Keeping the Lights On

We genuinely “need a little Christmas now.” It feels like there is no one, and no place, that hasn’t been slammed with some kind of disaster this year. Entire towns flattened by tornadoes or destroyed by floods, cancer diagnoses, COVID deaths, school shootings, heat domes, droughts, and the melting tundra causing houses to sink while releasing tons methane into the atmosphere, worse even than carbon–the list seems endless.

Is there any hope to be had about all this?

Today my church did its annual Christmas pageant, with a masked Mary and Joseph, little masked angels, and our perennial hobby-horse donkey. Angelic Daughter and I watched the livestream on Facebook, singing along with the classic carols: Angels We Have Heard on High, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, and Joy to the World.

When it was over, a trusted helper came over to hang out with Angelic Daughter while I went to meet a friend for brunch. I hadn’t seen her in three years. It was the first time in nearly two years I’ve eaten indoors at a restaurant, and although I’m fully vaxxed and boosted, it still freaked me out a little to have my mask off indoors long enough to eat and chat.

But, oh, was it ever worth it. When you’ve been without the companionship of someone with significant shared history, life gets very lonely and more than a little depressing. I’ve known for years now that after a loss, the grief, and the sense of incompleteness and absence, never go away. You just carry them around with you, trying not to get stuck, not letting them stall you from getting on with the rest of your life.

My friend and I caught up on how we’re doing, how our families are doing, and what’s changed since we saw each other last. There’ve been health crises, good friends lost, and worries about kids and other family members.

But then there were the wonderful stories about how those we’ve lost reach into this world to let us know they’re OK, to tell us to buck up, snap out of it, and keep going. These little tricks those who have left this world play on us remind us to enjoy life and make the most of it now, because tomorrow you could get the news that it will all be over soon, or that it ended tragically and unexpectedly for someone you loved.

I told the story of Mike’s Christmas flyby, the first Christmas without him, when I took my usual photo of the house after I’d hung the lights, and there was an inexplicable white streak of light in it.

I have no explanation for that streak of light on the left.

And my friend told me stories of mischievous spirits flicking lights on and off, opening and closing doors, and even assembling faux Christmas trees. This friend has read the entire manuscript of my now nonpublishable memoir, so she knows all the tales of my experiences with what I believe were messages from beyond.

I gave her a silly gift I’d been saving for three years, because it arrived one day after our last brunch in 2019. She gave me the much greater gift of her presence, her stories, and her time, and it was wonderful.

She also picked up the check, so there was that, too, wink wink, nudge nudge.

Our Christmas Eve service is going to be held outside this year, weather permitting. My church has a tradition, as many do, of “passing the light,” where each person receives a little candle (and a paper collar for it to keep the wax from dripping). Someone at the front of the church lights theirs, and then uses their candle to light the one the person next to them is holding. We pass this light through the whole congregation, until everyone has a lit candle. Then we sing “Silent Night.”

As an accomplished worrier and worst-case-scenario developer, I’ll be a lot calmer doing that outdoors.

I’ve been struggling since Mike died to stop allowing fear to limit my life. I try to be safe, reasonable, and smart, but I don’t want fear to separate me from any chance of having a happy rest-of-my-life.

The candles remind me that we can be lights for each other in this darkness. If you won’t have joy this Christmas, because you’ve suffered a loss or something else really shitty happened to you this year, I hope you will at least have comfort. And I hope a departed loved one will come and flick your lights on and off, to let you know they’re OK, and you will be too.

Grateful for the time with a good friend, I remain,

your worried, lonely, trying to let Christmastime give me hope,


2 thoughts on “Keeping the Lights On

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