We Lit Nine Candles: The Remembrance Service

On Tuesday night we held our 12th Annual Candlelight Remembrance Service at the Laguna Hills Community Center.

These evenings are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bestdesigns

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/bestdesigns

The evening started cheerfully enough as families filtered in and re-connected with different staff members that helped them. There are always hugs but then the context of our relationship tends to hit and the mood grows somber. For many, this is a night looked for and cherished for the healing it has brought. There is anxiety for some who don’t know what they will experience or maybe don’t want to experience anything. For others, it’s a struggle just to walk through the doors.

As families take their seats the silence in the room becomes profound.  By the time 7 o’clock comes the hearts brimming with emotion and memory are ready to be poured out.

But this year our service opened differently.

2013 has been a particularly prominent year of loss for the staff at O’Connor. People sometimes think that funeral directors & mortuary employees have hearts that are hardened to grief, that somehow our exposure could make us immune. If working at a mortuary meant you didn’t feel grief we would receive thousands of applications a day.

Chuck said it well when he wrote, “Doing what we do, I swear some people think we are immune to the pain and angst that a loved one’s death can bring. We are not and I know it is the hardest thing we can go through in this life.” If you remember his blog from a month ago, you’ll recall that he does know what he’s talking about.

But, you see, it’s actually the exact opposite. Most of us at O’Connor have experienced a personal, family death first-hand. We aren’t inexperienced or hardened against grief. We have had death forced on us just like the families we serve. We feel called to this job not because of what we can’t feel, but because of what we have felt.

our 9 candles

our 9 candles

In 2013, 9 of our employees experienced a close, family death. That means roughly 1/4 of our staff is actively grieving a significant loss.

So this year warranted something different. We lit 9 candles in memory of the husband, brothers, parents (one employee lost both) & grandparents our staff have lost this year.

As candles were lit and pictures played I was struck by two things:

1. Everyone gathered in that room was connected, one to the other, by grief. We had 70 different families who chose to be there, to remember, to honor their loved one before others. For some families this was the only service held for their loved one, or the only one they were able to attend. It’s an evening with many purposes as unique as the individual but all centered on their grief.

In Memory of Lou Collins

In Memory of Lou Collins

That connection was palpable. I observed a compassionate person offer Kleenex across the aisle to a teary stranger. I watched as whole families, a spouse, or a group of friends stood as they heard the name they were there for read aloud.

2. The second thing I found particularly profound was that because of this grief-connection, there was a sense of community rather than the aloneness that usually accompanies grief. While grief can be isolating in it’s specificity & uniqueness, it is difficult to stand in a room surrounded by weepy families and think that you are alone in your pain. I think many found it encouraging to be reminded that others have lost, others are facing a first Christmas without that special someone, others will be crying through the holidays, like you.

Our speaker, a Hospice Chaplain commented on the need to have grace for yourself. Grief is messy, there’s no clear road. Take out the “I should be’s” and just be where you are.

If you’d like more information for yourself or others you know that are having a particularly hard Christmas & Holiday season, click here to see the different grief-specific brochures available. “When You Grieve During the Holidays” is particularly poignant.

Have you ever attended our Candlelight Remembrance Service? 

Who were you there to remember? What was your experience like?

 

 

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I’m Molly and I write for the blog here at O’Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who’s deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try.
Work at O’Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.
I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

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  • Anne Anderson Collins

    Oh dear sweet Molly,
    I am sobbing as I am reading this, then suddenly saw Lou’s picture up on the screen in the last shot you incorporated and totally lost it. This was hard for me to attend, but yet so healing. April and every one of my grands, Alex, Tim, Jessica, and Joey came. I was so thankful, and it was helpful for each of them. 4 of my dear neighbor friends came as well: Joan and Judy have come for 4 years anyway, for Joan’s dear husband, Tom and Judy’s precious daughter, Dena, but also Cheri and Marta came along to support. Cheri just lost her only sister weeks ago, unexpectedly. I knew I was not the only one grieving, yet instead of extending my care through reading the names as I have done for the past 11 years, and greeting guests at the door before and after, I was one who was grieving.
    As I watched everyone’s picture on the screen, like in past years, I put myself in their place and mourned with them for seconds, and then there was Lou’s photo and it was just so overwhelming. I am sure he was watching down on us and glad to see us all there together. He would be proud of his family and our friends, knowing that we were supporting each other and making “monuments”.

    Beyond the family and friends, I felt watchful care and concern and yes, love, from those that I work with, making sure I was doing ok. It felt good. And boy, I needed it!! And I am sure that Mark and Shasta, Jon and Melanie, Carrie, Becky, Jennifer, Lauren and Erin felt the love, too.

