Name of Activity: Candle Lighting Ceremony
Key Concept: Working with Family Relationships and Loyalty
Primary Questions: Where Am I Going? How Will I Get There?
Purpose: To recognize, remember, and honor those who have impacted the child or youth; to give symbolic meaning to memories of significant relationships and expressions of lost persons; to provide significance to experiences that hold special value.
Materials Needed: Candles/candle holders to represent each of the people listed below, lighter/matches.
Getting Started: This activity is best suggested prior to the time that you wish to hold the ceremony, so that the child or youth will have time to prepare for their participation. The worker can start by simply stating that candles will be lit as a remembrance of those people who have impacted her life.
1. The first candle is for our birth parents. We light it in honor of the gift they gave us ~ the gift of life.
2. The second candle is to remember our foster parents ~ the people who cared for us on our journey.
3. The third candle is for the memories that were especially hard for us. This candle is for thinking about those adults who should have cared for us but didn't. Maybe they hurt us. The light reminds us that we are going to be able to look at sad memories, too. They are part of the past.
4. The fourth candle is for the people we had to leave behind ~ perhaps a grandparent or a birth sibling. These are sometimes sad memories, too. The light reminds us that we are getting strong enough to look at those things, too.
5. The fifth candle is for our adoptive parents ~ the parents we have now - the parents helping us to grow and who are learning to help us light our past so that we can understand.
6. The sixth candle is for the people who have helped us along the way, helping us to learn to like ourselves and to trust adults who can keep us safe.
7. The seventh candle is the best of all ~ it is for ourselves and our future. It is light for all of the wonderful things we are going to do in the future.
Allow adequate time for the child or youth to be still with their thoughts throughout the ceremony.
When using the ceremony with parents, adapt the meanings for each of the candles to match the unique circumstance of that parent.
Tips and techniques to making the activity meaningful: When we experience a loss, whether it is the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, or relocating to a new town leaving behind friends, family, and all that is familiar, we grieve. We all acknowledge that grieving is normal and healthy and expected. There are many rituals surrounding loss through death; participation in rituals can provide relief from the isolating feelings that accompany grief. For children and youth in foster care, there is often no ritual to recognize and validate the feelings of loss for people who have impacted their lives. Rituals can provide the permission that the child or youth needs to express his deepest thoughts and feelings about loved ones from whom he is separated. The act of lighting a candle in honor of those who have died is a centuries old tradition, and it can be adapted for use by children and youth in foster care. Workers can use the concept illustrated here, or modify elements of the ceremony to meet the individual needs of the child or youth. This is also an activity that could be considered in which groups of youth can participate.
Another way to help children and youth remember loved ones, particularly around the holidays, is to help the youth create a memory tree. A small artificial tree two to three feet high can be provided to the youth. Pictures of loved ones can then be placed in ornament frames (many craft stores carry these) and hung on the tree.