As Maribel and Robert Burns flipped the switches on their electric candle, they read the following with 40 others at the 21st annual Candlelight Remembrance Program on Sunday: “I light this candle in memory of Julian Burns.”
Julian was Maribel’s son, who died recently at age 25.
Although Maribel read her own son’s name, at the same time the others read the names of whomever they had lost. This communal grieving, according to attendees, helps. To be with others who are pained just as much, if not more, helps keep memories alive and offers dreams of hope through their worst nightmares.
“People need to know, people that are grieving, this is a really good place for them to come and realize that you’re not the only one. There’s parents that are going through it all the time,” said Robert.
“There’s probably a lot of people that are mourning, grieving alone and don’t even know that there’s a place where you can come,” said Maribel.
“You don’t need to mourn alone. Even if you come here and don’t say anything, as long as you come and see what’s going on and realize that there’s people like you that share [the feeling] of losing someone you know,” said Robert.
The slideshow of pictures during the night’s presentation was all that was needed to feel a sliver of what those present at Bethlehem SCV were going through – many of the faces shown were young adults, children and even babies.
One thing attendees found important was sharing the stories of how their loved ones lived, refusing their definition to be solely attributed to how they died.
Maribel said Julian was a happy person, full of love and optimism. He was engaged and was to be married soon.
“He was a very special person to a lot of people and had so many friends. He was always so happy, never sad, never mad. Great attitude,” said Maribel. “He’ll be really missed and he was a warrior, he fought (cancer) for nine years. That’s a long time. And he was just tired, but he was aware he fought every step of the way. Never complained, never said anything negative about anything. He was always just a positive person… You know, they say that time heals everything and we’re still trying to figure that out because it’s three years and to us it feels like yesterday.”
As the candles were lit, Steven Crittenden read the name of his daughter, Sarah, who he said had a large heart and was a beacon to those who needed consolation.
“She was a really sweet person caring, giving… she was a shoulder that anybody can lay their head on and talk and share their thoughts and dreams,” said Steven. “She was a night owl, so she was the one that was up all night talking to people literally around the globe. I mean, she had Facebook friends in England and Spain and we still occasionally hear from. She was quite a person.”
Steven said groups like the Santa Clarita Valley Chapter of The Compassionate Friends – the group responsible for organizing the Candlelight Remembrance program – should be sought out if the worst happens.
“It’s a great group and if you ever, God forbid, wind up in a position of having lost a child, find this,” Steven said through tears.
Eric Rodriguez was the name his father, Carlos, read. Eric had been taking a hair loss treatment called Propecia, which Carlos wanted people to know could lead to suicidal tendencies – as it had with his son.
“My son was a smart, compassionate person that had dreams and had a lot to contribute to society and to all that loved him,” said Rodriguez. “My wife and I feel that Compassionate Friends got us through the hardest times in our grieving process… we felt we were not alone and we had something in common with them that no one else understood – the loss of a child.”
Following songs, poems and the sharing of stories, each person present was asked to turn off their light – but only for the time being, until next year.
More information on The Compassionate Friends is available at www.compassionatefriends-scv.org.