Lights of hope: Families, friends share memories, tears and hugs
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 12, 2013 1:50 AM
Honorary co-chairmen Jake May, second from left, and the Rev. Jerry Mitchell, fourth from left, light the Flame of Hope along with Relay co-chairmen, from left, Brenda Robinson, Dr. Lee Adams, Jeff Whitener, Ethel Barnes and Susan Sutton to begin the 2013 Relay for Life Friday at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.
Kennedy Behrend, left, lights her mother's luminaria with help from her friend, Hunter Newell, during the Luminaria Ceremony at the 2013 Relay for Life, which was held at the Wayne County Fairgrounds Friday. Barbara Behrend is currently battling lymphoma.
DUDLEY -- She could have turned away, but she wanted to feel the pain.
She "needed" the flicker of a lone candle to bring tears to her eyes -- to send chills up and down her arms every time the flame danced in the cool breeze.
She "had to" allow the emotions -- the anger, fear and sorrow that were born inside her the day her best friend died -- to overwhelm her.
For Danielle Reynolds, the Luminaria Ceremony held year after year when the sun sets on Wayne County's Relay For Life is more than just a reminder of a life lost far too soon -- a vigil for the "first person who ever really understood me."
Those few moments, she said, are the only that have offered her closure since the day in 2008 that "changed everything."
"It might sound strange, but when I'm at Relay in front of this candle, I can feel her. I close my eyes and I can hear her voice," Danielle said, wiping tears off her cheeks. "But then the flame dies and it's like I'm losing her all over again."
A little boy with a smile that "could light up the darkest night."
A mother who lost her battle just a few days before her daughter's wedding.
A police officer respected by his peers and beloved by the friends and family he left behind.
The luminarias that were lined, by the thousands, around the track nestled inside the county fairgrounds, told stories Friday evening.
Some wore the faces of the person they were meant to represent.
Others were covered in tributes.
Jenna Horn even wrote a poem inside the one she purchased to ensure her mother, Aileen, was "present" at the event that meant so much to her.
"It's her favorite sonnet. Anyone who knew my mom knows that she was a love fanatic -- a sucker for romance," Jenna said. "She was obsessed with romantic comedies and stuff like that. Honestly, she and Daddy taught me a lot about how to show someone how much you really love them. So tonight, I chose Shakespeare. I thought she'd get a kick out of that."
The girl's father, Rick, agreed.
"She was the kind of woman who cried easily and often -- the happy kind of tears," he said, choking up. "You could literally feel the love coming off her. So even after all these years, the thought of finding someone new has never really crossed my mind. Nobody could ever come close."
Tears fell often as Michael Miller sat in quiet reflection in front of the luminaria bearing the name of his grandmother, Marlene.
"It was the first funeral I ever went to," he said, reaching back nearly 20 years to the day he and other members of his family watched her lowered into her final resting place. "I was too young to really understand what death was, but I still cried."
So he shows up at Relay -- "doing whatever I can to make sure I don't miss it" -- to remember the woman who made the perfect cinnamon rolls now that he is old enough to "properly" say goodbye.
"And she could sing so pretty," Michael said. "She used to sing me to sleep."
The prayers had long since concluded and the crowds, for the most part, had dissipated, but Danielle remained on her knees.
"I brought extra candles this year so I could stay with her longer," she said. "I've got nowhere else to be."
She knew that by night's end, she would, again, walk away from her closest high school confidante.
"It isn't fair," she said, wiping more tears from her eyes. "It's like I'm always saying goodbye."
So before she left the fairgrounds, she decided, this time, to part with Nicole in a different way.
"See you soon," she said in a whisper, blowing a kiss toward the flame. "See you soon.
"We'll always have this time together at Relay. So now that I think about it, I guess goodbye just doesn't feel right."