Saturday, December 08, 2007

Compassionate Friends -- Worldwide Candle Lighting

When our son, Jay, died on July 2, 1992, our lives changed forever. The Lord and our “compassionate friends” brought us through our immediate grief, so when people began to mention the international group called The Compassionate Friends, we didn’t feel that we had a need to go to their meetings, though we knew that such groups brought relief to parents whose children had died. Though we knew that we could benefit from such a group, we didn’t seek out TCF; instead, we joined a “grief group” at First Baptist Church, our church in Pensacola, Florida. At that time, I had no idea that TCF would eventually touch my life in a very meaningful way.

A few years later, after we had moved to Cerrillos, I happened on an article that would begin a love affair with TCF, even though we would never be official members. The article told of an event sponsored by The Compassionate Friends, an event that would become a joyous part of our holidays. Since I’ve never heard anyone else mention this activity, I’m just not sure that many people -- people who should know about it, parents who have experienced their worst nightmare, the death of a child -- know about something that could give them great pleasure during the holidays which have the possibility of causing much sadness because they miss their children so much more at these special moments.

Here’s what happens around the world each year just before Christmas and Hanukkah. It has come to mark the beginning of the Season for our family. The Compassionate Friends’ Worldwide Candle Lighting began in 1997 as a simple internet activity; however, the world community soon caught on, and now it is probably the most comprehensive candle lighting in the world. On the evening of the second Sunday in December, at 7:00 local time, bereaved parents around the globe light a candle to remember their children so that “their light may always shine.” People gather in stadiums (Albuquerque), in event centers (Hobbs), or at the homes of those involved in Compassionate Friends (Los Alamos). These celebrations for departed children are large gatherings where parents and grandparents bring pictures of their loved ones and light a candle in their memory for one hour. Music and readings are usually a part of the program, which lasts for an hour. What a wonderful way to remember our children in an understanding atmosphere! Just imagine the wave of candlelight around the world!

Our “celebration” is a bit different because it’s held in our home with friends and family gathered for introducing Jay to those who never knew him and for remembering him for those of us who knew him well. This year on December 9, we will invite neighbors in for our fourth Celebration of Jay. Here’s what will happen . . .

Our home will be decorated for Christmas, and as our friends arrive – some having come in other years, some coming for the first time – they’lll feel the festive holiday atmosphere. Since Jay was an uproariously funny, life-loving rock musician, be assured that we’ll be having a good time. Our daughter Wendy, my husband Frank, and I will tell funny stories about Jay, some of which most parents wouldn’t find amusing. We might tell about the time that he had almost 500 fans of Velvet Melon (his band) in and out of our house one night while Frank and I were in Europe taking care of other people’s kids. He had proof of the numbers because he charged a dollar a head, as he called it. For years afterward, young people around the town tolod us of how our house rocked that tnight. Our insurance agent paced in front of his house all night, just knowing that the next minute would bring a call telling him of someone’s having drowned in our pool. No call came. Or Wendy might tell about the time that she and Jay hiked down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Only she can make us feel the agony that she felt as she hiked up slowly behind Jay, who had run most of the way out of the Canyon carrying the only water that they had between them. He was in big trouble by the time his big sister made it back up to civilization! I usually try to read a poem or a section from a book of his friends’ remembrances of him; however, the old mom has a little difficulty even after so long. So Wendy finishes for me.

Wendy is a photographer, and her favorite subject was Jay; therefore, we always have photos and/or videos. We can count on whatever she comes up with to be entertaining, funny, sometimes poignant. At our celebration, we make sure that there’s lots of laughter because that’s what Jay would want. Telling stories about Jay and poring over pictures and videos of him have been our way of getting through our grief. Stories and pictures have also been the vehicle for introducing our friends here in New Mexico to our boy. No one out here knew him except Wendy, Frank, Wendy’s daughter Corey (who remembers him, too, only through stories and pictures), and me. And we certainly don’t want to deprive our friends of knowing a young man (he was twenty-four when he died) whom they surely would have loved!

The celebration lasts no more than an hour, usually less, so as soon as we finish, we head for the table. Guests never come to our house without being fed, and the second Sunday in December is no exception. We don’t have an elaborate dinner . . . just sandwiches and Christmas cookies.

The Young Family will be indebted forever to The Compassionate Friends for introducing us to this wonderful way of keeping Jay’s light shining and of ushering in the Christmas Season, truly the most joyous season of the year.

(I originally wrote this to enter in an Christmas Essay/Short Story Contest sponsored by our local newspaper, The Santa Fe New Mexican; however, I didn't see it as contest worthy after reading it aloud. Just wanted to save it on my blog. Thanks for reading!)