Miami-Dade County

Candle-lighting brings comfort to bereaved South Florida families during the holiday season

Lisa Sturgill of South Miami holds a candle in memory of her son during the Compassionate Friends candle lighting vigil at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo Center in Miami on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014.
Lisa Sturgill of South Miami holds a candle in memory of her son during the Compassionate Friends candle lighting vigil at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo Center in Miami on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. Miami Herald File

For bereaved South Florida families and friends, the flicker of a candle light can also be a flicker of hope throughout the holiday season.

Anyone who has lost a child, grandchild or sibling is welcome to attend the Miami chapter of The Compassionate Friends’ candle-lighting at 6 p.m., Dec. 13, at the Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center, Blue Ribbon Room of the Goode Building, 10901 Coral Way. The event is part of a worldwide candle-lighting to remember the lives of children who have passed. The free ceremony is nonreligious and open to everyone.

“For families who have had this kind of a loss, it gives them an opportunity to celebrate the life of their child and to remember that child,” said Shelly Ellis, co-leader of the Miami chapter.

Ellis’ son, Jason Ellis died at age 23 after he was hit by a tram while working on his thesis in Amsterdam.

During the event, family members can light candles one at a time and say prayers for their loved ones. Soloist Karen Strolis Lewe will sing during the event. There will also be special readings and poems. Guests can bring photos of their loved ones to put on a memorial table during the event.

This year, Lashonya Leonard will attend her fifth candle-lighting. She has attended every candle-lighting since her son, Tariq Wright, died of complications from pneumonia at age 14.

“[The ceremony] is very uplifting. A lot of family members like myself, in lieu of celebrating the holidays, will attend the candle-lighting,” she said.

The Compassionate Friends is an international organization dedicated to providing support to families coping with the loss of a child. The organization brings families together to grieve without feeling hopeless or isolated.

This is a place where they don’t have to pretend. We refer to it as a mask that they wear in the civilian world. Once they cross the threshold at either the candle-lighting or a monthly meeting, they get to leave that mask at the door and they allow themselves to feel the grief because they’re not being judged

CINDY BAUM

“This is a place where they don’t have to pretend. We refer to it as a mask that they wear in the civilian world. Once they cross the threshold at either the candle-lighting or a monthly meeting, they get to leave that mask at the door and they allow themselves to feel the grief because they’re not being judged,” said Cindy Baum, co-leader of the Miami chapter.

Baum’s daughter, Lisa Ellen, died of genetic problems after birth in 1969. Her 30-year-old son, Evan Howard, died in 2001 of cardiac arrest.

Leonard, who attends meetings regularly, says it has helped her find comfort among others who feel the same as she.

“I was looking for a support group that I could find other women, other mothers, who had similar trauma so that I could be able to network with them and reach out in order to help me,” she said.

The worldwide candle-lighting begins in New Zealand at 7 p.m. local time. To create a 24-hour wave of light, as candles burn down in one time zone, they will be lit in another. To bring families from around the world together, compassionatefriends.org will open a chat room and message board for families to post tributes to their loved ones.

“[The candle-lighting] helps me to see that I can show someone that within a couple of years or months, if I’m able to speak about my son and not break down, eventually at some point they will be there, as well,” Leonard said.

The Miami Chapter of The Compassionate Friends meets at 7:15 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Temple Beth Am, 5950 N. Kendall Dr.

If you go

What: The Compassionate Friends of Miami Candle Lighting

When: Program begins at 6 p.m., Dec. 13. The candle-lighting begins at 7 p.m.

Where: Miami-Dade County Fair Expo Center, Blue Ribbon Room of the Goode Building, 10901 Coral Way

Cost: Free, but donations are accepted

More information: Contact 305-460-5762 or tcfmiami@bellsouth.net

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