Last Sunday, the 10th, Marc, Catherine, Zoe, and I went to the Worldwide Candle Lighting in Memory of Our Child in Vernon put on by Compassionate Friends. Like the title suggests, it’s done world wide. It’s always on the 2nd Sunday of December and one of the timing goals is to have the room lit by 7:00pm in union with all the other parents around the world at their own 7:00pm.
During the service, Zoe leaned into me and whispered, “This is just like church!” Oh man…. it was nothing like church except the keeping quiet, but it was still too cute.
It’s not the same as a Compassionate Friends meeting in that everyone is welcome. We can bring family and friends and our living children. Like the meetings, we’re invited to bring a picture(s) of our child for the In Memory table. There is a set format to the short evening after a short introduction and welcome from the MC : 1. Specific poems read by a mother, a father, a sibling, and a grandparent. 2. A beautiful heart wrenching song recording to listen to. 3. Lighting candles representing hope, love, courage, and . . . . last one escapes me. 4. A chance for people to get up and share. Their sharing can be as unique as the individual. Tribute to their child, advice, what they’re doing to get through, etc. One lady got up and said she writes her son a poem every year on the anniversary of his car accident. At first she published them in the paper but that made certain family members uncomfortable, so now she just writes them and keeps them to herself. This year she shared her October /17 poem with us. 5. Lighting candles in memory of our child. Each person has a candle, stands up one at a time, says their child’s name (or sibling’s, grandchild’s, niece’s, nephew’s, etc.) and lights their candle. Even Zoe was not afraid to speak out Bernadette’s name and turn her light on.
When the short service was over, I immediately turned around to the woman who wrote the poem, as her and her husband were sitting right behind us, and asked her if she had an extra copy of her poem she could share with me.
Her first stanza was very personal to her son, but the second stanza really spoke to me, and the third was beautiful too. Their son passed away seven years ago now so they’ve been walking this path for quite some time. It was like her poem reminded me of the hope that there is life past the pain, encouraged me to keep moving toward that life, and permission to continue to love and miss Bernadette even as we move forward. I know I don’t need permission. I guess it’s just that seeing someone who is moving forward be a little more at peace while at the same time still loving and missing their child is a witness to what’s possible. They’ve gone through the struggles and come to the truth that they’re not betraying that love and memory because they are moving forward, if that makes any sense.
Here is the two stanzas of Penny Hardie’s poem:
“We’ve had to put behind us
The devastating grief
We try to focus now on hope
Turn over a new leaf
Move beyond the nightmare years
To invest in life again
There’s no way you can stay alive
If you cling to all that pain.
So we speak of you
with a laugh sometimes
Remember your music and smiles
And when we need to get to you
We bring our roses across the miles
The wracking sobs have given way
To gentle tears and a sigh
But as far as loving and missing you….
“Never a day goes by.”
Penny Hardie wasn’t the only witness Sunday night at the service. Actually every parent there is a witness. But in particular for me there was a beautiful younger mom there with a one-year-old (whom Zoe couldn’t get enough of as they were the only two under five feet tall) and expecting a baby soon. She lost two small children in a fire several years ago. She had the most beautiful smile and she looked happy and/or peaceful! I stood in amazement and awe at her courage and tranquility and the love that poured through her eyes for her little girl. She was truly an inspiration.
That’s the thing with Compassionate Friends. It brings together those who have just experienced the devastating loss of a child with those struggling, and those who have gotten to the point where they can be at peace and continue to live life again. I stood there in the room and witnessed the whole cycle. Everyone belongs and everyone offers support to the others in some form: those just experiencing loss for the first time (or the second!) needing a place where they can share their raw grief knowing they’re with other parents who totally totally totally get it, those who are a little further into their grief looking back at how far they’ve come and forward at how far they can still go, and those who have come out to the light again at the other end of the ever so long dark tunnel a stronger and yet whole person. The balance is beautiful. If it was just those with extremely fresh pain and those in the light, there would probably be too big a gab between them, they both need those in the middle at all the various stages to bridge the gap. Of course the other blessing of Compassionate Friends is it is a place where hurting parents can go to know that we are not all alone in our grief and pain. Others have come before us, unfortunately others will come after us, but we are not alone. And that is Compassionate Friends’ motto: You need not walk alone. We are the Compassionate Friends.