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. ©
My other blog is here.