It was just a simple computer printout of a photograph of a few lighted candles taped to the door of an ICU patient’s room. But to the family of the loved one lying in the bed beyond the door, unresponsive to all treatment, it was a great solace. It was a reminder of what Howard Thurman said that our lives are never left to themselves alone.
In 2018, the Mayo Clinic proposed an initiative of placing an illustration of a glowing candle on the doors of dying patients as a gentle, comforting way of identifying the rooms with patients who had transitioned to comfort care or died. The image of a lit candle encouraged staff members to modify their words, silence themselves and reflect. After a one-year trial of the candle pictures, hospital staff and families reported a positive experience. In a report issued by the Mayo Clinic, a spouse of one patient was so moved by the site of the candle door card that she asked to take it home in remembrance of her husband.
For centuries, candles have been used when mourning the loss of a loved one. The candle in the Roman Catholic Church signifies the divine savior. In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to light a candle on the anniversary of a death of a loved one. The National Holocaust Museum even has a candle room for remembrance. And so, while the lighting of real candles is not allowed in an intensive care unit, the Mayo Clinic proposed the next best thing: a picture of a glowing candle.
Sadly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, being alone in the moment of death is a harsh reality that loved ones and medical professionals find incomprehensible. No one should die alone, yet COVID-19 is challenging that. People have searched for ways to be present: a phone call or video call to whisper goodbye. But the beautiful truth is this: Even when we cannot be together, God’s presence is always with us. We can trust the psalmist’s words that while weeping may linger for the night, joy will come in the morning. No matter what the situation, the divine light will comfort. We can find a way to light a candle.
Divine Light, for those who are grieving this day, for those who are facing the holidays with an empty chair at the table, for those who are walking in the valley of the shadow of death, we ask that your grace and love wipe away the tears that fall. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Create a short memorial service today in your home. Set up a group of candles, and with each one you light, name a loved one who had died. Remember the funny stories and remember the joy he or she brought to others. Now thank God that they are basking in heaven’s light.