When Mary Ray needs to feel close to her son Bill, she lights the candle in a decorated votive in her kitchen. It was given to her at a hospice house in Tucson, Arizona, where Bill died of leukemia in 2010.
A candle can’t replace a loved one. But as the light shines, it makes her feel close to him again.
“I have it burning quite often,”Ray said. “I go through a lot of candles.”
So when Ray first heard about a hospice house opening in Albany a few years ago, she felt compelled to share with Samaritan Evergreen Hospice this ritual that has helped her cope with grief.
“It so impressed me with what they did, giving us this candle with a remembrance, that I introduced it here,” Ray said.“They loved the idea.”
Ray is not only the catalyst for the remembrance candles. She also pays for the supplies from three different sources and assembles each one. She places a rosemary-scented candle, a symbol of love and remembrance, in a blossom-shaped votive, which goes in a small box. Then she wraps the box with purple
ribbon, tying a neat bow.
“When I do this, it’s like thinking of my son,” Ray said.
Volunteering for Samaritan Evergreen Hospice is also a way for Ray to keep close ties with the medical community, where she worked for more than 50 years in nursing and later in health care administration. After retiring, she volunteered with an organization called Donate Life to encourage young people to register as organ donors. For six years, she spent three days a week on the road from Salem to Cottage Grove visiting high school health and driver education classes. She had to give up that work when complications of fibromyalgia made it too difficult for her to keep walking the halls.
That’s when the Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House came into the picture. Comforting grief through the candle project is now her mission in life. Since the hospice house opened in 2012, more than 900 families whose loved ones have died there have received one of Ray’s candles. Families display them in many ways, such as with pictures of their loved one, at memorial services and by creating their own memorials.
“It’s something in their hands that is tangible,” Ray said.“They are not leaving empty-handed.”
Ray said sometimes it makes her cry to light Bill’s candle.
“I know that it came from where he was,” she said. “It’s part of my son’s remembrance.”
As she assembles each candle, Ray knows that another family is beginning grief’s journey, one that she is still on. As she forms the wire ribbon into bows, she thinks about the family who will receive it.
“It is given with love from my heart,” Ray said. “I keep the candles coming. I don’t see it ending.”