Two weeks ago, my partner and I decorated our house for the holidays. We put up a tree and the lights, hung the ornaments. Like many people, a lot of our decorations have sentimental meaning. The ceramic tree with the little lights that belonged to Gary’s grandmother. Ornaments for each of our pets, living and dead. The Advent candleholder that my father made. Each holiday season is a trip down memory lane with equal parts laughter and tears.
I know I’m not alone in experiencing loss at the holidays. In 2004, my grandmother died suddenly on December 9. In 2010, my father died on December 18 almost a year to the day after he was diagnosed with ALS. Others visit me at this time of year, too. Those whose death was not connected to the holiday season, but whose presence I miss. Some might say that I shouldn’t dwell on the difficult memories, but I don’t think it’s that simple. In fact, it is impossible for me to separate these losses from the holidays. And, even if I could, I don’t think I would want to.
This month, I was scheduled to host a Blue Holiday Gathering and Ritual on Zoom through Reimagine. It is important to me to create space where people can acknowledge that the holidays aren’t always joyful, merry, and bright. Sadly, this event was canceled due to the sudden death of my mother-in-law a week ago Monday. Life’s challenges don’t take a break for the holidays.
For our Blue Holiday Gathering, I planned a Candle Lighting Ritual which I offer to you here. Candles are often used this time of year in festive displays. Candles are also used to dispel the darkness of these short days. I invite you to gather three candles and light them as a way to honor our individual and collective experiences of grief, sadness, and loss. By lighting our candles, we give physical expression to what we, and others, might be feeling inside.
We light this first candle to remember those who have died. We pause to remember clearly, their faces, their voices, their bodies, and the memories that bind them to us in this season…………..
We light this second candle to remember the pain of loss. We pause to remember the loss of relationships, loss of trust, loss of jobs, loss of health, the loss of joy and peace from the stresses which surround us…………
We light this third candle to remember the world. We pause to remember the harm unjust systems and institutions perpetrate against the earth and its inhabitants, the sadness and grief, the hurt and fear, the anger and pain…………
Charles Blustein Ortman writes, “The holidays…invite us not so much to dispel the darkness with light, but to enter the darkness with whatever light our consciousness brings… It is within the darkness, the unknown, that our creativity and our hope and our promise take root and have their home.”
It seems to me that through spending time in the darkness, we find the light within ourselves.
The light that says, there is sadness and there is joy and it can all be true.
The light that says, I trust myself to know what is best for me today, right now.
The light that says, I stand with you, I feel your hurt, you are not alone.
My message for the holidays is that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be happy. Some people won’t understand, but that’s okay, too. It’s okay to feel whatever you feel, even at the holidays, perhaps especially at the holidays.
And this is my blessing for you:
Life and its seasons go on.
May we breathe deeply,
as we sit with the quiet stillness of these short days.
May our hearts beat a rhythm of peace,
as we rest in the joy and grief of this season.