BARRINGTON – A table with 28 candles was placed in the middle of the Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital chapel Wednesday, wedged between two yellow poinsettia flower pots.
The candles represented the 20 children and six adults who were killed Friday when 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Also included in the candles were ones for Lanza and his mother, whom he shot to death earlier in the day in the home they shared.
The yellow poinsettias stood for hope.
The hospital held a prayer service Wednesday to help the community grieve in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“Whether it happened 1,000 miles away or 10 miles away, it hits us,” said the Rev. Fred Rajan, vice president of the office of mission and spiritual care at the hospital. “When you see the kids coming out of the schools holding hands, it feels like it happened right here in Barrington.”
Rajan led a service for more than 20 people – mostly hospital employees – and said the time was meant for reflection and a chance to try and make sense of an unspeakable tragedy.
“When a tragedy like this happens, you look for your inner strength,” he said. “You feel like the well is so dry. You don’t have the strength.
“Today we gather together to seek support from each other, grieve together, and to seek God. And to help us find meaning in the face of this tragedy.”
Three volunteers each read prayers Rajan had prepared, which were nondenominational and included both Christian and Jewish themes.
One volunteer read every name of the 20 fallen children, ending the prayer by saying, “You died before you were old enough to know what life means; may God gather you into God’s ever-loving arms.”
Rajan said he urged people to refrain from holding onto feelings of anger over the killings. Instead, he touched on the power that hospitals, such as Advocate Good Shepherd, have to treat those who are mentally ill.
“Anger does not solve the problem,” he said. “What we do here, we need to really look at mental health and mental illness. What this young man did, I feel for him, because he was not thinking like you and I. His mind does not function like you and I. He was a sick man. … He was emotionally drained and mentally sick. We have a responsibility to care for [people like him], and find some healing services for these types of people. That is our job as a health care ministry.”
The 10-minute service was an opportunity for people to come together and express their emotions, staff Chaplain Jodie Futornick said.
“As a chaplain, … one of my tasks is to help people find meaning from tragedy,” she said. “It’s our hope that by giving people a place to gather and to express their feelings of sadness, they’ll be able to come to a place of deeper meaning around this kind of senseless tragedy.”
Several people wiped away tears as the service came to a close, and many gathered around the table of candles, as if taking a chance to say goodbye to those whose lives ended too soon.