“There’s beauty in community and connection even through loss,” said Crista Brandt, Director, Advisory Board Chair, and Founder of Valerie’s House Pensacola.
Last Thursday, June 8, over one hundred members of our community came together at Pensacola Beach’s Park West to honor and remember loved ones they have lost. As one big family they decorated biodegradable lanterns with notes and memories to their loved ones before lighting them and releasing them into the sound.
Among their services, Valerie’s House provides open-ended peer support groups and activities for children to heal after a significant loss in their life. Valerie’s House is not a formal counseling center. It is a community and a platform for individuals to come together, share, and mentor each other through their grief.
Before the lantern lighting ceremony, kids played in the sand and water, laughed with each other and were surrounded by love, encouragement and empathy.
“My mom and I found Valerie’s House and our hearts and minds were touched. It’s been very therapeutic for me helping others. It’s given me a new sense of meaning,” said Elijah, 18, who lost his father recently and now volunteers with Valerie’s House.
The Wave of Remembrance event was the first of its kind for Valerie’s House and definitely won’t be the last. The timing of this event was also purposeful. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be a hard time for many of these families, especially the ones who have lost moms and dads, so Valerie’s House wanted to host something special for them between the two holidays.
Thursday was also the same day that an awful thunderstorm rocked Pensacola in the late afternoon. But even after such a severe thunderstorm, a magical Pensacola sunset appeared afterwards. An analogy to finding peace and happiness after loss.
“We love analogies at Valerie’s House and today was a perfect example. A beautiful sunset after such a terrible storm,” said Jennifer Elzweig, Program Manager, Valerie’s House.
To start the ceremony, Jennifer introduced a handful of children who read poems dedicated to the loved ones they have lost while everyone gathered in a circle around them. After that, everyone in the circle and said the name of the person they were honoring before lighting their lantern and releasing it.
The evening was filled with laughter and love, but also tears and grief. A concept that is a commonly discussed at Valerie’s House. Grief comes in waves and has no timeline. It’s okay to feel angry and sad, but it is also okay to feel happy again.
Valerie’s House provides a space for all of those feelings to be felt and we are fortunate to have such an incredible space to support members of our community who are going through such loss. Thank you for allowing me to photograph and be a part of your special evening.
For more information and to learn how to get involved with Valerie’s House visit https://valerieshouse.org. Currently some of their biggest needs are meal donations on peer nights, male volunteers, and a contractor to help them build out their kitchen.