A CHANUKAH MEMORY Surviving Loss Series

Delete December! That was my bitter mood when I faced my first holiday season as a widow. It was a week before Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” It’s traditional to light a candle for eight nights in memory of the miracle that happened in ancient times. When the Israelites reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem they wanted to rededicate it, but there was only enough oil for one night. Miraculously the lamp burned for eight nights!

My family had always celebrated the joyous holiday together, with my children helping me light the candles. But this year I would be alone. Not even the children were coming. I think they couldn’t cope with their father’s absence

““I’m going to ignore Chanukah,” I told my bereavement counselor.
“How are you going to ignore your feelings about it?” he asked. Clever, these counselors.

Then I got a surprising phone call. A nun at the hospice where my husband had passed away was inviting me to a memorial service for everyone who had died there during the year. I told her I wasn’t up to a service for my husband. “It’s for you, too,” she said. “His pain is over, but yours is continuing.”

It was so rare to find anyone who understood my feelings that I agreed to come.

But when I saw that gray stone building again, I almost turned back. Walking into the familiar lounge I saw a small gathering, I guess most people couldn’t bear to come. There were more women than men, which was understandable since widows far outnumber widowers. They were mostly middle-aged and older, but even, shockingly, there were a few children. A four-year -old girl stared at me, her somber expression too old for so young a child.

Before I could escape a nun began the service with a prayer of St. Francis: ”May I never seek so much to be consoled as to console.” The words stopped me. I thought, maybe when talking to my children, I should focus more on their loss than my own, and give them the full unselfish consolation they needed. It might be better for all of us if I relied on my peers. Or myself? But I was still a long way from that.

I still have the handmade program we were each handed that night, created by one of the nuns. She said she wanted to illustrate what she knew we were feeling. The childish drawing was both a Christmas tree and a menorah (the candleabra for the Chanukah candles). But she had drawn only half of each. “Half,” the nun explained, ”because of what’s missing for you.” She pointed to the yellow color crayoned around the symbols. “That’s for the glow that comes from remembering.”

Then, in that Catholic hospital, a young man with a guitar sang  a Chanukah song! The lyrics were written by Peter Yarrow, of Peter,Paul and Mary fame. I heard a few people singing, “Light one candle for the strength we need to never become our own foe.” More voices were joining in, faces brighter. Suddenly I heard myself singing.”What is the memory we value so highly that we keep it alive in that flame?”

A week later I lit the first Chanukah candle.
.   .   .   .
I wish each of you who celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanza, the miracle of hope.

[Adapted from “Widow’s Walk”]
Website: www.annehosansky.com


Comments are closed.