This month, people across the world are celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas — holidays that draw our attention to hope and possibility during dark times.
I grew up as a Jewish child in a mixed neighborhood. While my Christian friends decorated Christmas trees and opened presents on Christmas Day, I looked forward to lighting the menorah candles and exchanging presents with my parents. The elders in my family had established a tradition of giving gifts to the children and there were always presents to last eight days, when opened one per night. Gifts were stacked near our fireplace. Each night I deliberated which to open. The largest one or the one with the prettiest wrapping?
One year, my family drove from Wisconsin to Florida over Christmas Vacation. My parents put all my presents in the car and we continued opening gifts in motel rooms as we drove cross-country. (Such are the benefits of being an only child!)
As an adult, I have come to value Christmas and Hanukkah for their meaning, rather than for the presents. Beyond the literal telling of the Christmas Story, we are reminded that the birth of the Son of God brought love and compassion and healing to the world. Each year, as the story is retold, millions are touched by the possibility of hope and miracles.
Taken literally, Hanukkah is the celebration of the Talmud story involving a miracle in the Temple of Jerusalem. As the story goes, oil that should have lasted only one day burned for eight days, keeping the eternal flame lit, until more oil was secured. Taken metaphorically, the story represents something more. Hanukkah comes at the darkest time of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere, but we are reminded that the lights of wisdom, love, and renewal remain.
There are times, especially after loss to suicide, when it is difficult to believe that light will return to our lives. After my stepson Chan died in 1995, and my marriage ended just a few months later, I saw little hope for the future and little reason to continue on. I was burdened with dark emotions and it was only through the reassurance of other survivors of suicide loss that I took a glimmer of hope. They said things would get better and they were right.
These days, I often read the posts of our members who say that they have taken hope that light will return to their lives from the posts of those further along. Today, I invite all reading to share the light. Be the light in someone else’s life and let another light the way for you. Together, we survive.
Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC is the Founder and Executive Director of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors. She lost her stepson Chan, in 1996.