FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — Sisters Susan Jasiewicz and Debbie Thacker, both of Swansea, share an unusual bond -- both have lost a child.
Jasiewicz and Thacker attended the annual "Angel of Hope" candlelight healing service held Thursday night at the Angel of Hope statue in the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden, located at Lake View Memorial Gardens in Fairview Heights.
Jasiewicz had premature twins in 2002, and her baby girl died. "It's very comforting to be able to honor her," Jasiewicz said. "It's comforting to be around other people who have lost a child."
Her sister also lost a daughter to cancer. Thacker said her 26-year-old daughter Laurie Thacker-Kienlen died in 2003.
"I do anything I can to keep her memory alive," Thacker said. "It's a beautiful ceremony."
Thacker brings flameless candles for individuals to hold during the ceremony.
About 50 people attended Thursday night's ceremony, which was open to anyone who has lost a child.
The brief ceremony included the reading of a poem titled "We Remembered Them" and several songs performed by Catherine Marshall, of Lebanon.
Following the ceremony, families placed white flowers at the base of the angel statue in memory of a child.
"It's a healing thing for people who have lost a child," said Lee Fehler, with Lake View Memorial Gardens. "It doesn't matter at what age they have lost this child. It's just a time of being with their babies at Christmas time."
The Angel of Hope statue was first introduced in a best-selling novel by Richard Paul Evans. In the book, "The Christmas Box," a woman mourns the death of her daughter by making regular visits to the child's grave, marked by an angel statue.
In 1994, when Evans learned that grieving parents were looking for the angel statue, he commissioned an angel statue to stand in the City Cemetery in Salt Lake City, the same setting as his book. Since then, Angel of Hope monuments, all exact replicas of the original, have been built at locations throughout the United States.
The Angel of Hope statue was built in 2007 in Fairview Heights, and an Angel of Hope statue was built at Bellevue Park in Belleville in 2002.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.