Remember a Loved One's Death: Sharing Those Memories With Others
"The soul of man is the candle of God."
My husband Bill died on January 6, 2013, from complications of his long and patient battle with Muscular Dystrophy. To honor his memory, I donated to several causes and because he was, and I am, ardent Roman Catholics, I'd also have Masses said. However, as the anniversary day approached at the beginning of 2014, I wanted to do something special and more personal.
"The light of God is the soul of man."
"The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the innermost parts of his being."
These variations of Proverbs: 20: 27 equating God's light with a man's soul or spirit clarified my internal debates about how to define my late husband. He was the light of our lives while living, and his light lives on for our family and close friends.
How to remember that light?
We have some family members and several friends who are Jewish, so I was familiar with Yahrzeit. This is a German/Yiddish word meaning “year’s time.” The Jewish tradition is to annually commemorate a loved one’s death. The tradition usually includes lighting a 24-26-hour candle at sunset on the eve of the Yahrzeit and to leave it burning until the flame extinguishes itself.
So, planning and carrying through my own Yahrzeit commemoration of Bill's spirit appeared to answer my need. My three adult children also wanted to commemorate their Dad, but only one was able to make the time I selected which turned out to be Sunday, January 5 at sunset.
My planning turned out well and I intend to maintain this practice making it a tradition. Perhaps in the coming years, more of the family will be invited and attend. My daughter and I lighted the candle and in turn read some of the psalms. Then we looked through her album of pictures and talked about the memories these prompted. It was just the right blend of ritual and remembrance. The evening turned out successfully for both of us.
Seeing the candle flame in the living room after my daughter left and throughout the next day until it extinguished itself the evening of January 6 was indeed a comfort to me. (Incidentally, after our little ceremony I had to put the candle in a secure location where my cat would not knock it over.) I really like thinking of Bill as a continuous light in our lives.
Prayers as the Candle is Lighted
"Sustained by words of faith, comforted by precious memories, we kindle the light in remembrance. “The human spirit is the light of Adonai” (Proverbs 20:27). As this light is pure and clear, so may the blessed memory of the goodness and nobility of character of our dear husband and father illumine our souls."
The light is kindled. The following may be said: "His memory is a blessing."
Choose from more prayers at the websites of Temple Beth Am - Pinecrest, FL 33156 (Miami-Dade County) and Temple Emmanuel, Newton, MA.
Psalms that May be Read
My daughter and I read these psalms in turn:
- Psalm 21 (The king rejoices);
- an old favorite is Psalm 23 (The caring shepherd);
- Psalm 121 (I will lift up my eyes);
- and the last two perhaps a little heavy and somber, but appropriate nonetheless are Psalm 130 (De Profundis, Out of the depths) and Psalm 142 (I cried unto the Lord.)
Find Psalms and other readings online at The World English Bible (WEB) a Public Domain (no copyright) Modern English translation of the Holy Bible.
The following version of Psalm 23 is from The World English Bible (WEB):
"Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."
Sunflower - looks toward the Sun which is its Source of Strength
Rituals and Daily Life
Do you build rituals into your daily life?
My Favorite Photo of my Husband
Steps in Organizing a Remembrance Ceremony
Time required: Remembrance Ceremony: Thirty to sixty minutes.
Cost: As little as $2; as high as $125 if purchasing all materials
- 1. Picture of your loved one and / or a meaningful statue or religious symbol, like a crucifix. ($25)
- 2. Table cover that enhances the mood of your environment. ($35)
- 3. One candle that will burn for 24 to 26 hours. Buy a yahrzeit candle at the grocery store or a local Jewish synagogue, or buy a 6-Inch beeswax column online. The beeswax columns and votives are especially suitable and have a light fragrance. ($1 - $5)
- 4. Candleholder of some sort to prevent damage to table or chest surface from heat or dripping wax. ($5 - $10)
- 5. Books that contain the psalms or other inspirational quotations. ($5 - $20) Save money use internet links.
- 6. Gentle music that is meaningful to you.($25) Again, save money download MP3 selections.
Center of the Remembrance Ceremony
1. Choose a suitable location for your ritual. I choose to use the top of a cedar chest that sits in front of a north-facing bow window. The window niche accommodates my small orchid collection. Seasonally influenced designed cloths and decorations usually cover the chest.
2. Cover a flat area in your chosen location with a unique cloth of arrangement from nature. Material and designs may vary from refined to ethnic; colors from subdued mono-colors to vibrant multicolors.
San Damiano Crucifix
3. Place picture(s), candle, meaningful symbol and perhaps a potted plant or vase of cut flowers on the covered surface.
Stones as a Memorial
4. Bring participants to the area; make sure that they are comfortably seated or standing in a good location. Invite participants to place items that remind them of the person you are celebrating on the table top.
Light as Spirit
5. Deliver your dedication if you have one. Light the candle; begin with the readings. Don't forget the matches!
The Psalms of David
6. Read chosen selections either by yourself or sharing with others. If you do this ceremony by yourself, I suggest that you read aloud; it lends solemnity to the ritual.
Tea and Conversation
7. Once the candle is lighted and readings proclaimed, if you have family or friends participating, you might want to take time for simple refreshments. This is a great time, alone or with others, to look through photo albums or memorabilia and reminisce.
Remember by Giving a Helping Hand
Some Customs for Remembering a Loved One
Which of these customs do you practice most often either alone or with family members?
© 2014 Georgene Moizuk Bramlage