Over the last two years, our lives and thoughts have been inundated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in South Africa especially, we cannot forget another dreadful pandemic that has been raging for decades – HIV /AIDS.
As with COVID-19, the HIV/AIDS pandemic hit us out of nowhere, completely changing our understanding of the world and shattering lives globally. The world stood by in shock as fear, misinformation and panic spread.
People were afraid to talk about the virus, to go near those who might have it or tell people that they had it. Sadly, infected people passed away without having their loved ones beside them and some without proper burials funerals to mark their passing.
It is for this reason that the Global Network of People living with HIV started the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, held on the third Sunday in May every year since 1983. On 15 May 2022, simple candle-lighting ceremonies will be held globally to remember those who have succumbed to the disease. At this time, we can honour all those who have been taken from us too soon and remember the importance of social connection, helping others and furthering understanding.
Remembering is powerful
The power of a memorial should not be underestimated. These occasions validate our feelings, acknowledge and respect our grief, and serve as a way to unite us with others who are going through the same, even if we can’t physically be together. Want to pay tribute to loved ones lost too soon? These suggestions will help you create a meaningful commemoration.
Hold a ceremony
Rituals such as a candlelight memorial serve to maintain a sense of connection with those we have lost and help us cope by offering us a sense of control, say grief researchers. A public ceremony becomes a collective validation of our emotions and, in cases like the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics, also raises awareness and knowledge. By making it an annual event, we continue to spread the word to new people, and help to restore our sense of trust in the world. You can plan your own private memorial if you prefer: light a candle, share stories, say a prayer, recite a special poem, play music and drink a toast to your loved one – whatever is meaningful to you. Guests can attend in person or join virtually. Need help? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to plan an informal memorial service.
Mark it with a monument
Beyond the act of lighting the candle, you might want to create a focal point in your home or community where you can remember those being honoured. It may be a simple home shrine with a framed photograph and votive candle, or even planting a tree or putting a plaque on a public park bench. Monuments can help us manage grief by providing a place to come to terms with events and emotions. This is particularly important in cases where we were perhaps unable to hold a memorial, for example, due to COVID-19 lockdown or the stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the past. Having a place of remembrance provides a sense of connection, both to those who have passed and to others who may feel the same, even if we’ve never met them. A monument also provides a consistent place for a memorial ceremony to take place. Note that if you’re thinking of creating a public monument in your community, you will need to approach your local municipality for rules and regulations on doing so.
Leave a legacy
You might want to extend the impact of the candlelight memorial by making a donation in honour of the person who has passed. Not only are you celebrating their life by extending help to others, but research has shown that the act of giving activates the same brain regions that are associated with joy and social connection. If you’re not sure where or how to donate, consider a cause that was close to your loved one’s heart, or which supports others with similar issues.
It is not too late
Many people may have found themselves in situations where they don’t have the closure of a proper farewell or any comfort and support when they lost a loved one. However, it is never too late. Even if it is years later, having that memorial can help you heal. If you feel a yearning to commemorate and celebrate the lives of loved ones long after they’ve gone, don’t worry about what society may think – if you need it, do it when you can.
If you or a loved one are struggling with severe grief or not coping with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to seek help. Visit the South African Anxiety and Depression Support Group at www.sadag.org for support.
- Death Studies journal
- Global Network of People living with HIV
- South African Government