Karen Garloch

Charlotte candlelight service honors children who have died

December holidays are among the hardest times for those who’ve lost loved ones during the year. And if it’s a child, that loss may feel even greater.

That’s why Kathy Holder of Fort Mill, S.C., will be attending the Worldwide Candle Lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Matthew Catholic Church. The 18th annual event is sponsored by The Compassionate Friends of Charlotte, a nonprofit support group for families grieving the death of a child.

About 400 people are expected for the ceremony, one of hundreds planned for that same night around the world, said Holder, one of the Charlotte chapter’s 250 members.

Holder joined two years ago, hoping she could help others through the grief she felt after her son drowned after diving into a rock quarry near Albemarle on July 14, 1996.

Charlie Mullis was 17, a football and basketball standout at Independence High School. He had been hanging out with friends when he dove into the water and didn’t resurface even though “he was a good swimmer,” Holder said. Charlie was a rising senior, and Holder desperately missed watching him play sports and graduate with his friends.

Today she talks about her experience at monthly chapter meetings. “There are many feelings that you feel when you go through the death of a child. The other night one of our newly grieving mothers talked about the guilt she felt. I felt the same guilt that she feels right now. But I could tell her, ‘Some day it will just become lighter. It won’t be so harsh. It will become softer.’ ”

A retired Union County school teacher, Holder gets through Christmas by displaying Charlie’s silver baby cup in the middle of her dinner table and decorating her tree with some of his handmade ornaments, including a reindeer of red yarn and pipe cleaners.

And, like last year, she’ll attend the candle-lighting ceremony. She’ll be one of the many parents, siblings and friends who will step forward to speak the name of their lost loved ones. At last year’s event, when Holder said Charlie’s name and held up her lighted candle, she could feel his presence.

“Because we’re doing it all together, it’s just like I’m bringing Charlie to them. I’m introducing them to Charlie,” she said. “It makes me feel like my love for Charlie shines bright and never dies. And that his light will always shine.”