FAIRFIELD — There’s a saying, “It’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”
For the members of The Compassionate Friends, the darkness comes from the death of a child. Fifteen years ago, the organization began The Worldwide Candle Lighting Program to honor and remember children who have died at any age from any cause.
“This is a way of uniting together to remember all children around the world who have died too soon,” said Patricia Loder, executive director of The Compassionate Friends, in a press release. “The Worldwide Candle Lighting is one way that we try to bring the light out of the darkness during this difficult time of year. Like a ring, this circle of light surrounding the globe represents that there is no beginning and end for the love we carry for our children.”
Fairfield resident Diane Varoz carries that love today, 11 years after her 17-year-old son, Tony Varoz, died by suicide. Champayne Tafoya lost one of the loves of her life. On Nov. 11, 2011, her 12-year-old son Joey Tafoya III was hit by a garbage truck on the street in front of their Vallejo home. He died in her arms.
Colette Hutchinson of Vallejo lost the 21-year-old niece she raised, Nicolette Quarterman, in a car accident. And Vesta Thompson’s 28-year-old son, David Wilson, died seven years ago after a motorcycle accident. Thompson lives in Fairfield.
While all four women have dealt with the same outcome, their journeys to coming to terms with their unexpected losses are different. The Compassionate Friends unites them in their grief. The Worldwide Candle Lighting Program brings them together with other families they may not see at monthly meetings.
Varoz joined the group a few months after her son died. The first meeting was hard. She recalled crying.
“I don’t think I said a word the first couple of meetings,” she said.
Varoz found her voice and went on to serve as the local chapter’s leader for five years.
“A lot of people don’t understand why we are still grieving,” Varoz said. “I will grieve for him every day of my life. When you lose a parent, it’s your past. When you lose a child, it’s your future.”
Tafoya has not been able to part with her son’s toys and clothes. She still lives on the same street and maintains a makeshift memorial there for her son.
“It makes me sick to go outside and see a garbage truck,” she said. But, she said, it’s something she can’t easily avoid.
Tafoya gives credit to her daughter for helping her make it through the first day. She takes life day by day and said that except for the rare times she leaves her home for a meeting of The Compassionate Friends or to go to church, she sits at home, sometimes alone, depressed.
“Joey was always going to stay with me,” Tafoya said. “You don’t ever want to imagine living without your kids. I’m only 30. It just seems too much (time) to live without him. I never thought I would have a long time with him. but 12 years is a little short.”
She and Hutchinson have become each other’s support. The two are working with others in the local Compassionate Friends group to bring a children’s memorial garden to fruition.
“It will be a place to go and think about your loss without having to go to the cemetery,” Hutchinson said.
Rob Thompson was David Wilson’s stepfather.
“A lot of husbands won’t show up for anything,” he said of events sponsored by The Compassionate Friends. “Maybe they can’t deal with it.”
His wife, Vesta Thompson, said there is healing: It just takes time.
“Everyone grieves in their own way,” she said. “There is no right or wrong way.”
The grief work must be done, she said.
“You can’t afford not to face it,” Vesta Thompson said. “You can’t hide it in the closet. If you do, it will slam you like Mack truck.”
All the mothers said support from The Compassionate Friends has helped them survive.
“I don’t know how I would have made it those first few years without the group,” Varoz said. “They are the ones who understand. For some of us, survival is not an option without The Compassionate Friends.”
Vesta Thompson said she and her husband initially “shut themselves up.”
“The Compassionate Friends family is very important to us,” she said.
Hutchinson just moved out of the house she and her niece occupied.
“I felt like I was leaving her,” she said. “She grew up there.”
This is the first year since her niece’s death that she’s really found the Christmas spirit.
“I’m not as depressed this time of year (as I used to be),” she said. “I still get sad. I wonder if she would be married, if she would be a mother.”
Local Compassionate Friends group members will light their candles Sunday at the Hampton Inn & Suites, 800 Mason St., Vacaville. The event begins at 6 p.m.
For more information, call 434-8515 or visit www.compassionatefriends.org.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.