    I believe more strongly in this annual event than just about anything we do for our families. I wish every one of them had been able to participate.
    Thank you for honoring Lou in this blog.

    You know, I have been slowly writing blog segments about the process of losing Lou and it is not a happy thing to write about, and maybe one might think, not appropriate for the “season”, but every single family who has lived through or is living through the same thing, knows it does not matter what day or season it is…it only matters that someone understands your pain and your journey.
    I am so thankful for where I work and for what we do every day to help grieving hearts.
    Love
    Annie

    • Anne,
      My heart just broke for you when I saw Lou’s photo. I had seen the slide show in part when we were preparing and his image just stopped me in my tracks. It’s so strange to see pictures of people we know playing in these slide shows, so surreal.

      I saw the lovely group of ladies there for you, I was so touched when they ALL stood up with you when Lou’s name was read. What wonderful friends.

      I am so sorry that you are facing this Christmas, this most special time of year for you, without Lou. But I’m so glad that you made the choice to attend this year rather than host and I hope you feel the strength to make decisions like that for as long as you need to.

      It was my privilege to put Lou’s photo in this blog, he’s been a big part of our year and I wanted to have that image saved for you if it helped at all.

      Love you my friend, thank you for your beautiful words,

      Molly

  • Jenn

    I am so sad I was unable to attend, I was asked if I wanted to include a picture of my Grandfather who passed in July but I declined because I knew I would already be crying enough with everyone else in the room I was afraid to make it personal, probably for the same reason you wrote this blog, “we are not expected to have our own grief as funeral directors.” I know that statement is false, I guess I am guilty of trying to hide my own while keeping a smile on for the families. I look forward to attending next year and maybe I can include Grandpa Tarvis and light the candle I should have lit on Tuesday.

    • Jenn, you dear heart. There’s no need for the guilt you are feeling. Grief is a different road for all of us and if you felt this year was too soon, then it was too soon and maybe next year will be the year you get to come & remember him with a photo & candle.

      I think you’re wise to see that there is fear in grieving publicly and that it is effecting you. I encourage you to try to let that go, to try to give yourself the permission to cry, grieve & experience your own grief for your grandfather day-by-day.

      I put in my grandfather’s photo last year, 6 years after he passed away. I had never attended the service before and although it had been years, I needed it. I took the candle given to me home & lit it in memory of him. It was wonderful.

      There’s no “right” time to do this, just make sure that you do do the things that will bring you peace & comfort.

      Thank you so much for sharing, I look forward to seeing you & your grandfather next year,

      Molly

  • Oh Carrie, you are one of the people in the forefront of my mind who’s compassion & sympathy for others flows from the deeper places of grief. I am so glad that you felt Jeff honored on Tuesday and even now in this blog. If we as funeral professionals know anything about death it’s that it isn’t fair, it isn’t right, it isn’t how it is supposed to be. That’s why our grief is so hard.
    Thank you for coming on Tuesday, for sharing your smile & hugs with so many, and for all the work you do to love & guide others.
    You’re wonderful,

    Molly

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Molly, thank you for this beautiful blog that so perfectly describes the value and meaning of the evening. For those of us at O’Connor who have lost family members this year, it was especially meaningful.

    I never imagined that I would be standing next to my parents and receiving a candle in honor of my brother; as you said in your reply to another, “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right, and it shouldn’t be” – but there I was.

    As emotionally draining as the evening was for me, I did feel the sense of community you described. In a strange way it felt good to be there and to be with others who so deeply understand the pain of losing a loved one.

    • Minharda DeVilliers

      You’re a very special person, Becky. Still so sorry for your loss!

      • Becky Finch Lomaka

        Thank you, Minharda. I know you have experienced loss this year too, losing your dear friend. I am grateful for dear friends like YOU who are such a wonderful support to me!

  • Erin Fodor

    I had the pleasure of volunteering this year at O’Connor’s Remembrance Service. It was truly amazing to see the families interact with one another. Every family had at least one thing in common; grief. It was absolutely beautiful to see the 70 families come together as one when there loved ones names were called aloud. I also had the pleasure of remembering my father and uncle. It was such a comforting feeling knowing they were
    still being actively remembered after 13 years. This was an extremely meaningful event, and I look forward to next years.

    • Erin,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and for being such a wonderful part of our ceremony this year.

