Sunday, December 14, 2008

Todd's candle

The following is a portion of one mother’s beautiful story I discovered in a bereavement newsletter of how she thinks about and remembers her son during the holidays and all year long. I dedicate this week’s selection to her and all bereaved parents.

“Each night as darkness settles over our home, a little candle begins flickering in the east window of our staircase landing. The tiny light burns until dawn and then silently is quenched with the rising sun. This is my son’s light. About a year after Todd died, a suggestion was made to me to place a candle in the window for the holidays, as I had no inclination to decorate.

I placed a candle there, and I have now replaced that candle with yet another candle. This is Todd’s candle…this is Todd’s light.

Todd’s candle has a Victorian appearance and will burn steady or flicker. When the darkness comes forth, Todd’s candle begins its nightly vigil…a vigil that will not end until I am dead.

Although this is a small gesture, it has deep meaning for me. Sometimes I awaken in the middle of the night and walk into the atrium at the foot of the steps by the light of Todd’s candle. I’ll grab a glass of water and watch the candle flicker. Other times in the early evening, when only a reading lamp is lit in the living room, I will look into the atrium. Todd’s light shines. I feel as if he is with me somehow, in the light of this little candle. I think about him, his life, his joys, his sorrows, his immense capacity to love and to laugh. I feel a deep closeness to my son that cannot be explained to anyone but those who have lost a child. I understand that there is much peace and solace in keeping my child in my heart and life and in establishing my own private rituals of remembrance.

Leaving a candle in the window has been an American tradition since the Colonial Era. The candle symbolizes the warmth and security of the family home and its message is loyalty to a family member who is not present. So, it is fitting that Todd’s candle shines each night…reminding all that he is absent from our home, but not from our hearts.

Each of us has a ritual of remembrance of our child. Some of us have consciously established this. Others have unconsciously done so. But there is a ritual that brings our child close to us, only to us. Our rituals are a very personal choice. I chose not to share my ritual for 2 ½ years. Then one day a child who lives across the street asked me about the candle. I told her that it is my son’s candle. She asked if he was in Iraq. “No, I said, he’s in heaven.”

A momentary look of fright passed over her face, and then she smiled. “I thought you had kids. You act like a mom.” Her innocent comment about me “acting like a mom” once again reinforced the fact that we will always be parents. Those of us who have children who have died will always be parents to those children. That role has shaped who we are, and intensified it more with the death of our precious child.

This is one element of losing a child that escapes the general population. If you have not lost a child, you don’t understand, you can’t understand the feelings and emotions that run so deeply in our psyches and our souls…We know what pure and overwhelming grief really is.

When I gaze at Todd’s candle now, I remember his life, the security he felt within these walls, the growing up years, the love, loyalty and emotional stability he experienced as a child which enabled him to become a man of courage, self confidence and gentleness in the face of life’s worst and best.

Todd’s candle is one way to tell him that I love him as only a mother can love…unconditionally and forever. And I will always remember. I will always be Todd’s mom.

I have found that being a parent is a lifetime journey…even when our children are not with us on life’s road. As parents we define ourselves as interwoven with the fabric of our children’s lives. We always remember.”

by Annette Mennen Baldwin from Katy, Texas

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