A Candle on Christmas

Patrick Koske-McBride
3 min readDec 26, 2021

Dearest J-, R-, G-, S-, C-, P-, and M-,

So, uh, this candle and letter are for you. Or your memory, more accurately. I just want you to know that I desperately wish I could give you all the monument you really deserve, something commensurate of what you mean to me — what you did for me. Y’know, carve your name into the moon or something. Unfortunately, a letter and a candle are the best I can do at the moment. I really hope you understand until I get that moon laser working. I really hope you can hear me. I hope you’re in Tolkien’s Far Green Country.

I just wanted to know how sorry I am that was unable to return your grace and be with you in those last hours. Death is so dreadfully fast that we can’t usually fathom it.

S-, I so sorry I didn’t get to your funeral, that’s definitely my fault. I didn’t find out that you were in trouble until Monday afternoon. you were gone not even 24 hours later, and in the ground before the weekend. I’m so sorry I was busy with other commitments. I’m sorry I didn’t cancel those and see you off. I’ll try to visit your grave after the holidays. I know that’s the weasel’s out, but it’s the best I can do at this late hour.

And, S-; I get so much of it, now. I wish I didn’t, but I do, I get why you had a meltdown after another friend died and her family moved on. I get that sensation of things moving along too fast, now. You wind up in the depths of hell, and, despite it all, you meet insane, inhumanly kind, gentle giants who glow, and they walk with you, and they seem, briefly, invulnerable, because they help you survive insane, impossible crises that should kill you both. But they are only mortal, too, and they leave us, taking that light with them. And everyone not trekking through hell seems so eager and far too fast to move on, and it’s easy to grow resentful, because it seems like they’re actively erasing someone who helped you in your darkest hours, and we should all be as upset.

But they aren’t; they’re just carrying on grieving, in a different direction and way. You never recover from true losses, you just learn to work around the pain.

C-, you taught me that. It’s been ten years, and there’s still not a day I don’t miss your presence, and I doubt that scar will ever heal. I know that’s not what you would’ve wanted, but I didn’t want you to die. I don’t think you wanted to, but we’re not built to last.

The point of this letter, and the candles, isn’t to wallow in pain or psychic agony, it’s not even to make myself feel better, it’s to reassure me (and you guys) that there’s still something — or someone — you left behind. And we miss you.

And, hey; the candles lasted through the dark, cold night and into Christmas, and if ever there was a perfect metaphor for long-term survival against long odds, that one is hard to beat.



Patrick Koske-McBride

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”