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Luminaires light way for families of lost loved ones

December 21, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Phyllis Martin and her 3-year-old grandson Kyle LeVardi crunched over the ice to the graves of Martin's father, mother and sister.

Martin, 56, of Cearfoss, was one of the dozens who had come Saturday to Rest Haven Cemetery to visit family members' final resting places, spruce up the area around the markers and light a luminaire.

"I thought I'd get out here earlier, but it didn't quite work out," Martin said, replacing old flower bouquets with new ones and pulling ice from her sister's headstone.

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Standing near the stone markers were luminaires - white bags filled with sand and holding a candle that would be lit as the sun went down. For Martin, they served a similar purpose to candles and solar-powered lights she places regularly near the graves.

"I put 'em on so they don't stay in the dark," she said.

Rest Haven's annual luminaire lighting brings people from hundreds of miles around, said cemetery owner Charles Brown. He said 15,000 people are buried on the property, and grounds staff begin making the luminaires in November.

On Saturday morning, 10,000 luminaires were placed on the lots, Brown said. There are fewer luminaires than graves because of shared plots.

This was the 16th year Rest Haven has held the event. Many people attend every year, Brown said. For some family members, the occasion is a reunion.

"Christmas is such a rough time when you've lost someone," Brown said. "This gives people just something extra."

With the recent snows still covering the grounds, the rolling hills on the cemetery glowed in the late afternoon. And as visitors lit the luminaires, the lights shone into the night.

Wayne Wallech, 40, and his son Jacob, 4, of Maugansville, were walking down a row of grave markers as Wayne reached into the bag to start the flame.

"There are a lot of them that probably won't get lit if we don't" light them, Wallech said. "I like doing it. It's pretty nice coming out here to see people."

Roderick Woltman, 63, of Hagerstown, was visiting his wife's parents' grave sites Saturday. He said it was the respect as much a peaceful setting that drew him out year after year.

"Serenity. It's peaceful. You don't have to worry about news ... I enjoy it," Woltman said.

Bobbi Keller, 34, and her mother, Linda Chaney, 59, were among a group of family members who came out Saturday evening for the lighting.

At a cluster of family graves, the two were replacing old banners with new, bright ones that hung from small poles above the stones. The two smiled as they talked about their loved ones who had died more than a decade ago.

"We try to make happy of things," Chaney said.

Within a few minutes, they would be lighting luminaires themselves, Keller said.

"It's beautiful when it's all lit up," she said.

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