Memorial Day lantern floating offers comfort to families of loved ones lost

Tens of thousands of people packed Ala Moana Beach Park Monday night for Shinnyo-en’s Lantern Floating Hawaii Ceremony.

The annual Memorial Day tradition honors those who have passed with special remembrances written on the lanterns.

People lined up early in the day to get a lantern, and organizers passed out thousands to the public.

“You see people supporting one another, understanding one another. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of,” said Shinnyo-en practitioner Justin Goshi.

Participant Gem Zafarala lost her mother last September. “I feel like it’s something I need to just let all that bad stuff go,” she said. “It’s hard to explain in words what it is. It’s a lot of pain, a lot of suffering that you carry for awhile. You bargain a lot. There’s a lot of days where I just wake up feeling empty. I think it’s finally time for us to let it go.”

Zafarala says she takes comfort “knowing I’m not the only one. There’s tons feeling the same way as I am.”

The ceremony included a taiko performance, hula and oli. Then, a blessing by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, and an offering of spiritual nourishment to the souls being remembered.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, thousands of glowing lanterns took to the water.

Sheldon Ortego floated a lantern for his son, Hunter. The 17-year-old died in a moped crash along Kalanianaole Highway in Aina Haina last November.

Ortego says the event provided some small measure of closure to what has been a trying time.

“We’re still mourning, trying to live and get through it,” Ortego told KHON2. “It’s just something I felt I needed to do and it makes me feel a little, I guess, comfort inside. I just needed to find some solace in something.

“My son was just a happy-go-lucky go-getter and everybody liked him,” he added. “I had probably almost 300 people that showed up at his funeral and it’s just, it’s really hard. He was taken so young.”

Rain started to fall as the lanterns were released, but it didn’t dampen what many considered a time to reflect, a time to love, and a time to say goodbye.

For Ortego, the healing process is far from over, but it’s “at least the start of closure. It’s going to take a while for me to get through it.”

As always, the lanterns were collected after the ceremony and will be reused next year.

Sheldon Hunter Ortego lantern floating

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