Sarah Stultz: Honor passed loved ones now and always

Published 7:43 pm Monday, December 10, 2018

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


My heart skipped a beat Sunday evening as I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw a picture of a candle next to two photographs of a local child who died last year.

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As I scrolled a little further, I saw a similar photo — this time of a candle lit by a mother I met from Wisconsin two years ago, who lost her son to an illness.

A little while later, I found another.

Sunday was the annual worldwide memorial candle lighting by The Compassionate Friends, an organization that seeks to provide comfort, hope and support to families who have experienced the death of a child.

Each year, the event aims to honor the memories of these children, whether through a formal event through Compassionate Friends or from the comfort of your own home.

I have not attended a meeting through this organization, so I was not aware this event was happening until I saw the photos appear on my newsfeed. I would have liked to have participated, though I didn’t have a candle in the house.

This will be our family’s third Christmas without our daughter, Sophie, who died in July 2016, and though I think it’s fair to say I try to cope with her death through faith, family, friends and service as best as I can, that sting of her physical absence still resurfaces often, whether it’s when I see a photograph, watch a movie that reminds me of her or run into one of her friends I haven’t seen in a while.

This time of year for anyone who has suffered a loss of a close family member or friend can sometimes be a challenging season.

I’d like to tell those of you who have suffered recent losses that the pain will go away, but I can’t. Yes, I can say that after 2 1/2 years the pain has lightened, but it is still there, and likely will be to some degree for the remainder of my life -— even though I have comfort knowing I will see Sophie again.

If you want to be sensitive to anyone who has suffered a loss, I encourage you not to forget about those loved ones or tiptoe around their names. Speaking for myself and other parents I’ve known who have lost a child, the last thing you want people to do is forget your loved one or to be afraid of saying his or her name in your presence.

It doesn’t mean the loved one has to be the subject of every conversation -— or even most conversations -— but don’t make it feel like that loved one never existed.

Our family continues to talk about Sophie and feel comforted when our friends and family speak about their memories with her occasionally, too.

As we decorated our Christmas tree this year, we made sure to proudly include the handmade ornaments Sophie and our son have made over the years, along with others that marked their birthdates and other occasions.

Sophie’s stocking is hung on our fireplace next to the others and will continue to hang there in the coming years.

Even though Sophie is not physically with us now, we feel her love often.

Though I loved seeing all the flames burning Sunday in honor of the children who have passed on, I hope we can keep those flames burning symbolically year-round. 

These children have changed our lives for the good forever, and now it’s our turn to light that fire within someone else.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.