GRAFTON — The holidays can be a rough time for families, but especially for those missing a child who has died.
That’s why the Worldwide Candle Lighting Day that Compassionate Friends started is so important.
“We all have a story, and the holidays tend to bring out the sadness in people. And while this event is sad in and of itself, it gives us a way to recognize and celebrate our children that aren’t here that you otherwise wouldn’t,” said Terri Zunis, of the Lorain County chapter of Compassionate Friends, a bereavement group for people who’ve lost a child, grandchild or sibling.
Many families gathered at Our Lady Queen of Peace on Sunday evening for the annual candle lighting, which shows solidarity in child loss and offers a time for remembrance. As candles burned down in one time zone, they were lit in the next, creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light as the observance continued around the world, according to the Compassionate Friends website.
Michael D. Ballash and wife Suzanne, whose son Chris died in 2017 just weeks shy of his 28th birthday in an accident, lit five candles and read a poem by Sherry L. Williams to start the event Sunday. The candles represented verses in the poem: one for grief, one for courage, one for memories, one for love and one for hope.
Chris’ family found support through Compassionate Friends in October 2017 and attended its first candle-lighting ceremony last year. Chris also is missed by parents Joanna Tolson and Todd Tolson and twin brother Mike Ballash.
After the poem was read, each family in attendance came to the altar as its loved one’s name was called and lit a candle beside a framed photo of them.
The local chapter of Compassionate Friends was started by Grafton residents Dave and Terri Zunis and fellow Lorain County resident Lisa Barnes.
Dominic Zunis, 18, died in March 2013 after the car he was driving went into a pond off state Route 57 near Mennell Road in Grafton Township. Andrew Barnes, 6, died of leukemia 19 years ago.
The loss can be immeasurable, Zunis said, but she’s taking care of herself for the first time in the five years since her son died. During her grief, she said, she faced feelings that came close to consuming her daily. It might not be today, tomorrow or next year, she said, but one day a parent or sibling will be able to look in the mirror and find a way to face the day.
Zunis said she still cries and deeply misses her son, but she feels she has gotten to a point where she can laugh and sing again.
“We may heal, but we will always have the scars from the tragedies that we have known,” she said to the crowd. “We have taken a deep dive into the grief and we will come out on the other side.”
The Lorain Chapter of Compassionate Friends meets the fourth Monday of every month at Our Lady Queen of Peace, 708 Erie St., Grafton.