In Moments of Darkness, Hanukkah Reminds Us to Search for the Light

Author: Traci Voelke

The miracle of light is celebrated in a season of darkness during Hanukkah and has been a tradition by the Jewish people for over two millennia. For me, the story of Hanukkah is a reminder that during my darkest hours of grief I can find hope by searching for the light with help from my loved ones.

My husband, Army Maj. Paul Voelke, was killed in Afghanistan in 2012. The holiday season had always been a time of such happiness in our lives. No matter where we were stationed, we always traveled to New York to be with our extended family after months of living away from the place we called home.

 Candle flame

Now, celebrating the holiday season feels different after the death of my husband. When my two boys, AJ and Ben, and I  celebrate these eight days of Hanukkah, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the memories of Paul and how we used to celebrate together.  We yearn for the feelings that remain, but we remember the past happiness and find ourselves comparing our lives before and after Paul’s death. This season is supposed to be a happy and joyous time, but it becomes entangled with sadness and grief as we watch other “whole” families celebrate.

When we are struggling with our grief, we can find inspiration in the story of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah reminds us to cherish the light we have found in our loved ones who continue to support us through this season. The original oil found in the sacred temple in Jerusalem is called shamash. Translated from Hebrew it means “attendant” or “helper.” We light eight candles on the menorah, one for each of the eight days of Hanukkah. The ninth candle on the menorah, the shamash, is lit first and then its flame is distributed to light each of the remaining candles. We keep the shamash candle close to all the other candles so that if one blows out the shamash can relight the extinguished candle.  

During this holiday season, I am not only grateful for finding light during a dark time, but also for the shamashim — all of the helpers — in our grief journey. I’m thankful for the family, friends and colleagues who stand behind us and relight our candles when they have seemed to have blown out — when our lights become extinguished. They are the helpers moving us all toward the light and giving hope of a brighter future.  

In the flickering of the menorah, flames let us be reminded to focus on the light of our future and to give thanks to all the helpers who continue to relight our flames when they seem to smolder out in this dark season of winter.

From the pen of…
Traci Voelke is the surviving spouse of Army Maj. Paul Voelke.