COAL CITY, Ill. — As they filed into Campbell Memorial Park in Coal City Thursday night, each of the more than 200 people was handed a lit candle to hold against the cold night sky.
Some people brought their own white flowers to the candlelight vigil; others accepted them as they came through the white picket fence. The flowers would be put at the base of the Angel of Hope statue during the annual ceremony.
Each person was at the ceremony to remember a child, of any age, who has passed away.
“We are here because they are not,” Russelle Holsinger, Angels of Hope vice president said to the crowd as she welcomed everyone.
Even though it was a cold night, “no one seems to mind,” Holsinger said. “It warms my heart this evening to see so many here.”
The crowd gathered around the Angel of Hope statue, dedicated to Coal City in 2006 as a place to honor the loss of a child and a spot to always preserve their memory.
The Coal City High School Footnotes sang, first "Silent Night" and then "Amazing Grace." People cried, some silently, others emotionally.
Loved ones and friends hugged and comforted each other.
Then, one by one, the families stepped to the microphone, announced the names of the loved ones they had lost, and lovingly laid the flowers on and around the statue.
“We are always amazed at the turnout,” said Angels of Hope board member Mary Rossio. “We started off to support them, and in turn they are now supporting us.”
April and George White of Matteson came to honor their twins, George Andrew III and Julianna Elizabeth, who were born prematurely and passed away in January of this year.
When April was 21 weeks pregnant, she was admitted to the hospital. “We weren’t expecting to deliver,” she said. “We were hoping that wouldn’t happen.”
The babies were born and the hospital staff knew they would not survive.
April and George were given two memory boxes at the hospital, courtesy of Angels of Hope and Sawyer’s Heart Project. Inside were things for the comfort of the micro-preemies and for the parents to create a few everlasting memories.
There were tiny hats and receiving blankets, little stuffed animals, hand and footprint kits, candles and more.
“The most important thing was a disposable camera,” George said.
There was also a copy of “The Christmas Box,” written by Richard Paul Evans, about a woman who mourns the loss of her child at the base of an angel monument. The book has been the inspiration for angel memorials all over the United States. Coal City's was recognized in 2007 as being the 69th such angel.
George and April came to the vigil to honor and remember their twins, but also to show support to those who had supported them.
“We wanted to find out who helped us,” George said.
They have also purchased a brick in memory of their babies. The pathway that surrounds the memory garden is lined with bricks that can be inscribed with a message, another program through Angels of Hope.
Angels of Hope has other programs to help and support families going through the crisis of losing a child as well as ones to help couples struggling with fertility problems, said Rossio.
For those who attended the candlelight vigil, it was a time to connect with others who have been through a similar loss, to share memories and tears of their loved ones and to never forget them.
Holsinger said so eloquently as she addressed the crowd holding up lighted candles in memory of those they loved and lost, “We are celebrating each and every light in the dark night sky.”