      It thrills my heart to hear that you got to honor & remember in front of so many others, the lives of your dad & uncle. Your feelings are a testament to the power & purpose of remembering.
      So glad you enjoyed your first service, looking forward to having you at next year’s.

  • Lori

    Molly,
    Thank you for reflecting on the evening and the reminder of what a tough year it has been for our O’Connor family. We keep going on with our daily tasks and until I saw “Nine” written out in your title, I guess I had forgotten just how hard those we love have been hit.
    This year was my third time attending the Candlelight Service. I typically check in families as they arrive. Last year I did read at the beginning and excused myself shortly after my part was over.
    Even though I have not experienced loss recently, hearing the music and seeing the DVD played evokes so much emotion. I am prone to a bit of seasonal depression this time of year as it is and don’t want to “feel” in that way around the families I think I am supposed to be strong for.
    Perhaps next year I will challenge myself to go inside, watch the entire program and feel whatever emotions I need to feel.
    It was wonderful to see our team members arriving with so much family support. That was very heartwarming.
    Thanks again for recapping and reminding us how important this service is…….
    XOXO Lori

    • Lori,
      It is so great to have you present at this evening. I have a hard time myself each year, especially when the pictures play – it’s just so sad.

      I hope next year you’ll stay inside if you feel like it, it would be interesting to see what you feel afterward, what you experience.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts & most of all for being there!

  • Joe Lavoie

    I have attended many times in the past not only to help serve for the evening but to attended with my parents and my daughters when my wife died that was a very emotional year , I very much appreciate that we do offer this time to be together for wall the families we serve at this most difficult time of the year . Truly what a blessing this is to help countless families on their journey through grief and to never forget special people in their lives.

    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

    • Thank you for sharing Joe. You can speak to the value of the service with the loss you’ve experienced. You are a wonderful part of our team Joe, because you know what others are going through.

  • Mitch

    thank you for your thoughts on the evening. It is truly amazing, the feelings that fill the room are very healing, no one is alone. It is wonderful that we can still connect & be significant in their lives even months or years later.

    • Thank you Mitch, I’m glad you felt the same way. Appreciate your thoughts!

  • Yes, Amy, we are family. And your use of the word “shepherd” is so appropriate for what this service is. This opportunity is something we create and guide people through, it’s something they can’t do for themselves, something they need us for.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Amy!

  • So well said, Chuck! I agree with you, this evening reminded me of the grief that exists within our work family. There are walls up, even at our place of work, probably in part by necessity – we have to work & get through our days, but it’s so important to not leave them up. This service was a great evening of that.

    Thanks so much for reading & sharing your own lovely thoughts Chuck!

  • Thank you Shayna,
    It is as important for our staff as our families to honor & celebrate the lives of our loved ones. It’s important that we be examples of how services should go and what memorialization looks like. We need to do it.

    Hope you’ll be there next year!

  • Michael,
    You were so fabulous at the service! You seriously did the greatest job during the reading and I was so impressed with the touch you were able give to all the families you spoke with.

    Looking forward to you reading again next year!

  • Shasta,
    Thank you so much for writing. I wondered how the evening was for you & I’m glad that you found it helpful. You touch on the big picture of the evening though, that there is a cumulative, community grief that is so much bigger than all of ours. Your heart is so tender and good to see that and feel it for everyone in the room. You are such a dear soul, your compassion for others shines out of your smile. Thank you so much for reading this blog, for attending the service & for sharing your wise insights with all of us.

  • Kari,
    You were missed this evening! I’m so glad that you can still observe a candle-lighting tradition in honor of your father-in-law. I think that’s the hope for many of our families, that they can create their own meaningful times to celebrate and honor the life missed with a candle or whatever type of tribute they find most fitting.

    I’ll be thinking of you on the 12th. Looking forward to seeing there next year!

  • Thank you so much Neil! It is so moving to see how many people are in need of a place to remember – I love that we get to provide that for them.

    Thank you for making all of this possible & for being such a tender heart yourself. You make us a better team because of it.

  • Fitz

    Molly,
    Thanks for sharing about our Annual Remembrance Service. It is truly a special night. Our families so appreciate it. In fact, there’s a family I served years ago that has attended the event for 10 straight years. This year was particularly significant because of the losses we have experienced within our work family. I feel blessed to work amongst these great people and feel for them as they continue on their own grief journey. Thanks again for a great blog.
    Fitz

    • Thank you so much Fitz. It’s so amazing to know that some of our families have attended for many years and continually find the evening to have meaning and power for their lives.

      I love that the owners are there showing their support & recognizing those that are in grief, thanks for all you do!

