In a culture where uttering the name of one’s dead child aloud is discouraged to the point of being a conversation-stopper, a group met to do just that as they joined a national movement on Sunday.
Seventeen children’s lives were celebrated during the second annual Candlelight Remembrance Program hosted by The Compassionate Friends of the Kenai Peninsula.
For the second year, the gathering was held at the Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna, in tandem with the Worldwide Candle Lighting, put on by the national organization. At 7 p.m. on Dec. 13, each chapter lit candles representing children who have died, so that lights were burning the entire day in each time zone.
The event and meetings the local group holds are a way to remember the children’s lives without bringing it up to the general public, which local chapter member Brenda Zuck said tends to make people uncomfortable.
“You don’t often get to say your child’s name,” Zuck said. “And it’s nice to be able to be with a group and talk about your children.”
Before the local chapter was formed this past year, Zuck and others said they tried out different grief support groups, but that they never felt a sense of belonging. Losing a child is such a unique experience, there needed to be an organization of its own to help people cope with it, she said. Zuck and those who helped her form the chapter had attended the candle ceremonies before, but had not expected the 27 people who showed up to their first meeting.
“We were very surprised,” Zuck said. “In fact we were all just in tears at seeing that many.”
“I thought I was going to be the only one there,” said Soldotna resident and group member Lisa Garcia. “There’s a lot more people than you realize.”
About 17 area residents listened to poems and music performed by Soldotna resident Bonnie Nichols. One by one, they approached a table laden with photographs of their dead children and placed a lit candle in front of them.
The event closed with the parents facing each other in a circle reciting the names of their children out loud, first alone, then as a group. The chapter and remembrance program provide a safe place to do so, as Zuck and others said they face pressure to continue on with their lives as if everything is normal.
“There’s people who say, ‘Oh, aren’t you over it? You should be over it by now. Why are you still crying?’” Zuck said. “It comes in like, these waves.”
Garcia, who lost her daughter 25 years ago, said she sees the organization as an opportunity to use her experience to help parents whose losses are more recent. She said it’s worth it “if you can help just a few people know that they’re not alone.”
Kenai resident David Thomas said the loss of his son informed the way he treats other people dealing with death. Thomas said members of the community are generally very involved and attentive in the days and weeks following a death, but that coping can be more difficult months later when that attention begins to fade.
“…That understandably peters off over a few weeks as everyone else, understandably, moves on,” Thomas said. “For me, two or three months and six months out, I was lonelier because it was just the immediate family that was still in that space… If someone loses a child, loses a spouse, I’ll make a note on my calendar three months out and six months out and a year out. (I’ll) make a phone call, because they aren’t going to get as many phone calls at six months as they did the first week.”
Compassionate Friends of the Kenai Peninsula meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 6-7 p.m. at the Soldotna Public Library.
Megan Pacer can be reached at email@example.com