“What do you give a family who is facing the holidays without their loved one?” was the question that Linda Mejia asked herself when she was considering how to give aid to a family that had just lost a family member during her time as a Murrieta code enforcement officer.
Having lost her 16-year-old son Adam to cancer she seemed to be the person to ask at the time.
At the time, she as frustrated that she couldn’t attend the vigils for Samantha Runyon, a young woman from Stanton, who was killed and left by the side of the road near Route 74, the Ortega Highway, in 2002.
“The holidays were approaching and I tried to think of what we could possibly do to help the family,” Mejia said. “The idea of the candlelight vigil seemed to be an answer to this question.”
It was then that the Community Candlelight Tribute: “Remembering Those We’ve Loved and Lost” was born.
The next one will take place from 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Temecula City Hall.
The evening consists of the sharing of stories, music, invocations, coffee, baked goods and a lot of support and hugs.
Slated to speak at the event is Faith Zember, mother of Lily Harrison, who was killed earlier this year by a DUI driver in Temecula, Karen Harkey, mother of Autumn, a 15-year-old who died in a car crash 25 years ago; with an invocation by chaplain Steve Wimberly of the Murrieta Police Department.
Music will be performed during the event by “young, talented artists from our area,” Mejia said. Coffee and baked goods will be available from Oak Grove Culinary Creations.
After more than 16 years, Mejia said the event is a healing one.
“(People who come) can expect to be surrounded by others, who know how desperately hard it is to face the holidays at a time of fresh grief,” Mejia said. “To listen to others who’ve survived and have learned to pay-it-forward in memory of their loved one, instead of becoming paralyzed by the loss. They will listen to meaningful Christmas music and be warmed by the lighting of the candle in memory of their loved one. They will hear the good news of faith, hope and heaven.”
After so many years of organizing the event, she said she will pass the organizing responsibilities to Dianne Hoffman of 102.5 The Vine-FM radio station.
She believes the event will continue to help people as it has helped her.
“For me, it’s given me as much or more, as I’ve received from our amazing community,” Mejia said. “In 1996, when our Adam was diagnosed and up to the time of his death, this community reached out to our family with the greatest of love, prayers, concern, and support; the Temecula Valley High School athletic family, booster club, the local first responders from Temecula and Murrieta, the employees of both cities, the local churches of both communities. I learned how it feels to be the recipient of such compassion.”
Mejia said attendees can pick up resource materials at a literature table to help them through their time of grief and even groups to help them cope.
“It is an outlet for their grief, just knowing they are not alone,” she said. “They are thankful for the showing of support and comfort, shared by others. They can find groups that are relevant to their struggle and find healing and they can openly share their grief with others struggling.”
Mejia said she hopes that people struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one will come to the event and begin the healing process.
“I hope they leave feeling hugged, relieved they are not in this journey alone,” she said. “That they feel like they can pick up the phone and call someone, to join a group that will listen to them, learn to pay-it-forward, get-up and get-out of their grief by giving back to others. Volunteer at the food pantry, the library, the hospital or a senior center or a hundred other nonprofits in our amazing community.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.