      Molly

  • Mark

    Molly….As you know this years Remembrance Service was especially difficult for me…I have buried both of my parents and also helped my girlfriend in the death of her brother…as the pictures of the people who have died this year appeared on the screen I was overcome with emotion and the tears just started flowing..I did not know these people but I did know what their families were going through….the interesting thing I noticed was that as I looked around the room many people were crying too….the room was full of hurting, aching, lonely people….I am personally grateful that O’Connor has the Remembrance service…..thank you from my family…..Mark

    • Mark, thank you so much for sharing. I think that in many ways the photo tribute is the most touching and difficult part of the evening. There’s just something concrete about seeing a photo of a person on the screen and realizing that’s all we have of them now, a picture, a memory. That part touches everyone and you can feel the tension in the room lessen as people allow themselves the tears instead of refraining and trying not to cry. We need it.

      I’m so glad that this event was powerful for you and that your girlfriend and brother could be there.
      So glad you came.

  • Tom

    I was at a candlelight service for my mother and I,my father, and sister were deeply affected by the event. Thank you for all O’Connor Mortuary does for the community.

    • Thank you so much Tom, I’m so glad they could be there and share in the evening with us.

  • Greg Forster

    Molly,

    This was the 3rd service that I have attended.

    I did not know what to expect the first time, but my take away brought the following words and accompanying thoughts:
    “simple, elegant, powerful, quiet, community, beauty, thoughtful, deep, care, support, commonality, others, strangers who for a moment are not strangers, common thoughts, feelings, sharing”.

    The time frame is not too short and not too long….it is enough for people to be open to, absorb, share, and put into their own personal perspective.

    I, as a member of the O’Connor staff, look forward to these special evenings. The opportunities to meet, greet, connect and experience/show compassion are not to be missed.

    Next year, if anyone reading this is “on the fence” about attending, please be assured that this is a moment not to be missed….not to be missed because it is a moment both for and all about you.

    Greg

    • Greg, thank you so much for your positive support and willingness to be a part of this evening. It is so wonderful to have the staff represented so well and even more wonderful that we are such advocates of the work we do. When we believe in what we’re doing we’re unstoppable and I love your encouragement to future others as they consider attending. We know how good it is and that’s what we want to share. Thank you so much Greg!

  • Christopher Iverson

    2013 has been a very challenging and testing year for our staff at O’Connor Mortuary. I have watched and walked with my staff through a year that not only made us cry, pray and hope, but a year that brought us loser together as a business family. I am so blessed to share in so great a love that we have at the mortuary. The beautiful carryover to the families we serve is that we shepherd them through their grief with hearts that know the journey. Amen for 2013!

    • Yes, closer is absolutely true. I feel like we’ve been asked to practice what we preach this year and it’s been hard but so good not only for ourselves, but for the thousands of people we will continue to serve in these capacities. Thank you for your kind words & all you do.

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Molly . .
    Thank you, dear one, for such a poignant message. This was the first year in the past 12 that I have missed. And, I’m so very sorry – such an important time for our families and our team here. We have realized this past year, of the strength we have together, and how important it is to support and care for our fellow man. The pain we have seen throughout the year is palpable and overwhelming, and we have learned so much about each other. And I believe what the Chaplain says . . . Grace for today and hope for tomorrow. Our Remembrance Service is THE most powerful and comforting program we do all year. Giving our families an opportunity to once again honor their loved one gives them something to hold onto during the sadness of the holidays. Thank you so much for painting the picture.
    AP

    • We missed you so much Pat and I thought of you as I wrote this thinking, “At least she’ll have an idea of what we did.”
      You’ve made this wonderful evening into a tradition that has calmed and soothed so many hearts. Thank you for dedicating so much of your energy & love to it, I look forward to being at it with you next year : )

  • Sharon Watkins

    Molly
    I apologize that I had not read this blog earlier. But I loved it – especially reading it a month out from the event. This year was the first time that I submitted a loved one’s name to honor, so the night of remembrance took on a more personal feeling for me.
    I am so grateful that our company understands the need for this type of an event for the families in our community year after year. As I read your blog the sweet feelings from the event flooded back through my mind and once again brought me peace and joy.
    Everything about the event was significant in one way or another to one or more individuals. Thank you for sharing Molly.

    • Sharon, you are so sweet!! I am so pleased that this blog could take you back in time a little bit and bring the spirit of that night back to you.

      I’m so glad you submitted a name, it’s so much more meaningful for us as we take on the role of participant and step out of the employee. Thank you for attending & for sharing with all of us that darling picture. So glad you did!