By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, email@example.com
Eibhlin Ewald would be 20 years old next month. Her parents, Erin and Thad, wonder what she would be like, what she would be doing with her life. Would she be in college, or would she have joined the Marine Corps like her big brother?
They’ll never know the answers to those questions because they lost Eibhlin to leukemia 10 days after her 15th birthday. But they are grateful for the joy and laughter she brought into their lives for all of those 15 years.
On Dec. 13, they will light a candle in her memory. Joining them will be people around the city, the state, the country and the world. It’s all part of the Worldwide Candle Lighting Memorial Service, sponsored locally by Riley Hospital for Children Bereavement Services and its Hope in Healing group.
The Compassionate Friends organization started the event in 1997 as a way for families to honor the memory of a loved one. The local event, which is open to Riley families who have suffered a loss, gives parents an opportunity to honor their child in a place where they can meet other Riley bereaved families and feel connected to families around the world, said Hope in Healing program manager Elizabeth Boring.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s service will be virtual, with families gathering around laptops while lighting candles beginning at 7 p.m. locally. They are encouraged to leave their candles lit for one hour, creating a virtual wave of light across time zones for 24 hours.
Eibhlin passed away just seven months after her diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. She had just graduated from Orchard School and was set to begin high school at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.
She was the youngest of Thad and Erin’s five children, the others all boys.
“She was funny and quirky and a kind soul, but also pretty tough,” her mom said. “Her brothers didn’t cut her much slack. She was really special, and we miss her every day.”
Since her passing, the Ewalds have found strength in the support of Hope in Healing, and in the kindness of friends and neighbors, some of whom have walked this same road of bereavement. They were what Erin Ewald likes to call grief sherpas for the family in those early days.
She and her husband attended an eight-week support program through Hope in Healing the summer after their daughter died and count the staff, including behavioral health counselor and art therapist Cassie Lynn Dobbs, among their biggest supporters.
“Cassie had been Eibhlin’s art teacher when she was at Riley, so she is near and dear to our heart,” Erin Ewald said. “It can be difficult for other people to know how to help. They try so hard, but it can be a lonely experience. Our whole family is impacted.”
That’s why the feeling of community provided by Hope in Healing and the time set aside to honor their child and other children are so meaningful to them.
“There’s something really powerful about having that time where you’re in a space with other bereaved parents and family members. You’re not alone,” she said. “The beauty created in that moment and that space to breathe a little with other families is just so special. The holidays are a hard time, so to have this quiet moment carved out with other families is really beautiful.”
Families who would like to participate in the Zoom event and receive a candle-lighting package mailed to their home are asked to RSVP by Dec. 8 at the link above.
To submit a photo of your child, email it along with your child’s name to firstname.lastname@example.org by Dec. 10.