the candle burns
our house is blanketed in sadness. layers and layers of sadness. landscapes of uncharted sadness: a son without the father he adored, grandsons without the grandpa who told them knock-knock jokes and reveled in their every triumph. and all of us — since sunday, when news of one death tumbled atop another — without a lifelong friend who, across the decades, animated our dinner table, our hearts, and taught us fearlessness in the face of whatever life hurled our way.
in five short days, we lost two of the dearest souls in our deepest closest orbit.
and so, at our house, sadness ebbs and flows, one minute casting shadow dark and dense; the next, scuttling off, clearing space for light to fill the room. we are wrapped in varied textures of mourning — we mourn a life lived long, and another one snuffed out far too soon. grief catches us by the heart, not letting go. grief leaves us gasping. grief, as it so often does, so especially when it’s just cracked open once again, plays tricks and mind games; we snap our heads and imagine the voice, the someone we love, tumbling through the door, calling on the telephone, springing back to life inside our nighttime’s tossing and turning.
so the candle burns. it burns till the last one of us tiptoes off to bed, and from the moment one of us shuffles into the pre-dawn kitchen.
in its mystical flickering, no matter the shadow cast or beyond the snuffing out of sunbeam at day’s end, it holds me, presses its light against my heart, and reminds me, hour after hour, moment after moment, that souls burn on. that the essence of who we loved still fills the room, is still here to brush up against, to illuminate and magnify the beautiful and the broken.
i’ve never before had a shiva candle burning in my home. and i have found unexpected comfort, caress, in the faint light it casts, hour after hour.
the minute he tumbled in the door from the airport sunday night, my husband pulled from his pocket a small glass jar that held a candle, a yizkor candle, one his mama had handed him as he kissed her and said goodbye in the old white clapboard house by the pond in new jersey, where we had just been joined in a circle of prayer and poetry and remembering.
the candle was a jewish observance of death my husband intended to observe. he didn’t wait before reaching for the kitchen drawer that holds the matches. he struck the match, lit flame to wick, and began the prayer of mourning, the mourner’s kaddish.
the next day, a gray and misty morning, i called the synagogue to ask if they might have another candle, since this short squat one he’d carried home was only meant to burn for 26 hours. and i knew — in that way you know without words spoken — that my husband wanted longer, wanted flame to burn as long as it might light the darkness.
the synagogue had plenty. and so, with rain spitting down on me, i climbed the synagogue steps and stumbled into the embrace of our rabbi, who could not have been kinder, in handing me the candle, the prayer card, the book for the house of mourning. and, that night, when my husband with the heavy heart came home, we lit the seven-day shiva candle, the one that now is burning, that could be burning round-the-clock (except that we’re afraid — despite rabbinic insistence otherwise — of our house going up in shiva flames).
every time i swirl through the kitchen, there it is. flickering. when i’m alone in early morning darkness, there it is, casting golden glow across the maple table, illuminating one small corner of the room. so, too, after nightfall, when i’m the last one up the stairs, when darkness shrouds us once again.
it’s a simple remembrance, yet profound. once again, a quiet nod to the psyche and the soul. a timeless knowing that with death comes darkness, comes a time when one’s whole landscape shifts, and for a time, you cannot find your way. there is no compass out of grief.
not a night has passed in this long last week when our tenderhearted boy, the younger one, the one who’s never known death to brush so close against his heart, not one night that he’s not shed tears upon tears. he has sobbed. and shaken with sadness. so have i. i find myself awash in tears. out of the blue. unstoppable. there is no compass out of grief. no torch to light the way.
and yet, i catch a glimpse of the soft pure incandescence burning from the shiva candle, and i feel as if some tender soul has brushed up beside me. whispered. squeezed me by the hand.
we are cloaked in shades of sadness. we are re-charting the landscape, finding it filled with deep dark holes, ones we tumble down, ones that catch us breathless. we are reaching for the light. we are remembering. we pore over pictures, over words typed and texted just weeks ago. we riffle through our memories, our hearts.
the absence is vast, is limitless.
