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Light a candle for those you have lost

We started a holiday tradition several years ago in acknowledgement of a dear neighbor’s passing. We placed a candle in a prominent window of our home in acknowledgement and remembrance. Other neighbors did as well. This year we have four candles. Four tender memories of people we knew and loved who died in the past year. They were in their 80s and 90s. “I am ready” said one sweet elder as I stood by his bed on the day of his death.

As each of us gets older, the death of a life-partner or an age-peer is going to occur more frequently. Lately, I have observed that many families, usually because of distance but sometimes because of personal preference, opt not to have a formal service to acknowledge the death. I hear statements like “Let’s do a celebration of life in the spring when it’s warmer.” And maybe they do. Or “Dad didn’t want people paying a lot of attention to his death.” And perhaps he didn’t.

There’s even a quite-comprehensive book addressing “why funerals have lost meaning and value.” (“Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies” by Alan D. Wolfelt) The author’s premise explores a growing sense of “lost community.” Whatever your feelings may be about all this, who can argue with a candle of remembrance in the window — especially at this time of year.

Our family’s approach, of course, involves battery operated candles. They come on automatically as the day darkens, quietly honoring a life extinguished. It’s really quite beautiful. When all the candles are fully lit, our 3-year old grandson has been known to alert us, “Christmas is ready.”

Get ready. Put a candle in the window. Or a stately menorah? Perhaps you could attend a candlelit evening service in a church near your home? At which, you could raise up your voice in song.

There’s a truly amazing song written in 1983 by Peter Yarrow of “Peter Paul and Mary” fame titled “Light One Candle.” It has broader implication than simply affirming the recollection of someone you loved. The songwriter’s original intention was a “call to the Jewish people to remember their heritage.”

It’s a song-ballad with strong history and the potential to make a difference. As illustration, there’s a magazine for teachers of kindergarteners through eighth-graders (Plank Road Publishing/Music K8.com) that suggests a group sing “Light One Candle,” accompanied by one child holding and lighting a candle and then passing the flame to another child and yet another child, “wick by wick until the whole world is filled with light.” The premise here is: educate about the “magic of cooperation, togetherness, harmony, brotherhood — and yes, peace.”

Recently, I heard “Light One Candle” beautifully sung at a choir concert involving hundreds of girl-choristers who called out in their bell-like voices — to an audience of all races and persuasions — “Don’t let the light go out!”

One line in that song that particularly resonates, no matter what your age, says, “Light one candle for the strength that we need to never become our own foe.” Another line says, “Light one candle for the wisdom to know …”

Just one candle — put it in your window. Start there.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.