In the darkness of winter and a season of hope, Hospice of Homer last Thursday held its annual event, “Light Up a Life,” to remember lost family and friends.
On a path shoveled through Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Park by city workers, hospice volunteers set up luminarias —paper bags weighted with sand and lit by candles — along the trail and around the gazebo. For a donation, people could have loved one’s names printed on the bags. Some had simple messages like “peace,” “joy” and “remember,” while others honored family who died this year or long ago.
“Light Up a Life” originally featured stars with names hung on a tree at First National Bank Alaska, said Holly Dramis, Hospice of Homer director of development and finance. Last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, hospice decided to hold the event outdoors. Dramis said she remembered discussing the idea of using luminaria with former staff member Robin Albright, and with her help hospice came up with the luminaria walk for 2020. The tradition continued this year.
“It was one of those good things that came out of COVID, coming up with something that was pretty poignant for the community,” Dramis said.
Luminarias, also known as farolitos in some areas, are a Southwestern U.S. tradition dating back centuries. A luminaria can also be a small bonfire. Among Christians, especially Catholics, the lantern welcomes the Christ child. Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico hold large displays of farolitos, with the lanterns lining walkways and patios. The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events often use luminarias to honor loved ones who have died of cancer.
Dramis said that for those who have lost family, especially recently, loss can interupt the traditions and rituals of the holidays.
“When someone is dealing with grief, you need new rituals,” she said. “… If you can manage a little bit of your grief and include a new tradition that includes an active remembrance, it can be a really powerful tool for processing grief and dealing with grief, particularly in the holiday season when it’s so difficult.”
Last year and at the event on Dec. 16, people were invited to come up one at a time and say the name of a loved one. On Thursday, one woman who had recently lost her mother just days before spoke about talking with her mother before she died and how her mother was ready to go.
“It was exactly what you wanted to hear,” Dramis said. “She had this lovely send off. Her daughter wanted to form her own decisions. … I don’t think there was a dry eye there by the time we finished.”
Dramis said she wanted to thank all the people who helped with “Light Up a Life,” including the city workers.
“It’s really, really sweet,” she said of the event. “We need more acts like that, more moments of remembrance.”