COLUMBIA — Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Five members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia have experienced that firsthand.
Church member Maria Oropallo decided to find a way to help them cope. She founded Columbia’s first Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting.
The Worldwide Candle Lighting is a vigil that unites families and friends around the world for an hour-long candle lighting to honor the lives and memories of children who died at various ages from different causes.
“When I suggested that this might be something I wanted to do, I got a lot of good response,” Oropallo said.
“We wanted to participate in it because people are hurting and this is a way to help deal with the grieving process,” she said. “If we can help one of our own, we can open it up to the community because we’re not the only ones who have lost children.”
This will be the organization’s 14th annual national event. The Worldwide Candle Lighting started in the United States in 1997 as a small Internet observance and has since gained national and international recognition, according to the group's website. It is now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, with services in 15 other countries, the site says. The event is held at 7 p.m. on the second Sunday in December.
This year’s candle lighting will be held on Dec. 12. Columbia’s ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. due to conflicts with the Unitarian Universalist Church’s facilities, Oropallo said.
Columbia’s service will also have its own component. Attendees will bring a photo of their child and say their child’s name out loud to honor them.
“The story that we hear most are that people who have lost children, one of the things they never hear is their child’s name,” Oropallo said. “People think they are doing the right thing by never mentioning their name, and yet Elizabeth Edwards was actually the one who said, ‘When you mention my child’s name you are telling me you remember them. That’s a great gift.’”
Oropallo has been spreading word about the event and hopes to involve the Columbia Children’s Hospital in future ceremonies.
“I put it on my Facebook page as well and several friends in other states that didn’t know about it got their communities to do the same thing,” Oropallo said. “It’s been kind of fun for me to see that just me saying, ‘I’m doing this here’ has caused friends in Kentucky and Massachusetts to do the same thing. We all feel like we’re all in this together.”