Holding a Candlelight Vigil

candlelight vigil

Memorial Ideas for Loved Ones

While not an appropriate memorial for every loved one taken from us too young, in cases such as natural disaster, illness, or homicide, a candlelight vigil can be a beautiful way to memorialize and honor the deceased, while (if appropriate or necessary) calling attention to important issues or events taking place in his or her community.

A candlelight vigil is dignified, respectful, and offers a way to unite a community around a common cause, while doing justice to, and beautifully celebrating the life of the loved one being honored. It is a healing event; an opportunity for the community to come together and mourn as one.

Planning a Candlelight Vigil

While we have all seen examples of beautiful, moving candlelight memorials, when it comes time for us to actually plan and execute one, things can become more uncertain. We may be dealing with our own devastation and grieving process; if the cause of death was violence-related there may be additional trauma to process, or even additional violence to defuse.

The following set of Frequently Asked Questions is designed to help you – and your community – process your feelings of grief, and move through the phases of mourning until you achieve  the sense of relief, peace and serenity so important to our closure.

Where is the best place to hold a candlelight vigil in memorial for a loved one?

This depends on the type of death and the true purpose of the vigil. If you’re holding the vigil simply to mourn the untimely loss of a member of the community, the site of the death may be an appropriate location. However, if part of the goal of the memorial is to draw attention to the issue that caused the death, holding the vigil on the capitol steps, in front of a courthouse or other appropriate government building would be in order.

The location should be easy to find for folks from all over the area, and you should have an indoor backup location reserved in case of inclement weather. Parks, community centers, churches, legion halls, and auditoriums are all appropriate locations as well.

Make sure to hold the vigil at a time when the candles will have their most powerful visual impact (dusk or after), but not so late that mourners of all ages cannot attend.

What is the best way to notify people regarding the service?

As with other events, in today’s connected world, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and other social networking platforms are the most efficient way to let people know about the vigil, although there are factors of etiquette to other family members and friends to consider. Please see our blog posts on how to go about announcing the death of a loved one on Facebook, and how to set up a Facebook memorial in a sensitive and responsible manner for more information on this. Evites are also a quick and easy way to let people know about the memorial.

If you believe that publicity beyond your immediate circle of friends, family, contact list, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers would be beneficial to your cause, it may be in your best interest to reach out to local news media. Contact information for news directors at local radio or TV stations should be readily available on the websites of these media outlets. Community newspapers or local interest blogs may also be strong candidates with good neighborhood penetration and an often activist take on community involvement. Many of these outlets have news tip hotlines or online contact forms as well.

If you have enough time prior to the vigil, and the basic writing skills, a Press Release is an appropriate way to notify the media of your vigil. Keep it as short as possible (under a page is best) and put the important information near the beginning. Make sure to close with your contact information.

Where can I get supplies and other candlelight vigil ideas?

Candles, drip protectors, wind screens, candlelight vigil kits, and other supplies are available at many church supply shops, craft stores, or online such as:

It’s a good idea to order these supplies well ahead of time if possible and have a plentiful supply on hand at the vigil, for those who did not bring their own.

What should the program include?

The program at your candlelight vigil should include a speaker/master of ceremonies to keep the event running without any hiccups. They will introduce other speakers, lead prayers, and keep the service focused on the reason for the Candlelight vigil.

Ideas for other speakers or activities include

  • Respectful music
  • Moment(s) of silence
  • Other speakers who will share their experiences with the deceased or with the cause associated with the vigil
  • Memorial poetry
  • The reading of names of the deceased

If you are presenting speakers or live music, make sure to secure audio equipment ahead of time so that all participants can hear what is being said in memory of the deceased.

Should we include a table or space for mourners to leave cards and flowers?

A display can be a powerful addition to the program or stage at your memorial service, allowing mourners and the bereaved to express their grief and leave condolences for the family and loved ones of the deceased.

Many vigils incorporate a space where an enlarged photo of the deceased may be displayed, and where flowers, cards, photos, mementos, and tea lights or memorial candles may be placed. If the deceased or their family elected to have the body cremated, a memorial container or candle urn can be a powerful addition to the display as well.

If there is an activist component to the program it may be appropriate to bring sign making supplies such as poster board and markers or sidewalk chalk. These supplies are also good candlelight vigil ideas for mourners to leave their condolence messages. Remember that all drawings, photos, mementos, and writing should be respectful, both to the deceased and to the space in which the vigil is being held. Your cause is not an invitation for graffiti “artists,” to ply their trade.

A display table is also a great spot to maintain a written pledge of action for attendees to sign. Make sure someone is monitoring the copy of the pledge at all times to ensure that folks are actually signing it, and not making inappropriate, vulgar or disrespectful changes or additions to its text.

How do I preserve the moment and maintain our momentum and sense of purpose?

Preserving the moment is important for both the family and loved ones of the deceased, and to maintain the momentum that you’ve gained by virtue of the fact of holding the vigil in the first place.

Make sure that a responsible person or people with a camera is available and present to take photos and video of the event. A photo is worth 1000 words and video maybe even more. These photos and videos can be posted to a memorial Facebook wall for the person in whose honor the vigil was held.

You don’t need expensive, professional quality, or high end equipment to take photos and capture powerful video these days (although if you have a professional photographer or videographer in your circles, certainly bring them on board). Almost any modern smartphone camera is sufficient for taking photos and video of the event and uploading them to the social media, or photo and video sharing sites.

You can also create Instagram or Pinterest accounts on which to share these photos and videos, or upload your video to YouTube. All of these suggestions can be appropriate for keeping the momentum going, keeping your cause in the public eye, and demonstrating to the bereaved that they are not alone.

Using the sample press release template linked above, write a new release and send it to the media containing a narrative of the memorial and an explanation of your cause and the next steps you’ll be taking to honor the deceased.

A candlelight vigil can be one of the most beautiful and moving expressions of support, grief and unity imaginable.

With a little foresight and planning, this powerful memorial event can help bring closure to friends, families and communities, and function as an important first step towards social change, fundraising against diseases, and social justice.

If you are looking for more memorial ideas, take a look at our post offering 10 memorial ideas you may not have thought about. 

More Unique Memorial Ideas

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