Silence fell upon the hundreds of people gathered Sunday evening at the edge of Pauoa Bay. Taking turns, men, women and children walked ankle-deep or swam into the warm water, setting afloat candlelit lanterns containing heartfelt messages to loved ones. Captivated, they stood in the sand, watching the flickering orange glow from the bobbing lanterns and the sun’s last rays illuminate the ocean.
The second annual Floating Lantern Ceremony united all who participated, extending warmth, understanding, kindness and support to each other. It also offered a chance to reflect, thank, remember, honor, heal and show aloha. Wind and waves frequently pushed the lanterns back to shore — a sign for some that loved ones never really leave us.
North Hawaii Hospice and The Fairmont Orchid decided to do hold the roughly two-hour-long moving tribute as a service to the community, said Katherine Werner Ciano, North Hawaii Hospice executive director.
Floating lanterns in memory of loved ones is also a Japanese tradition. As in Japan, such a ceremony typically concludes the summertime festivities for obon, the season of remembrance and celebration of family members, especially those who died this past year. The floating lanterns are meant to symbolically ferry the spirits of the deceased back to the spiritual realm marking the obon’s completion, said Rev. Kosho Yagi of the Honokaa, Waimea, Kohala and Paauilo Buddhist temples of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.
Four hundred lanterns were launched in 2011 and more 700 were set afloat Sunday. The lanterns had a suggested donation of $10, and all donations were used to offset the event’s cost. The lanterns were collected afterward so they didn’t drift out to open sea and to be reused again next year, Ciano said.
Prior to the lantern release, music, hula, taiko drumming, chanting and prayers occurred.
Several participants said the ritual helped them cope with the loss of a loved one. By setting the lantern in the water, it helped them spiritually let go of someone they’re mourning and sharing the experience with others provided powerful solace.
Hamakua resident Stormy Key lost her 34-year-old uncle, Kapono, in January to cancer.
“He was outgoing and so full of love. He left us too soon,” Key said. “This is such a beautiful way to remember all the lives lost and give each other comfort.”
Waimea resident Rebecca Piilani attended the ceremony to remember and honor her dad Kimo, grandmother Annie, mother-in-law Harriet, and brother-in-law Jay, as well as express gratitude to North Hawaii Hospice. She came with her mother, Sharon Palai. While decorating their lanterns, they shared favorite stories about their loved ones.
For Palai, Kimo was her “wild thing” who always made her heart sing. She first met Kimo when he was 27 years old and enjoyed a marriage of 27 years. At age 32, he asked her to marry him, after knowing him 32 years.
Piilani said her dad was also a fish and the ocean was his home, which made Sunday’s ceremony the perfect tribute for him. Diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Kimo utilized North Hawaii Hospice, which was “very supportive, caring and respectful.” Within three days of signing up, the organization was always there no matter what, making the transition smooth.
“Prior to his passing, I did not understand the function of hospice and what it does. Its staff and volunteers step up and step in, guiding you during this already stressful and emotional situation, following your loved one’s wishes, letting them choose how they want to die,” Piilani said. “We came to show support and to thank them for helping and just being there.”
For more than 25 years, North Hawaii Hospice supports people’s wishes to approaching the end of life by providing them, as well as their loved ones, quality, compassionate, professional services in the comfort of home. It helps give patients “a greater sense of empowerment, comfort and peace.” Services include pain and symptom management, medication, during medical equipment, personal care assistance, caregiver education and support, counseling, respite care, and community memorial ceremonies, Ciano said.
Care is given to people facing life-limiting illnesses, seeking support with grief and bereavement, seeking education about end-of-life issues, and experiencing a sudden death or trauma while visiting Hawaii Island. The organization serves Hamakua, North Kohala and South Kohala districts. It usually has 15 to 24 patients with a variety of terminal illnesses and of different ages at any given time, and approximately 110 patients a year. However, it had 120 patients in 2011, Ciano said.
For more information, call North Hawaii Hospice at 885-7547 or visit northhawaiihospice.org.