Diane Glad has been involved with and attending the Christmas Box Angel ceremony for 15 years, but this year was harder than any other.

"For the last 15 years, I have been coming here in a different capacity. Never did I think I would be coming for me," she said.

Diane Glad lost her son Ryan in July when he died in a hiking accident. Glad had been helping others heal through loss with the angel ceremony for years, but now it was her turn to deal with the devastating new reality.

"We are heartbroken. I cry more easily these days," she said. adding that unexpected death can feel like when the wind gets knocked out of you and it can be hard to keep going.

But, at the advice of her grandson Nathan, the family "keeps moving forward."

More than 80 people gathered at a small angel statue in the Salt Lake City Cemetery Wednesday night to remember their child, sibling, grandchild, friend or relative. Hundreds of others came together at the more than 170 angel statues that are now installed across the globe to honor children who have died.

For some, it was their first year attending; for others, the angel vigil is an annual tradition.

Richard Paul Evans, author of "The Christmas Box," started the annual ceremony after his 1993 book gained popularity. The book details the story of a mom who loses her child during the Christmas season and mourns at an angel statue.

After Evans' book was released, readers found themselves in the pages and wanted to find the statue so that they could mourn there as well. With help from the community, an angel statue was installed in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and dedicated in December 1994.

Since then, angel statues have popped up in other cities that have shown interest in starting the tradition. Every year, on Dec. 6, a vigil is held at the statues to give people an opportunity to mourn and find comfort.

A family in Kaysville started raising money in September to install an Angel of Hope statue in their local cemetery so the people in their community would have a place to mourn and honor lost children.

Diane and Robert Glad speak at the annual Christmas Box Angel vigil in the Salt Lake City Cemetery Wednesday, sharing memories of their son who died in July.
Diane and Robert Glad speak at the annual Christmas Box Angel vigil in the Salt Lake City Cemetery Wednesday, sharing memories of their son who died in July. | Cassidy Wixom, KSL.com

Evans said Wednesday the biggest thing he has learned in the last 30 years since the book was released is that everything passes.

"We all pass. We can look at it and be angry or we can look at it and say, 'Thank you for the time that we had. What a blessing it was,'" Evans said.

Evans said it is crucial to support each other through the hard times. He said people should always treat each other with kindness, because you never know what is going on in their life and you never know what they are suffering.

Robert Glad spoke about how his son would often talk about the good that happens in the world. He said people need to seek the good and permit themselves to enjoy life.

"The thing that has helped me to move on and not get stuck in that rut is to look for the good in each and every day," he said. "Do I miss him? Desperately. Will I look for the good in every day? Always."

"As we miss our loved ones, I'm sure they want us to continue living and enjoying the benefits of a good life," Robert Glad added.

Carrying on a legacy

Emily Page lost her 12-year-old son, Wyatt, to cancer in 2020.

"He was known for his kindness and generosity," she said. "He wanted to give back to other kids that were going through similar things he did."

Wyatt and his mom started making blankets, pillowcases and beanies to deliver to kids at Primary Children's Hospital. Wyatt made and delivered about a hundred of these bundles before he passed.

Before he died, he asked his mom what she was going to do once he was gone as he was an only child. She promised him she would continue serving children in hospitals.

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"That was my goal to carry on his legacy of service and kindness toward others. His goal was to bring comfort and a distraction to kids that were in the hospital," she said.

The Page family created Wyatt's Comfort Bundles in honor of their son. Page said they have given out more than 6,400 kits of comforting items to hospitals in several states.

At the end of the ceremony, after a moment of silence, attendees placed flowers on the angel statue and said who their flower was in honor of. It was a tearful and emotional moment for all, as family and friends found remembered their loved ones.

Diane Glad said she is so grateful for the angel statue and ceremony and the opportunity it gives people to find hope and healing amid dealing with tragedy.

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