the soft glow of flame to wick — reminding us that the soul, like the flame, strives heavenward, brings light to darkness — it is constant, and it does not dim.
nor does our love for the ones we lost. may their memory be a blessing. forever and ever. amen.
i’d wanted so very deeply to write a love letter to my beloved friend now gone. but privacy was everything to her, and privacy i will preserve for her. i will, though, post a few pictures — ones already seared in my mind and my heart. two from years and years ago, the first time she came to meet little teddy, just newly born, and one she sent me just this past summer, from sunrise at the shore of lake michigan, where she’d gone for sunrise salutation. finally, because it’s out in the world, an audio tribute to my beautiful friend, from her dear friend, the brilliant writer, alex kotlowitz. savor these moments with my friend, and if you’ve a spare, offer up a prayer for her dearest tenderest circle, her beloved husband of 21 years today, and their two beautiful children, one of whom is the curly-haired beauty at the elbow of and cradled in his mama’s arms in the photos below.
in your hours of grief, what lit your way?
I’m so sorry for your losses. In my grief, the lights are the people I love and my faith. The brightest light for me is the loving support of my husband. Another light is recently discovering support and connections online. Another light is music! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and pains. Sharing helps all of us not feel so alone I think. May you and your loved ones be comforted.
dear snowdroplets — first, i love your name. i love that you point to dots of light all around, a safety net of love. or lifelines, perhaps. i am touched and always amazed that you found your way to the chair, as we call it. and that you found good company. thank you for brining your heart to the table….
May their memory be a blessing forever !!!! That is truly the most beautiful thought!! To have lived your life so that your memory is a blessing, is a pretty beautiful thought!! My heart is aching for your family ! I love that your heart knew Blair needed a large shiva candle to mourn his dear father!! I loved learning about Blair’s darling father and the picture of him with the twinkle in his eyes!! Oh I can only imagine how he would entertain you all around the table !!Oh I bet the boys adored him!! How lucky that you all were so blessed to have had this man in your life! To know that love! How blessed were you , B , to have a father and father in law , both so lovely and both would have been fast friends!! I hear your pain in your words!! Then to loose your darling friend, whose radio talks I’m anxious to hear! I am so happy Will chose to be home this year!! He needed to be there with you all and that is a blessing too!! Will keep your sweet family close to my heart and I send the most heart felt condolences to your family ! Please let Blair know how sorry I am that he lost his sweet father! Love you, sweetie!!! ️xoxo me
Sent from my iPhone
thank you, my beautiful mary, for understanding the whole and the depth of it. thank you for intuitively knowing that we feel so washed in the blessing of willie being home in this particular passage of our lives. i cannot tell you the joy he brings to teddy, and the tenderness. he has a bear of a chest to fall into — one just like my own papa’s — and he wears it so magnanimously, inviting teddy in whenever he needs to be wrapped against the ticking of a powerful heart……i do think both papas would have loved each other. and i know at least one of us mentioned that they might finally be having a grand getting to know you, after all these years, up where angels romp….
So sorry to hear of the loss of Blair’s father.
What “lit my way”?
After the death of my father, I just sat down and started writing…thought after thought and memory after memory…the more I wrote, the more my mind was filled…at times and could not write fast enough so simply wrote down a reminder note to revisit later. 14 years later, I still add to that list on occasion…still remembering the wonderfulness of that man…my dad.
beautiful. i think i write too. and write and write. bless you for wandering over to the chair, and leaving word….
I lost a friend to a car accident when I was in high school. I still think of him today and always wonder who he would have been. That was my first experience with death but I think I was still too young to really ponder it. My Granny passed away 10yrs ago and the hurt I had then burned to my very core. She was 91. She had lived a great life and taught me to love and was my biggest cheerleader. Her death was unexpected even at 91. I still cry today thinking of her. But in these deaths I realize that we were so lucky to be part of their lives. It was Gods gift to us. Even though your friend died way to young and suffered more than anyone should, she was your gift and you were hers, I can tell by your posts that you both loved eachother very much and were therefor each other in good and bad. That is Gods gift. Not everyone has that type of friendship nor does everyone have a special connection with their father in law. You were blessed. May you find peace in the memories of these two people.
bless you. thank you…..bless your dear dear Granny…..
