For the many of us who are contending with loss, the “season to be jolly” feels more like an obstacle course. This year December is beginning with Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights. The first Chanukah after my husband died I wanted to erase all of December from the calendar.
“I’m going to ignore Chanukah,” I told my bereavement counselor.
“How are you going to ignore your feelings?” he asked.
He was good at questions, the answers were up to me to find. I share with you the memorable night that helped me to survive.
It was just nine months after my husband died. In the past Chanukah had been a joyous family time, lighting the candles, opening gifts. This year the children weren’t even coming, perhaps it was too much for them, too. I couldn’t cope with the thought of lighting the candles alone..
Then I had a surprising phone call, from the social worker at the Catholic hospice where Mel had died. A place where I would have been uncomfortable among all the nuns, if my mind hadn’t been solely on the man I loved and was losing.
The nun was calling to invite me to a memorial service for everyone who had died that year. “It would be too hard for me to attend a service for my husband,” I told her.
“It’s for you, too,” she said. ”His pain is over, but yours is continuing.”
It was so rare for anyone to understand that I agreed to come. I told her I’d like to donate some items that might be helpful to other patients. Could they use three Marilyn Monroe movies my daughter had taped for her father?
“Our patients would love them,” she said.
So I went – but at the sight of that too familiar gray stone building I wanted to turn the other way, run back home. Home? That was where he wasn’t.
I walked into a large room, carrying a shopping bag loaded with books and tapes.
“Are you the Marilyn Monroe lady?” a nun asked me.”God bless!’
It was a small gathering .I figured the majority of people couldn’t face coming. Men and women of various ages, even some children. I smiled at a little girl who looked four years old. She looked back at me somberly, the expression om her face too old for so young a child.
I stood there wondering how soon I could leave.
Then the service began with a prayer of Saint Francis’.
“Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console…”
(A good philosophy for dealing with one’s children!)
Then the Sister leading the service asked us to look at the cover of the program we’d been handed.
“I drew the picture,” she said, ”and tried to make it fit what each of you must be feeling.”
The childish drawing showed both a Christmas tree and a Chanukah menorah – but only half of each.
“Half,” she said,” because of what’s missing for you.”
There was pale yellow crayon around each of the lights. “That’s from the glow that comes from remembering,” she said.
Then- in this Catholic hospital – a young man with a guitar began singing a Chanukah song! It was written by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. Trying to follow the printed words we’d been given I found myself singing with him:
“Light one candle for the strength that we need, to never become our own foe…”
I heard the grieving people around me joining in. “What is the memory that’s valued so highly,” we all sang together, “we keep it alive in that flame?”
A few nights later I lit the first Chanukah candle.
[Excerpted from Widow’s Walk]
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play– both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.