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The December Tradition That Helps My Community Through the Loss of a Child

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It was colder than it’s been so far this year, but the freezing temperatures don’t seem to deter anyone. We gather in the street this year, as we have for the past 12 years, stamping our feet, clapping mitten-covered hands and marveling at how much the neighborhood kids have grown. We are celebrating Owen’s birthday. He would have been 20 this month.

Our annual fireworks party is a time to gather, to heal and, most importantly, to remember. The driving force has always been Aryn. Petite with long hair somewhere between light brown and blonde, she is dressed in a knit cap, ski jacket and boots. She looks like many of Owen’s friends home from college for the holiday. Mom to five children, Owen was her firstborn. A storm during a camping trip felled a tree, and we lost Owen when he was in first grade.

Using the word “we” comes naturally to this close-knit community. We are in this together. Healing and remembering go hand in hand, and it is an ongoing process. It never ends, but Owen’s family reached out and wrapped themselves around us, and we responded in kind.

While some might shy away at any mention of Owen’s name, Aryn drinks it in. Always remember, never forget. We have the T-shirts and the scholarship and the elephant drinking fountain in the park, and the color green. Owen’s favorite animal was the elephant. We all remember.

I remember a sometimes silly Owen who would take my daughter’s eyeglasses and hat. Riding in the backseat to school, they’d trade and laugh at how different and how alike they looked. Both sported dark brown pageboy haircuts — maybe a little short for a girl, maybe a little long for a boy, but it suited both of them perfectly. I remember two dark heads pushed together in concentration with sidewalk chalk, or lazily swinging back and forth on our old, white wicker porch swing. There is joy in remembering.

Back outside, we’re glad the wind from earlier this week has died down. It’s time for the fireworks. Owen’s dad and brother are masters of the ceremony, setting off one blazing, sparkling pyrotechnic after another to appreciative oohs and ahhs and applause. When the occasional green firework goes awry, we laugh and credit that to Owen.

The lanterns are passed around, and we gather in small groups of three and four to light, inflate and send them skyward. Each one is cheered on as it slowly rises, and soon, we can all watch a line of glowing lanterns drifting up and away.

Owen’s family thanks us for coming. We share hugs and smiles with people we don’t see every day. We share a connection through this time spent together once a year as we stop and remember and heal, just a little bit more.

Image via Contributor.

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Originally published: December 21, 2016
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