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There’s a dollar store close by and sometimes when I’m out running errands I’ll stop there because I don’t want to go home just yet. A few days ago as I wandered the aisles I came across a box of battery operated Christmas candles, the kind people put in their windows through the holidays. It’s an ancient tradition borrowed from many cultures. In Ireland, for example, during a time when Catholics were persecuted, a candle in the window signified that it was a safe house for priests to visit. In Christianity one candle in the window symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem---three candles, the Holy Family. But it was a tradition of Colonial Williamsburg that triggered a tear to roll down my cheek as I stood in the dollar store. They would place a candle in the window when a family member was off traveling, to welcome them home. Don is never coming home, but for whatever crazy reason my subconscious mind was dreaming up I had an overwhelming compulsion to buy one of those candles…for him.


I stood there for the longest time fighting the compulsion. I had decided not to do any decorating for the holidays this year. What’s the point? My first Christmas without Don is not a time to celebrate, not a time to walk through the motions of hanging ornaments and tinsel. My dad died on Christmas, my mother died on Easter. I know all about grieving through the holidays. I’m a veteran and if you look hard enough you can still see the Band-Aids on my soul. But this time is different. I don’t have Don to help me through it like I did with Dad and Mom’s passing. Call it crazy but it occurred to me that a candle in the window could be a signal to Don’s ghost that he needs to come haunt my thoughts and tell me everything will be okay. Yup. Crazy old widow lady thinks she’s living in Colonial Williamsburg and that a candle in the window will bring back her deader-than-a-doornail husband.


In the end, I bought the candle and if people going by the house think it symbolized the Star of Bethlehem or an ancient sign that travelers are welcome, so be it. But to the saner side of my brain each day when dusk comes I will focus on one special memory as I go through the ritual of turning the candle on. I have no idea if my new tradition will make me feel more or less alone over the holidays. What I do know is that turning that candle on and off through the holidays seems like a good way to face my grief head on---akin to fingering prayer beads, the repetition bringing the message home: life changes and avoiding those changes only makes them hurt more.


Last night’s candle lighting memory was of the first Christmas after Mom died when no one in the family wanted to get together. (She was Christmas. It was her house everyone went dashing through the snow to find on Christmas day.) So that year instead of heading for the countryside, Don and I packed up thermos of chili and coffee, a little wine and cheese, and we headed to the ice formations along the shore of Lake Michigan where we picnicked in the snow. It was a short-lived new tradition of going to the beach on Christmas. By the third year out from mom’s passing the family started getting together again. “To everything there is a season…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ironic isn’t it. My non-Christian ghost-in-the-house was whispering that Bible verse in my ear to comfort me through my first widow’s candle lighting ceremony.  ©

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Comment by smallfish1 (Mariann) on November 25, 2012 at 2:59pm

Thank you so much for this post.  I am going to put just one candle in the window this year.  Ten years ago hubby and I visited my sister's grave on Christmas (the year she died).  I brought a bottle of wine and we drank a toast to her.  Although my husband is buried I never visit the cemetery, but I plan to go on Christmas Day with my bottle of wine and drink a toast to him--to us.

Comment by DonnaReid on November 25, 2012 at 8:15am

I LOVE your blog!

Comment by Sunflower37 on November 24, 2012 at 10:34pm

Blue Snow the candle is a good idea. I may do that this year.

Comment by Blue Snow on November 24, 2012 at 5:10pm

Beautiful thoughts, everyone. Thanks for the comments. Josephine: I love what you said about your husband would not be happy with you if you didn't continue on with the things you love.

Comment by Josephine on November 24, 2012 at 4:05pm

I have had those candles for a couple of years.  This year I just put them on the mantle instead of the window, but I will most likely buy some more.  I couldn't stand the idea of putting our tree up, since we had such a ritual involved with it, he put it up, I cooked a pot of chilie, put on some music, and did the decorating while he watched.  But neither could I imagine the idea of Christmas without a tree.  So I bought a four foot one.  Got out the orniments... many had a memory since he always bought me a new one for Christmas.  So the small tree was big enough for those special ones.  Lots of tears.  Someone gave me a book, "Tear Soup"... about grieving.  It said to season the soup with memories... so I think that those tears last night... were putting memories in the soup.  The house will be decorated, but not in quite the same way.  Simpler, since I'll put them up and take then down alone.  But he would not be happy with me, if I did not continue on with the things he knew that I loved.

Comment by bj628(Bonnie) on November 23, 2012 at 6:46pm

Jean what a warming idea.  My mom always had candles in the windows at Christmas, and I  did for many years. and then had a house without windowsills.   What a wonderful idea... and I could put a candle next to John's photo...

 have no idea what i will do this year..probably minimal decorations.. I do have a little tree with LED lights.

 so will pull it out of the box. bend the branches and plug it in.

 Your Blog as encouraged me, and as I turn the little tree on, I will take a moment of special memories ..

 Thank you.

 Wishing you peace and HUGS



Comment by Lori on November 23, 2012 at 12:16pm

i lite a candle each for the 3 people this thanksgiving who had died.  With the candle i encluded a picture.  I had 20 people this year for thanksgiving and all stopped to remember those loved ones. Some new to the family didn't know anyone but the joy of sharing who they were helps bring them to the celebration.  Thank you for sharing this

Comment by Blue Snow on November 23, 2012 at 10:35am

Thank you all for the comments. Dianne and Suz---yes, feel free to borrow the idea and make it your own.

Comment by recent loss(Ron)>>Recently Found on November 23, 2012 at 10:31am

Very nice jean that  is very touching. i have also in the past  put  a candle in the window to guild  the the spirit to my heart  and let people  know  this is a safe place  for Jesus presentce.

Comment by Fichereader on November 23, 2012 at 10:19am

What a beautiful ritual. I hope that the simplicity and repetition will be healing for you.

It made me think of the saying, "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." 

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