Letting the Candles Burn Down

Jacqueline Dooley
5 min readMar 1, 2019

The candles helped me realize that I was stuck. They weren’t waiting for my daughter to come back. I was.

A candle burns for my daughter on a makeshift altar — photo by author

At the start of autumn, we welcomed the holiday season with rituals focused on light and fire. From glowing Jack-o-lanterns and bonfires in October to festive string lights, twinkling Christmas trees, menorahs, and wood stoves in November and December, we bring the light inward when there is less light outside.

I find candles, in particular, to be warm and inviting during New York’s cold, barren winter months.

My daughter loved candles. She collected them with a kind of wild delight, displaying them throughout her bedroom alongside tumbled crystals, incense holders, and other treasures.

She burned candles for their simple beauty or because she liked their scent or to admire the miracle of captive fire in her bedroom. She had to stop burning them in the last weeks of her life because of the oxygen tanks.

“An open flame can cause a flash fire where the tubes go into her nose,” the hospice nurse had said. “No candles, incense, or petroleum-based lip balm anywhere near the tanks.”

The thought of her face catching fire was so terrifying that my daughter refused to use the oxygen until the very end of her life. By then she had no interest in burning candles.



Jacqueline Dooley

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss