An annual ceremony to help locals remember their lost loved ones and comfort each other is being held Thursday night.
The Christmas Box Angel Vigil is being held for the 11th year at an angel monument built for the event in Fielding Memorial Park Cemetery, 4900 S. Yellowstone Highway. After their granddaughter died 22 years ago, Terry and Linda Hale created the event to help themselves and others mourn the death of children close to them.
Tami Nielsen, the Hale’s daughter, will speak about the loss of her then-21-month-old daughter at this year’s vigil. Nielsen has attended two of the previous events, but because she lives in Wyoming, this is the first year she is talking about her experience at the event. Nielsen plans to focus her speech on the experience of living with that loss over the last two decades.
“Every time you talk about a loved one that passed is healing. I’ve never felt sad that I talked about her with people that get it,” Nielsen said.
The tradition of holding these memorial services under box angel statues comes from the novel “The Christmas Box.” In Richard Paul Evans’ book, a mother mourns the loss of her child at the base of an angel monument in the cemetery. After hearing from readers who wanted to find the real version of the statue to help themselves grieve and heal, Evans helped build the first statue in Salt Lake City in 1994.
In the years since, more than 100 cities around the world have installed box angel statues of their own. The Hales began working on the Idaho Falls statue in 2007, after Linda first read “The Christmas Box” and its sequel.
“After I got through crying, I looked at my husband and said, ‘We have to do this,’” Linda said.
Nielsen and Debbie Wood Martin will open the Thursday night vigil by speaking about their children. Other families will then have the opportunity to place a flower or candle at the statue’s base and say the name of their lost child. The Idaho Falls Sounds Choir will perform two songs during the half-hour ceremony.
The Hales say that parents visit the statue throughout the year to leave flowers and other items at the base. The vigil event helps the parents come together and help each other heal in the months or years after the death.
“It’s just the worst pain you can experience in this life, to lose a child. We all understand each other because of that,” Terry said.
The Christmas Box Angel Vigil will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday at the base of the cemetery’s angel statue.