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Angels of Hope vigil allows families to mourn

Annual event continues to grow

COAL CITY – Beneath the cool glow of a full moon, dozens of mourners holding candles and white flowers circled together Saturday night to pay respects to children they had lost.

For some, the memories were from years past. For others, the losses were more raw.

One Coal City mother came to mourn the death of her daughter, Aimee Swyndro, who died in 2007, and her granddaughter, Alyssa Swyndro, who died only last year. Still dealing with the pain, the only word she could muster about the vigil was “bittersweet.”

This was the eighth Angles of Hope Candlelight Vigil, held at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden in Campbell Memorial Park in Coal City. The garden and cherub angel statue were erected in 2006 as a place for those who have lost a child to honor the memory of a son or daughter.

Every year at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, the Coal City Angels of Hope organization hosts a candlelight remembrance ceremony. The public is invited to gather with those who have endured similar losses, and all may leave a flower at the base of the statue in honor of a child lost at any age.

The Coal City High School choir, Footnotes, began the vigil Saturday with a cappella versions of “Silent Night” and “Amazing Grace.”

Angels of Hope President Jamie Sikora said the group grows larger each year.

“We are a family that grows together annually,” she said. “Every year I’m just awestruck by all the faces and the outpouring of love and support as we remember our children. I think it reminds them that they’re not alone, and that is so important.”

Janice Unger was there with her husband, Jerry, to honor the memory of their firstborn, Amy Genevieve Unger. Janice Unger helped begin the group years ago.

“We’ve been here every year, in memory of our daughter,” she said. “It’s a beautiful ceremony. ... People come from all over. There’s always a speaker. It’s a way to show that your loved one is still remembered, and you can share your grief with others.”

No matter what age the child, Janice Unger said, it’s a painful type of grief to lose a child. A friend of hers lost her son when he was in his 30s, she said, and it’s hard on her, too.

It was Paul and Phyllis Cherrone’s third time attending the vigil. They lost their grandson two years ago.

“We want to keep Landon’s memory alive,” Phyllis Cherrone said.

Sikora said the group’s goal is to offer faith, love, grace and hope to those who have lost a child. The statue was inspired by the book, “The Christmas Box,” by Richard Paul Evans, she said.

Sikora said her daughter, Lola Lavezzi, the speaker of the night, was significant. Lavezzi spoke to remember her twin brothers.

“It’s an important reminder that it’s not just the parents who lost someone,” Sikora said. “These children lost out on a lifetime with their siblings.”

At the end of the vigil, each person who attended spoke the name of the child they were there to honor, then laid their flower at the base of the statue.

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