By Kevin Kelley
For Jennifer Howell, the joy of the Christmas season will be hampered by grief over the death of her daughter, Danielle Koran, who died unexpectedly in May at the age of 33.
“This time of year is difficult,” she said, adding that family holiday traditions are affected by the loss of a family member. “For me, it was having an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table.”
A 1997 graduate of Magnificat High School, Danielle suddenly collapsed at her Colorado home and could not be revived, according to Hamp Howell, her stepfather. The cause of death was later determined to be lymphocytic myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle caused by an infection and/or autoimmune reaction, he told West Life.
In addition to her mother and stepfather, Danielle and her partner, Alan Pyrczak, left behind a 2-year-old girl, Ella.
“It’s such an unnatural chain of events,” Jennifer said of the death of her daughter. “People don’t expect to bury their children.”
While attending meetings of grief support groups, Jennifer learned of Compassionate Friends, a support organization geared toward families grieving the death of a child of any age, from any cause. Founded in England in 1969, a U.S. group was established three years later. Compassionate Friends operates in 30 countries, with 650 chapters in the U.S. alone.
On Dec. 8, Compassionate Friends will sponsor its Worldwide Candle Lighting, a ceremony in which children and grandchildren who died too soon are remembered. Started in the U.S. in 1997 as a small Internet observance, the ceremony is now international in scope. Candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time across the globe, beginning in New Zealand. In Jennifer’s words, the goal is to create “a ring of light around the world.”
Although Compassionate Friends has no religious affiliation, Westlake United Methodist Church will serve as a local venue for a candle lighting ceremony. People are invited to gather in the sanctuary of the church at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 8 for a ceremony that will include music, inspirational readings and messages of hope. At 7 p.m., the group will head outside, where sky lanterns, small hot air balloons made of paper with a small lit candle suspended from the bottom, will be released. Participants can write messages on the sky lanterns, also known as Chinese lanterns.
Hamp praised the leaders of Westlake United Methodist Church for hosting the event.
“The church is very good at community outreach,” he told West Life.
Jennifer Howell, who is among the organizers of the local ceremony, said she’s received numerous phone calls from families experiencing grief. She hopes their participation in the ceremony will relieve their heartache.
Compassionate Friends purposefully schedules the Worldwide Candle Lighting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Jennifer said, because it’s such a difficult time for grieving family members.
“It’s particularly helpful this time of year – Thanksgiving and Christmas – when it’s the first time around (without the deceased loved one),” Hamp Howell added.
Danielle’s relatives across the country and the world, including a friend in Finland, are planning to light candles Dec. 8, her mother said. Her family still misses her.
“Love doesn’t end with death,” Jennifer said. “It deepens, actually.”
Compassionate Friends’ Worldwide Candle Lighting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Westlake United Methodist Church, 27650 Center Ridge Road. The event is free and open to all regardless of one’s faith. For more information on Compassionate Friends, visit the organization’s website at www.compassionatefriends.org.