Gazing out upon dozens of floating lanterns, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer tearfully placed her own light onto the Woodward Park lake Saturday night.
The lantern was for her father, Ian Van Rensselaer, who was struck and killed by a train in Fresno on June 26. In place of a memorial service, his family decided to remember him by partaking in Toro Nagashi, an ancient Buddhist ceremony where lanterns are launched on water to guide the souls of loved ones back to the afterlife.
It’s nice to know you’re not alone.
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, whose father, Ian Van Rensselaer, was killed June 26
The annual ceremony marks the end of the summer Obon season, when the souls of ancestors are believed to return home to reunite with family and participate in festival activities. Saturday’s event was organized by Woodward’s Shinzen Friendship Garden and the Fresno Buddhist Temple.
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“Instead of talking about all the good times and everything, the fire (in the lantern) is like a little light of my heart, just setting it out there, and I know he’s watching. It’s a beautiful thing. I’m really happy that it’s something I could share with him as a last – you know,” Kiliaen said, her eyes filling with tears.
The 21-year-old stops and looks out across the lake, now covered with glowing lanterns.
“It’s nice to know you’re not alone.”
Like many of the more than 250 people who attended the event, the Van Rensselaer family is not Buddhist. Neither is Mark Blackney, president and chief executive officer of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, who participated to honor his late wife, Francine, who died in November.
“I’m Christian, but this is universal,” Blackney said. “It’s something we all share.”
Looking at the floating lanterns, he said with a smile, “it’s kind of like watching souls mixing out there on the water.”
It’s great that different cultures, different kinds of people, can all come together to share something beautiful.
Kiliaen Van Rensselaer
Toro Nagashi was a first for Blackney, but it’s a lifelong essential ceremony for Kimiko Schock, whose father and brother were Buddhist priests. The 68-year-old Madera woman came to the United States from Japan when she was 27. During Saturday’s ceremony, she lit a lantern for her late husband, Bob Schock, who died three years ago. Since then, watching his lantern float across glassy water each year has been no real comfort for her grief, but what does help, she said, is standing beside the other people on the shore.
“I’m not the only one,” Schock said she thinks to herself. “Everyone loses something.”
This Obon season, which roughly lasts from mid-July to mid-August, Schock said she’s felt her husband’s presence near her in dreams. In some, she’s on a train or at an airport, trying to get somewhere, and he’s there to help.
It makes you feel warm to have this kind of belief, and you can cherish those souls.
Kimiko Schock, widow
“Sometimes I’m kind of lost in a way, because I became a widow,” Schock said.
Then she wakes up, “and somehow the warmth (of his presence) comes back.”
“I think it’s important to remember your loved ones who passed before you,” she said, “and believe it or not, that will affect your own personality and even your surroundings, people, your attitude toward death. … I hope the youngsters will learn it’s important to hold something important in your heart.”