When we lose a loved one to death, be it family or friend, we know that the “walk through the valley of death…” can be a long and lonely journey. Our grief can be overwhelming. We also know of the pain felt when our deceased love one is seldom mentioned, even by family. Do people remember that they existed? We have felt alone, in grief and in memories. Sadly, in our culture, it is not commonplace to openly talk about a deceased loved one. Yet, for bereaved family members, such reminiscing is a common occurrence, especially on significant dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, family gatherings and Christmas.
It was with this knowledge and understanding that Charleswood United Church began a new tradition in December 1993, our Lights for Lives program. Since the holiday season can be a particularly difficult time for those who have lost a loved one, this tradition is offered to reinforce the love and memories of that loved one.
Individuals are invited to submit the names of persons they wish to remember to the Lights for Lives Committee. These names are recorded in a Book of Remembrance that is on display in the narthex during the program period. A memorial card is also presented, suitable for hanging on a Christmas tree or mailing to a bereaved family. The card indicates that a light is shining at Charleswood United Church in memory of their loved one.
Throughout Advent, Christmas and into Epiphany, clear mini-lights woven into green garland encircle our sanctuary. Each light glows in memory of a loved one who has died. One of the seven stained glass windows adorning the sanctuary celebrates the Nativity, the festival of Jesus’ birth. This window is dedicated to the loved ones we remember each year. At Christmas, we remember that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Our memorial service, held the first Sunday evening in January, is a non-denominational service of song, reflection and remembrance for families who wish to pay tribute to dearly departed loved ones and friends. The homily focuses on grief and grief support, followed by a Liturgy of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for the seven groups of persons being remembered. Our service closes with the hymn, Those Hearts That We Have Treasured, followed by a time for fellowship and refreshments. All members of the community are welcome to attend.
The Lights for Lives program also distributes literature, provided by various grief support groups, to heighten awareness of the services available. Our program accepts tax-deductible donations which are distributed to organizations such as Compassionate Friends of Canada, Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba and the Grace General Hospital Foundation. Voluntary contributions totaling in excess of $20,000 have been distributed to date.