Even in deepest grief, my lovely Barbara, you are a poet. . . I so love the Shiva Candle and the comfort its flickering flame brings… My heart aches for you and your precious family, who now mourn two completely wonderful, irreplaceable people – your beloved papa/father-in-law/grandpa, and your cherished, long time friend…. Through your vivid descriptions, we at the chair have had a chance to catch a glimpse of the magnificence of both their lives. Each of them lived brilliantly, beautifully, joyfully. How blessed you are to have shared love and laughter and lively conversations with them over the years… To each of your hurting hearts, I can only offer my own heartfelt sympathy and the assurance of my constant thoughts and prayers. Sending you love, wishing you peace in the love you shared, the love that lives on, always… xoxoxox
“may their memory be a blessing. forever and ever. amen.”
sweet amy, sweet sweet amy…..we were so blessed, and what a blessing if the goodness of our two loves has seeped out through the words and you’ve glimpsed their irreplaceability! i am beginning to feel shy that i’ve brought too much sadness to the table. it’s all part of the tapestry of life, and so many of us have rubbed our fingers raw against the threads of mourning, of grief. i do know the healing will come, and we’ll carry on reshaped from who we were before. i do believe the most powerful lasting gift is to live more emphatically, embodying the best of what our beloveds have given us. ceci taught me courage. so so much courage. i feel like i could muster up whatever it takes to stare down whatever comes my way — and i will channel her indomitable determination. art taught tender sweetness, a lesson his son shows me day after day, hour upon hour……and most blessedly it’s been learned already and deeply by the sons of that son…..
thank YOU my beautiful friend for being here in a million ways — spoken, and unspoken. xoxoxo
thank all of you who slide into these blessed chairs across the arc of time…..
lighting a candle for you….
“a timeless knowing that with death comes darkness, comes a time when one’s whole landscape shifts, and for a time, you cannot find your way. there is no compass out of grief.” This is already filed in my “quotes” file … I will reference it to many over the coming years. So true.
My go-to in grief has been Anna Quindlen’s 1994 article (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/04/opinion/public-private-life-after-death.html), especially this line when she supposes she might be asked: “When does it stop hurting?” we would have to answer, in all candor, “If it ever does, we will let you know.” To lose one is devastating; to lose two loves in such close succession is de-compassing — as you say, the grief feels vast, limitless. All you can do is keep weeping — every tear a blessing of remembrance — and hold tightly to all the hands reached out to you, until you feel strong enough again to stand on your own. Love to all of you, love, love, love, and peace and comfort. Ah, bam, I am so very sorry and weep with you …
and now i have added that beautiful essay to my keep-forever file. especially this line: “Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.”
grief becomes loss, lasts always…..though it changes in form, and becomes softer, at least over the decades since the loss of my father, when i was too young, that softening has been a godsend. i can tell stories of him, and laughter fills me now instead of heartache and tears. some moments, out of the blue, the anguish comes, but now that’s less often than i ever could have imagined. and my trajectory, of course, is only mine. everyone’s follows its own particular uncharitable path…..
thanks for sending me to anna Q. and thanks for reaching out your heart. i know so deeply how many of us are trying to navigate the landscape of grief….i am hardly alone. xoxox
When the candle finally goes out, may love and friendship take over to light your way. Alone, you most certainly are not!
Yit-gadal v’yit-kadash…….To discover that the Mourner’s Kaddish was, indeed, praises to God did it for me…not an emphasis on death, but a reaching out to that hallowed place in love, adoration and thanksgiving. Bam
dear, it never fails…. your are moved and across the miles, I hear and am
compelled to be seated at your table. Time pulling me away for a commitment, but je reviens…. I will meditate upon your words and find an
empty seat another time. In the interim, ,my heartfelt condolences to you
Blair, and Family. Prayers for Blair’s Dad and your long embraced Friend.
Leave it to you to find me a source for the longer burning yahrzeit candle….
You are so special, Bam love. soon, soon…..
bless your heart, dear mary, bless your deeply understanding heart….