It’s a tradition for many people in Hawaii to end Memorial Day with the Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park.
The ceremony brings everyone together including locals and visitors, young and old.
An estimated 50,000 people attended Monday night’s event, and for some it was their first time after they recently lost a loved one.
As light turned to darkness, a different kind of light emerged as candlelit lanterns were set afloat in the water.
They’re a symbol of remembrance, and the gesture is filled with much emotion.
Carla Colburn of Aiea lost her husband, Bobby, in 2012 after he lost his battle with cancer. This is her first time attending the ceremony.
“I’ve been with him since I was 14 years old, so he’s all I know you know. But I know he’s here,” Colburn said. “I know he’s here with me because I can feel him, I know he’s here and it feels really good, because all day I could feel him around me.”
Her lantern is full of photos and memories “and letting him know that we miss him and want him to watch over us,” Colburn said.
Ui Pauoledesa of Makiki also lost her husband. Duda passed away last year suddenly.
She wrote on her lantern: “To the love of my life, I miss you, we love you, we think about you every day, we miss your laughter, your kindness. We’ll always remember you.”
This is her second time coming to the ceremony.
“It was funny because last year, I really wanted to keep walking and didn’t want to let go of my lantern, I wanted to follow it out. And I can’t say I didn’t have that feeling this year but then it kind of turned around and I said honey, it’s time to go, I’m sorry. So I gave him a gentle nudge and he went on his way,” Pauoledesa.
Everyone has a story. While time doesn’t always heal the pain, floating a lantern in remembrance helps.
“It really is special to come here and share that moment all these people. We’re all human and life is short,” Pauoedesa said.
About 6,000 lanterns were set afloat Monday night.
Shinnyo-en and Na Lei Aloha Foundation put on the event. The first Lantern Floating Hawaii Ceremony was held at Keehi Lagoon on Memorial Day 1999 and has grown each year in response to community demand.
Nowadays people come from all parts of the world to honor their loved ones in this unique event.
“My sister said it was one of the best things that she’s done while she was here in Hawaii,” said Liz Barile-Page, a visitor from London. “It was a really moving event for her last year.”
For some, this event is perhaps an opportunity to find some type of closure.
“We are remembering the Malaysian flight MH370,” said Brian Lee, a visitor from Atlanta. “We have a distant cousin that passed away so we’re trying to commemorate those people.”
Organizers say people come here to find some peace of mind from their loss, and being able to share with others is a powerful thing.
“Those things go across boundaries, go across religions, go across belief and background, where you’re from,” said Justin Goshi, a volunteer with Shinnyo-En Temple. “Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody wants peace and that’s kind of the intent of the ceremony.”