Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vigils—A Path Out of Darkness

A Path Out of Darkness
Days Pass By in What Once
Was a Long, Sad Month

October 16, 2014
October once was my longest, saddest month. During October, I am writing about the challenges we face during anniversary days, weeks, and months that mark extreme loss—or any intense, emotional life events. My child spent her last days on Earth in October of 1986. Memories of that time have affected not only October, but much of life since my seven-year-old Alexa died. Today, I share how we honor the memory of those we’ve lost during vigils.

Extending the olive branch of peace and healing.
(Stained glass window in Gracepoint Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida)
Candlelight flickers in a dark room, in a sanctuary, on a street corner, in groups gathered with a common purpose—to remember, to watch, to wait, to sit in silence and awareness. Warmth from the flames provides only scant heat to loosen the sometimes-icy grip of grief on the hearts of those who meet to remember.
Light, precious light, illuminates each event to ward away the darkness that can overwhelm when life’s events are too much to bear. Vigils are times of gathering in the light and provide the gift of being in community with like-hearted people. People share the same depths of the soul at the vigils they attend.
We have vigils because when marking times of sadness, loss, and grief, we don’t want to be alone. We hunger for the company of those who understand and welcome those who wish to be understood. Loneliness can weight the emotions of loss and make them too heavy to bear. Emotions immediately following loss often spur people to act. What can they do? How can they process the event? They gather at a designated time and place memorials, light candles, stand in solemn prayer. Such gatherings do not change the nature of life’s unhappy events, but they often answer the question: “What can I do?” Meeting with others can be the beginning of healthy mourning.
Fear of forgetting loved ones can haunt those of us left behind. We know time will pass, life will change, and the face of our loss will change. But some things we don’t want to change. We don’t want to forget. We’re afraid that in forgetting, we stop loving. Vigils give us an opportunity to say publicly, “Yes, I remember. Yes, I still love.”
Annual vigils, not unlike pilgrimages, give us an opportunity to hold each other up. In the community of a vigil, stories can be shared. Hope can be shared. Healing can be shared. Guilt can be soothed. Frustration and a sense of failure can be diminished.
Following a vigil, rather than being overwhelmed by sadness, participants often remember not only what they lost, but what they loved. That love continues to hold them long after the last candle is extinguished, the lights have come on, and everyone goes home. It’s the light of love that carries us through that journey and the journey we take each day—a new journey, a different journey, but one of hope and healing after loss.

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My dear friends Chris and Darrell Smethie lost their beautiful son Courtland almost three years ago. Saturday evening, October 18, they are hosting a NOPE (Narcotics Overdoes Prevention and Education) vigil in Ft. Lauderdale to honor the memory of those lost to and suffering from substance abuse. Please join us and bring light and healing to your own life and the lives of others who struggle with this problem. NOPE vigils are held throughout the country this month.
Information regarding the NOPE Candlelight vigil in Ft. Lauderdale follows:
October 18, 2014, Reception 6:30 p.m., Ceremony 7:00 p.m.
Gracepoint Church
5590 NE 6th Avenue
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Contact Chris Smethie:

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Vigils need not be public. Nor do they need to be held on a certain day. Anyone can light a candle when life seems too dark. Anyone can contribute to or volunteer for organizations that help bring light to the world: Compassionate Friends, Children’s Miracle Network, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Such organizations abound and can help us find our way out of the dark by bringing light to those still here.

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Loss will touch each of us. That touch can sear our souls. As a healing balm, I present a new October. Rather than become snared in the dread of loss, I intend to spin a circle of compassion. I loved Alexa. I lost her. What did I love that made the loss so keen? What do I do, and what will I do to keep from stumblingthrough October and every day, week, month? By sharing my journey, I hope to make yours easier, to offer a hand when you stumble, to keep you from falling. If you fall, I want my hand to be there to help you up and back into life.

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Do you have a “long, sad, month” or do you know of someone who is stuck in the depths of grief? Please feel free to share your concerns, struggles, victories in the comments. I welcome private correspondence at

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