HANAMAULU — Those who have loved and lost gathered at Immaculate Conception Church on Monday night to remember.
They wrote names of lost loved ones at the door and took a candle to light in honor and remembrance of the people who were gone but not forgotten. The pews filled.
Just before the start of the ceremony, it started to rain, and the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School chorus went through the front entrance, under red and green and purple Christmas lights.
Tricia Yamashita, executive director for Kauai Hospice, summed up the organization’s annual Candle Lighting Memorial ceremony with a quote — “Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship.”
“Grief rewrites your address book. Those who show up get it,” she told the several dozen Kauai residents who gathered at Immaculate Conception Church to grieve the loss of loved ones and find solace in their memories. “That’s why you all showed up today. You get it.”
One woman, Anna Parreno, told her story with the congregation and shared her continuing struggle to understand incomprehensible grief.
Parreno lost her father in 2014 and her mother just two years later and said that for her, the holidays are the most difficult time of year. Parreno said time has slowly eased the pain she and her sister found overwhelming at first, and each passing year brings the thought that maybe they’ve finally grown numb.
“And then Christmas comes,” she said, “And it’s like our grief is sharpened again.”
“We’re hit in the face with this belief that Christmas has to be this perfect, special day,” Parreno said, describing how she now views all the holiday decorations, the holiday music, the television commercials.
“For me and my sister at Christmas, it honestly continues to be very difficult,” she said. “For us, it doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year.”
Parreno explained how she struggled to make sense of her own thoughts as she watched her friends and neighbors enjoying the holidays, only to ask herself, “Why am I still crying? Why is Christmas so hard?” It has taken her years not to blame herself for those feelings.
“Grief is not bad,” she said. “Tears, even now, are OK.”
This year brought another loss for Parreno. She’s a teacher at Kalaheo Elementary School, and in February, one of her students, Hope Simao, passed away.
“She was almost 11 years old when she died, and I had the privilege of being her teacher for six years,” she told the congregation, describing how she watched as a terminal illness gradually destroyed the little girl’s motor skills and eventually robbed her of her voice.
“She lost the ability to speak, but she said so much just being Hope. In that way she spoke very loudly,” Parreno said.
Her own voice broke. She looked at the podium, and sounding exhausted and angry and helpless at the same time, she confessed, “I am tired of losing people I care about.”
“Life is different now without her, and nobody knows that more than her family,” she said in closing. “Everyone in this room represents great love and great loss.”
Parreno’s sister joined her as she stepped away from the pulpit. They walked together to the front of the church and lit a candle for their mother and their father and remembered.