Dozens of locals joined people worldwide Sunday night to remember the lives of children lost.
The international ceremony is hosted by The Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit devoted to grief support for those who have lost a child, and asks those participating to light a candle in honor of those they lost.
The local event was organized by Christian and Elizabeth Brady, whose 8-year-old son, Mack, died from a bacterial infection almost two years ago. Elizabeth read about the event online two weeks ago and reached out to organize it. Some people previously participated in their homes, she said.
“This year, we decided to bring people together for it,” she said.
Some of Mack’s soccer teammates and friends were in attendance Sunday for the ceremony outside Atherton Hall on Penn State’s campus.
Sunday also happened to be the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, where 26 people lost their lives including 20 elementary school students. Penn State sophomore Aviva Doery, of Monroe, Conn., spoke about the tragedy. Her hometown is right next to Newtown and she was a high school student when the shooting took place. Her school went on lockdown and a friend lost his younger brother in the shooting, she said.
“Every year, I dread the coming of Dec. 14,” she said. “But every year I make a point to honor the memory of the 26 angels that were taken from us, because it is important that we never forget.”
One by one, she read their names.
Some helped with the grieving and healing through song. State College Area High School sophomore Riley Roth sang a song she wrote this week called “Times We Had.” The song just kind of came to her, she said, though she had recently lost her great-grandfather. Graduate student Eric Ian Farmer also sang a self-written song about loss and remembering called “With These Hands.” A high school teacher, he was remembering a student of his who lost her life and also a loved one who struggled with miscarriages.
“The candle I light is in my heart,” he said.
Groups and organizations within the community that help people deal with grief and loss were also involved. Holly Torbic, program director of the Tides, helped the Bradys get the word out about the ceremony and spoke at the event.
“It’s just nice because it brings people together, reminds them they’re not alone and gives them a chance to remember,” she said.
Some people who attended had lost loved ones as recently as two weeks and others as long as 20 years ago, Torbic said.
Jackie Hook, of Helping Grieving Hearts Heal, a group that helps parents dealing with the loss of a child during pregnancy or in early life, said she loves the symbolism of a candle lighting because it represents the light of children’s lives, but also something else. Hook lost her first six pregnancies, she said.
“It also represents the light that’s with us the whole way on our grief journey, even though sometimes we don’t believe it and sometimes we don’t see it,” she said.