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Candle-lit compassion

Worldwide Candle Lighting ceremony honors children who died too young

Posted: December 15, 2008 9:01 p.m.
Updated: December 16, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita residents gather in Canyon Country Sunday night to light candles celebrating the lives of those who died much too young. The Compassionate Friends organization, which hosts the event, estimates tens of thousands participate in the ceremony each year and the event is believed to be the world's largest mass candle lighting.

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More than 100 candles flickered in the chilly night air on a Canyon Country hilltop where more than a few teardrops fell.

But Sunday night was not a time to grieve.

Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandmas and grandpas each lit a candle to celebrate the lives of those who died much too young.

From New Zealand to California, families that lost a child took part in the hour-long Worldwide Candle Lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. as part of an annual celebration to help parents honor their children during the holiday season.

"You don't feel the pain so much because it's so beautiful and you know you're honoring your child," said Diane Briones, a Canyon Country resident and leader of the local chapter of Compassionate Friends which hosts the ceremony.

This was the eighth year the Santa Clarita chapter hosted the event, which features singing and poetry reading by candle light.

The purpose of the ceremony is not to grieve, but rather "to remember our children and honor them," said Briones, whose 20-year-old daughter died in a car crash 11 years ago.

"It's the only way to show them they're in our hearts. It's very healing because you feel like you're doing something," she said.

The Compassionate Friends organization has more than 600 chapters in the United States and a presence in at least 30 countries around the world, according to the group's news release.

The organization estimates tens of thousands participate in the ceremony each year and the event is believed to be the world's largest mass candle lighting.

Many gather in public ceremonies while some simply light a candle in their own living rooms.

The Santa Clarita chapter hosts monthly support meetings to help local parents, grandparents and siblings cope with losing a child at any age.

"Some come for several months, some come for several years," Briones said. "We all grieve differently, but we all have one bond: the loss of our children."

Though the members comfort each other, the pain of losing a child never fully fades, she said.

"You never get over this. You just don't," she said.

Ida Lizarzaburu, whose 27-year-old son died in a car crash eight years ago, drove from North Hollywood to Canyon Country Park because the Santa Clarita candle lighting is the best one around, she said.

"It helps. It heals the heart," she said. "It is our Christmas time for our child."

Lizarzaburu said after her son died, she couldn't celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas.

"You don't want to celebrate the holidays. But this celebration is for them," she said. "I feel like I'm celebrating my son and maybe I can get through Christmas."

She said she finds comfort knowing thousands of candles were lit on the same day in ceremonies around the globe.

"We're weeping, but we're weeping of joy," she said.

"Our children are out there seeing us."


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