We Lit Nine Candles: The Remembrance Service

We Lit Nine Candles: The Remembrance Service

On Tuesday night we held our 12th Annual Candlelight Remembrance Service at the Laguna Hills Community Center.

These evenings are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

The evening started cheerfully enough as families filtered in and re-connected with different staff members that helped them. There are always hugs but then the context of our relationship tends to hit and the mood grows somber. For many, this is a night looked for and cherished for the healing it has brought. There is anxiety for some who don’t know what they will experience or maybe don’t want to experience anything. For others, it’s a struggle just to walk through the doors.

As families take their seats the silence in the room becomes profound.  By the time 7 o’clock comes the hearts brimming with emotion and memory are ready to be poured out.

But this year our service opened differently.

2013 has been a particularly prominent year of loss for the staff at O’Connor. People sometimes think that funeral directors & mortuary employees have hearts that are hardened to grief, that somehow our exposure could make us immune. If working at a mortuary meant you didn’t feel grief we would receive thousands of applications a day.

Chuck said it well when he wrote, “Doing what we do, I swear some people think we are immune to the pain and angst that a loved one’s death can bring. We are not and I know it is the hardest thing we can go through in this life.” If you remember his blog from a month ago, you’ll recall that he does know what he’s talking about.

But, you see, it’s actually the exact opposite. Most of us at O’Connor have experienced a personal, family death first-hand. We aren’t inexperienced or hardened against grief. We have had death forced on us just like the families we serve. We feel called to this job not because of what we can’t feel, but because of what we have felt.

our 9 candles

our 9 candles


In 2013, 9 of our employees experienced a close, family death. That means roughly 1/4 of our staff is actively grieving a significant loss.

So this year warranted something different. We lit 9 candles in memory of the husband, brothers, parents (one employee lost both) & grandparents our staff have lost this year.

As candles were lit and pictures played I was struck by two things:

1. Everyone gathered in that room was connected, one to the other, by grief. We had 70 different families who chose to be there, to remember, to honor their loved one before others. For some families this was the only service held for their loved one, or the only one they were able to attend. It’s an evening with many purposes as unique as the individual but all centered on their grief.

In Memory of Lou Collins

In Memory of Lou Collins


That connection was palpable. I observed a compassionate person offer Kleenex across the aisle to a teary stranger. I watched as whole families, a spouse, or a group of friends stood as they heard the name they were there for read aloud.

2. The second thing I found particularly profound was that because of this grief-connection, there was a sense of community rather than the aloneness that usually accompanies grief. While grief can be isolating in it’s specificity & uniqueness, it is difficult to stand in a room surrounded by weepy families and think that you are alone in your pain. I think many found it encouraging to be reminded that others have lost, others are facing a first Christmas without that special someone, others will be crying through the holidays, like you.

Our speaker, a Hospice Chaplain commented on the need to have grace for yourself. Grief is messy, there’s no clear road. Take out the “I should be’s” and just be where you are.

If you’d like more information for yourself or others you know that are having a particularly hard Christmas & Holiday season, click here to see the different grief-specific brochures available. “When You Grieve During the Holidays” is particularly poignant.

Have you ever attended our Candlelight Remembrance Service? 

Who were you there to remember? What was your experience like?

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Fitz says:

    Thanks for sharing about our Annual Remembrance Service. It is truly a special night. Our families so appreciate it. In fact, there’s a family I served years ago that has attended the event for 10 straight years. This year was particularly significant because of the losses we have experienced within our work family. I feel blessed to work amongst these great people and feel for them as they continue on their own grief journey. Thanks again for a great blog.

    • Thank you so much Fitz. It’s so amazing to know that some of our families have attended for many years and continually find the evening to have meaning and power for their lives.

      I love that the owners are there showing their support & recognizing those that are in grief, thanks for all you do!


  2. Mark says:

    Molly….As you know this years Remembrance Service was especially difficult for me…I have buried both of my parents and also helped my girlfriend in the death of her brother…as the pictures of the people who have died this year appeared on the screen I was overcome with emotion and the tears just started flowing..I did not know these people but I did know what their families were going through….the interesting thing I noticed was that as I looked around the room many people were crying too….the room was full of hurting, aching, lonely people….I am personally grateful that O’Connor has the Remembrance service…..thank you from my family…..Mark

    • Mark, thank you so much for sharing. I think that in many ways the photo tribute is the most touching and difficult part of the evening. There’s just something concrete about seeing a photo of a person on the screen and realizing that’s all we have of them now, a picture, a memory. That part touches everyone and you can feel the tension in the room lessen as people allow themselves the tears instead of refraining and trying not to cry. We need it.

      I’m so glad that this event was powerful for you and that your girlfriend and brother could be there.
      So glad you came.

  3. Sharon Watkins says:

    I apologize that I had not read this blog earlier. But I loved it – especially reading it a month out from the event. This year was the first time that I submitted a loved one’s name to honor, so the night of remembrance took on a more personal feeling for me.
    I am so grateful that our company understands the need for this type of an event for the families in our community year after year. As I read your blog the sweet feelings from the event flooded back through my mind and once again brought me peace and joy.
    Everything about the event was significant in one way or another to one or more individuals. Thank you for sharing Molly.

    • Sharon, you are so sweet!! I am so pleased that this blog could take you back in time a little bit and bring the spirit of that night back to you.

      I’m so glad you submitted a name, it’s so much more meaningful for us as we take on the role of participant and step out of the employee. Thank you for attending & for sharing with all of us that darling picture. So glad you did!

  4. Patricia Kolstad says:

    Molly . .
    Thank you, dear one, for such a poignant message. This was the first year in the past 12 that I have missed. And, I’m so very sorry – such an important time for our families and our team here. We have realized this past year, of the strength we have together, and how important it is to support and care for our fellow man. The pain we have seen throughout the year is palpable and overwhelming, and we have learned so much about each other. And I believe what the Chaplain says . . . Grace for today and hope for tomorrow. Our Remembrance Service is THE most powerful and comforting program we do all year. Giving our families an opportunity to once again honor their loved one gives them something to hold onto during the sadness of the holidays. Thank you so much for painting the picture.

    • We missed you so much Pat and I thought of you as I wrote this thinking, “At least she’ll have an idea of what we did.”
      You’ve made this wonderful evening into a tradition that has calmed and soothed so many hearts. Thank you for dedicating so much of your energy & love to it, I look forward to being at it with you next year : )

  5. Christopher Iverson says:

    2013 has been a very challenging and testing year for our staff at O’Connor Mortuary. I have watched and walked with my staff through a year that not only made us cry, pray and hope, but a year that brought us loser together as a business family. I am so blessed to share in so great a love that we have at the mortuary. The beautiful carryover to the families we serve is that we shepherd them through their grief with hearts that know the journey. Amen for 2013!

    • Yes, closer is absolutely true. I feel like we’ve been asked to practice what we preach this year and it’s been hard but so good not only for ourselves, but for the thousands of people we will continue to serve in these capacities. Thank you for your kind words & all you do.

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