Light Therapy by Helen Collins Sitler

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prism of color

On the Kelvin Color Temperature scale, full-spectrum LED lightbulbs, those that contain all the colors within white, like natural sunlight, are rated from 5000-7500K. Since my husband Tom’s sudden death on a spring afternoon, I have filled my house with 5000K LEDs, the highest K rating easily available for mass-market purchase.

During the first summer of widowhood, I took refuge at the back of the house, in the prism of flowers that bloomed up the hillside to the quiet street and around the edges of the deck. Blue bellflowers; the lush foliage of hostas; daylilies of creamy yellow, orange, and burgundy; pink anemone; bright red geraniums. By late afternoon on many days, I was depleted by the day’s demands—switching a utility to my name only; repeatedly taking his most beloved cat to the vet, each time to learn that she was fine; deciding what to do with his shoes. To calm myself, I sought the garden’s array of colors and napped in the sun. Tom and I had never spent much time together on the deck. Instinct embedded deep in my primal brain, not memories, compelled me there. Even on hot, sticky days, I sought the warm hug of the reclining chair. A biologist, Tom would have been familiar with the life force of the sun, its heat and its light. He would have known how the sun’s rays open pathways to release the body’s natural chemicals: serotonin, a calming mood stabilizer, and endorphins, our feel-good opiate. He would have recognized how desperately I needed those infusions.

In the house, I unwittingly reproduced sunlight everywhere–the 5000K LEDs, timer-run lamps, battery-operated candles. Before Tom died, when I pulled into the driveway, a glow from the den meant he was there in his favorite space, maybe shooing the cat from the computer keyboard or strumming a guitar. His warm hug welcomed me home. After his death, I could not bear arriving to a house in darkness.

* * *

As an inveterate bicyclist, my husband sometimes attended two spinning classes per day. On the first sunny Saturday of a rainy spring, Tom reveled in finally getting outdoors to ride. He collapsed thirty minutes after arriving home. An EMT from the ambulance whispered, “It doesn’t look good,” while scribbling a list of his meds on her hand. Other EMTs stretchered him out of the house into an afternoon so bright the air smelled green with bursting life. He was sixty-three years old.

Neighbors as stunned as I brought me home from the hospital. By twilight, when pink-orange light streamed through west-facing windows in the den, I had made multiple phone calls—to his sister, my brother, my best friend.

Now a glorious sunset still draws me into the den, no longer filled with Tom’s computer and guitars. In the cusp between daylight and darkness, a table lamp lights itself where an amplifier once sat, and battery-operated candles click on in every room. They glow on the coffee table, in bedrooms, in bathrooms, at the top of the stairs, even in the garage. Some lamps and candles burn past midnight, gentle companions as I drift off to sleep. The lights let me imagine Tom still awake elsewhere in the house, let me believe he will slip under the covers and brush against me.


Meet the Contributor

Helen SitlerBefore retiring in 2016, Helen Collins Sitler spent 42 years as an educator, finishing her career with 20 years in the English Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her academic articles have appeared in teacher education publications, such as English Journal and Language Arts. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in the local journal The Loyalhanna Review. Her nonfiction essay “Grieving Ceremonies” appears as a chapter in Western Pennsylvania Reflections: Stories from the Alleghenies to Lake Erie.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Dean Hochman

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