There are some things in life that should never happen. On the top of that list, in my opinion, is the loss of a loved one gone too soon, or the loss of a child. One of my very close friends recently lost her only child – her beloved son – to a drug overdose, which has become a tragic reality in today’s society. It was her worst nightmare; her biggest fear come true. There was nothing more heart-wrenching than hearing the sound of her sobs at his funeral – a grief that words cannot describe. She grieved the loss of her only child, who she had so dearly, dearly loved. She grieved for the grandchildren she would now never have.
This past December, my friend asked me to join her in attending The Compassionate Friends Candlelight Memorial at Hope United Methodist Church in Flint. The Compassionate Friends is a nonprofit organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. The Candlelight Service honors the memory of sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren lost before their time. The church was packed to capacity with grieving parents, friends and family members. A photo of the family’s loved one was shown on a big screen, and as their name was spoken, a candle was lit in their honor. The altar soon shone bright with the soft gleam of many candles.
There was something comforting to me about seeing their photos, some with wide smiles as they held their children, some taken at momentous life occasions – graduations, weddings and holiday gatherings. Some were vacation pictures – standing near a tumbling waterfall, a majestic mountain, a sandy beach and gentle ocean waves, the rich glow of a setting sun over the water in the background. Other photos of those lost had captured a moment of quiet reflection, sitting on a rock by the water or standing in a wooded field. Seeing the photos, to me, was a reminder that there are so many joyous moments in life – moments that should never be forgotten in the shadow of grief. The photographs spoke of happiness, laughter and love.
As they lit their candles, each of the bereaved received a red rose. There were hugs offered, and they reached out to one another for comfort, sharing a grief that only those who have gone through it can know or understand.
The emotion I felt at the Candlelight Memorial stayed in my heart for many days afterward. It was a reminder to me that nothing in life can ever be taken for granted. Life can bring much joy but can also end too soon, and each moment is precious. What I believe was most comforting for the grieving parents was knowing that the memory of their loved ones lives on.
The Compassionate Friends is now a worldwide organization that holds a mass candle-lighting annually, which is believed to be the largest mass candle-lighting ceremony on the globe. It creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.
With this New Year, my wish is that my friend’s burden of grief will lighten. I was glad to have had the opportunity to be there with her to honor the memory of her son.