butterfly, now I’m free
Ascending through the sky peacefully
And you hold on to the love I send
Until we’re together again
We’ll be together again.