The holiday season can be particularly difficult time for parents who have lost children.
All around them is a festive season. But to them, it might feel like having "joy and happiness shoved down your throat," says Kathleen Gaberson of Forest Hills.
"You're missing someone important," she says. "It's hard for other people to recognize it and tolerate that."
To reach out to those who are struggling, Hope Lutheran Church in Forest Hills will observe Worldwide Candlelighting Sunday, in partnership with The Compassionate Friends, in remembrance of all children who have died, regardless of age. This observance will be held this year on Sunday, Dec. 9, in the social hall of Hope Lutheran, 353 Ridge Ave. (corner of Braddock Road).
The gathering starts at 6:45 p.m., with candle lighting at 7, and followed by refreshments at 8 p.m. Those attending may bring a candle to light (or one will provided), a photo or memento of the child for the Memory Table and a snack food that was the child's favorite to share afterward.
"It is a worldwide observance in which candles are lit in each time zone from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., so that the light goes around the world in a 24-hour period," says Gaberson, who brought the event to Hope Lutheran five years ago.
"The holidays are difficult for families who have lost children of any age, to whatever cause, and regardless of how long ago," she says. "This is an opportunity for parents, grandparents, siblings, and others who were affected by the child's death to gather for sharing memories and supporting each other."
Gaberson knows first hand the pain that comes with losing a child—and how the holidays can make that pain more difficult. She lost her son, Matthew Quay Ammon, in what she calls a "bizarre, random, tragic" incident in Bellevue, WA, near Seattle.
Matthew, whom she describes as "smart, handsome, funny and with a gazillion friends," had come home from his work as a patent attorney for Microsoft and was sitting in his apartment. Across the street, a 210-foot construction crane collapsed and fell on his building. Two companies were found negligent.
"To just be snatched from life like that," Gaberson says. "It could have been prevented. Warning signs were ignored."
Matthew was only 31 when he died in November 2006. A month after his death, Gaberson read about Worldwide Candlelighting Sunday and she, her husband and a few close friends observed it themselves. She took the idea of providing the event as a ministry to her church, Hope Lutheran, as a way to reach out to more people.
"Every single person who comes to this event has a sad story," Gaberson says. "I know that a number of local families have lost children in the past year, and I would like them to know about this observance."
She says the event helps make those who have lost their children "feel normal."
They are encouraged to bring their child's favorite snack to share—and Gaberson always brings the cake her son requested for his birthday. The Memory Table with photos and mementos serves as a place where people can talk about their children and share their feelings.
"You don't have to pretend to be happy," Gaberson says. "It really helps to talk about what that child meant to us.
"There have been far too many violent deaths in our local communities during
this year. I hope that we can get the word out to the families who are grieving the loss of their children that they are welcome at this event and that we will stand with them, offer comfort and hope to each other, and never forget our precious children."
Any questions may be directed Gaberson at 412-915-5999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.