Light a candle in memory of a child




Riley will sponsor the local candle-lighting ceremony in conjunction with a worldwide memorial service Dec. 11.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

Harriet Vander Laan didn’t have many days on this Earth – 39 to be exact – but in that time she made a profound impact on those who knew and loved her.

Hattie, as her family called her, was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children after suffering unexpected birth complications. Her parents, Aaron and Emily, took their daughter home on hospice care for the last week of her life.

Next month, the couple and their 5-year-old son will honor Hattie’s memory in a public way among other grieving families during the annual Worldwide Candle Lighting Memorial Service.

Riley Bereavement Services is sponsoring the free local service, which this year will be back in person, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11, at Jameson Camp on the Westside of Indianapolis.

A virtual option will be offered as well.

Emily Vander Laan, a music teacher for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, attended the 2020 virtual event just weeks after her daughter passed. Last year, she was a speaker at the online event. This year, she is looking forward to connecting with others in person.

“It helps to hear her name read aloud and to feel less alone,” she said, “that we’re not the only people going through losing our child. I’m hoping that this year it feels even more like a community because we can actually be together in person, not just on the computer.”

Leaning on people who have gone through “the same awful, horrible thing is helpful in a very weird way,” she said.

The event is for parents, caregivers and siblings, but there is a limit of four tickets per family for the in-person gathering.

Elizabeth Boring, program manager for Riley Bereavement Services, said Riley’s candle lighting is held in conjunction with Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting, which was started 25 years ago to create a wave of light around the world in honor of children gone too soon.

“Whether you join us in person or virtually, we hope to make this a special and meaningful event to honor your precious child,” she said.

Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event begins at 6:30 p.m., with refreshments to follow. Register here.

If you choose the virtual option, please register here by Thanksgiving so a program package can be delivered to you in advance.

Taking that first step to attend the emotional event can feel really hard, Vander Laan acknowledged.

“You don’t want to have to go to an event like this. It’s not fair that we have to go,” she said. “But the people in this community are wonderful and loving and caring, and that’s what you should find if you come.”