Last Sunday the Compassionate Friends organized their 17th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting. Across the world at 7pm, bereaved parents and their families joined to light candles in memory of their children. According to The Compassionate Friends website it is “now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe…a gift to the bereavement community… creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.”
The magnitude of this event illustrates the degree of individuals and families who are impacted by child loss. Despite that, the death of a child in the eyes of others is the most awful thing imaginable and is often not spoken about. Bereaved parents understand this intimately as they struggle with the social awkwardness that follows the death of a child. People don’t know what to say, if they should say anything, or how to react. Some even retreat in fear, as their own mortality and the mortality of their own children suddenly becomes tenuous in light of the death.
Because I’ve authored a book on the subject, people often share their stories with me. They know I won’t shy away. In some cases it has felt like a confession of sorts. Their voice drops close to a whisper. They don’t want to be overheard. They are guarding themselves from people’s reactions.
But everyone has a story about the death of a child, be it their own or someone in their family. It touches peoples lives in more ways than is acknowledged by society. As I think about the hundreds of thousands of parents that lit candles across the globe on Sunday, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we could all take the time to be open to their stories. To stop shying away from the tragedy in life. To listen, acknowledge and create space in our society for the deeply meaningful relationship between life and death.
For now, I’ll try to be a microcosm of that ideal.