Smith and Friends offer ‘Night of Remembrance’ Reflecting on Child Loss
Shawn Smith and three friends who, like her, have suffered the loss of a child, offer the shoreline community a Night of Remembrance service. The service takes place just ahead of the holiday season, which can be a most difficult time for those who have experienced such a loss.
On Sunday, Dec. 4, Shawn and her friends welcome all who may find comfort in attending their 10th Night of Remembrance, at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church in Guilford. The non-denominational event, sponsored by First Congregational Church and St. George Church, is open to community members from across the shoreline impacted by the loss of a child, grandchild, or sibling at any age.
Shawn’s daughter, Kyle, passed away at age 17 in 1998. At the time, the family resided in Guilford, where Shawn also taught 6th grade at Baldwin Middle School. Shawn says the Guilford community showed an outpouring of support for her and her family, including Kyle’s siblings, who received further support through The Cove Center for Grieving Children, founded in Guilford.
“That was tough — I had kids in school, and Kyle passed away, and the whole community grieved with me but it didn’t make it easier,” says Shawn, adding, “...having The Cove was very helpful for my kids.”
Now an Old Saybrook resident, Shawn, who resided in Guilford for 32 years and taught at Baldwin for 21 years (retired in 2016), still has deep ties to Guilford. Together with her friends Margot Burkle and Kelly Lentz (both of Guilford), and Dawn Callahan (of Old Saybrook), Shawn helped to establish the first Night of Remembrance, held at St. George’s in Guilford. The group has continued the effort, now in its 10th year.
Like Shawn, each of her friends experienced the loss of a child. Margot lost her son, Kevin, in 1992 as a 3-month-old infant who did not survive liver failure while in intensive care. Margot was there for Dawn in 1994, when Dawn’s infant daughter, Katie, passed away due to a heart defect. The two met through a local chapter of the grieving parent support group, Compassionate Friends. Margot reached out to Shawn following her loss of Kyle. And Shawn had tutored Kelly’s daughter Rachel before Rachel passed away at age 12. After Rachel’s passing, “...Kelly and I just walked and walked and walked,” and talked, Shawn recalls.
Margot and Dawn joined Shawn in speaking with The Courier last week.
“This is a club you never want to be part of, but through circumstance, you become part of this club,” Dawn explains. “And these people become your lifeline, because they know these feelings that you don’t share with other people, but only with people that have experienced this tremendous loss.”
The friends first came up with the concept of offering a Night of Remembrance as an outgrowth of a local parent support group they gathered for those experiencing the loss of a child.
“We understood that there were a lot of people that had losses in our community and other communities, and during the holidays, it’s especially difficult,” says Shawn.
The service is meant to help families enter the holiday season having had the opportunity to reflect on their loved ones among a group that shares a common understanding of that loss. Often, that grief goes unspoken, and even unknown, among those outside of immediate family and friends, says Shawn.
“I can think of one family. I never knew they lost a young baby until they showed up at the door for a Night of Remembrance,” says Shawn. “It’s a secret underground that you don’t go around talking about all the time. But when you know someone who’s gone through a loss, you know the difficulties of getting up every day, struggling through celebrations and the holidays, and just being out in the community.”
Those attending the 10th Annual Night of Remembrance are encouraged to bring a photo of their loved one and are welcome to participate at whatever level of comfort they may feel.
“There could be a lot of tears, but that’s okay because when I look across at you, I know what you’re feeling,” says Shawn.
Shawn offers the Night of Remembrance’s greeting to those gathered each year.
“Every year, we also try to have somebody come to talk about their connection to their son or daughter or grandchild. Last year, my daughter came and spoke about her sister. That was quite powerful,” Shawn says.
Dawn also remembers that speech.
“It was the most amazing tribute – it was so powerful,” says Dawn. “At the Night of Remembrance, it’s a great time to remember our children. It’s sad, but it’s a great time for all of us to come together to remember. There’s no judgment. We all know how we feel; we all know the pain.”
“It’s a common pain, but a kinship,” adds Shawn. “During the service, we say our child’s name and light a candle. There’s a wonderful opening prayer by Father [Kevin] Dillon [of St. George], there’s music and sometimes there’s singing, there’s time for reflection, and there’s always a great closing by [Rev.] Ginger Brasher-Cunningham,” of First Church.
“At the end, we have a social gathering,” Shawn continues. “And that’s a time when you can meet some of the others and say, ‘Tell me about your child.’”
That may be one of the most healing moments of the night, Margot shares.
“That might be the only time all year that somebody expresses an interest in your child. Because everybody else is so afraid to say anything [and] people think you get over it,” says Margot. “Everybody’s journey is different — we’re far out on this journey; my son died 30 years ago — but I think that we can all share experiences and know that the feelings are much the same. This is really just that one time of the year you can say it’s just all about our child that we lost.”
Shawn says the response from those who attend the service is heartening.
“People love the service. They’re so appreciative of it because it’s a place where they can find comfort,” Shawn says. “The Night of Remembrance helps them to be able to remember their children. We say their names. We light candles. We have pictures of all our children on the altar. It’s a time to reflect.”
Parents, grandparents, and family members who have lost a child, a grandchild, or a sibling of any age are invited to attend the 10th annual “Night of Remembrance” on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 4 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 122 Broad St., Guilford. Open to all surrounding communities. To RSVP or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (203) 815-8972; or email email@example.com or call (203) 996-8088.