Luminaria ceremony helps heal

Published 5:51 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

Different people who have been affected by cancer find power and healing in different parts of Relay For Life.

For some, it’s the survivor’s lap. For others, it’s the pre-event fundraising. Still others find it in the camaraderie at the event.

But many find it in the emotional luminaria ceremony held at every Relay For Life.

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Such was the case for Heather Howell, this year’s Experience Lead.

“My first Relay experience, the luminaria is what helped me,” she said. “It’s just so powerful and moving to see that many luminaria bags and know that many people have been affected by cancer.”

The luminaria ceremony is held after dark. White paper bags are lined along the track, weighed down and lit with a candle. Each bag bears the name of someone who has survived or died of cancer.

“For me personally, to have everybody at the same time in the same moment standing still and reflecting on those bags, that’s like a healing event,” Howell said.

She said the luminaria can help provide control to someone who has been affected by cancer.

“If you’ve ever been touched by cancer, you feel powerless,” she said. “This is something tangible you can do to fight back.”

Each luminaria costs $10 and can be purchased in advance or at the event. It’s helpful to Relay leaders to have most luminaria purchases made in advance, Howell said, but it’s not a requirement.

Those who buy them in person can decorate the bag themselves with pictures, stamps or other personal touches.

They will be available at the Relay Rallies on April 13 and May 4. Both begin at 7 p.m. and are held at King’s Fork High School.

As an added advantage for the community, Suffolk’s Relay For Life holds a canned food drive leading up to the Relay and uses the cans to anchor the bags.

“The bonus to that is that the Salvation Army comes to the park the Monday after Relay and picks up the food and uses it in their food pantry, so there’s a double purpose there,” Howell said.

This year’s Relay is set for May 16-17 at Bennett’s Creek Park. Find more information at