Thursday, December 20, 2012


To One In Sorrow
Let me come in where you are weeping, friend,
And let me take your hand.
I, who have known a sorrow such as yours, can understand.
Let me come in -- I would be very still beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears bring relief. Let me come in -- and hold your hand,
For I have known a sorrow such as yours,
And understand.

-Grace Noll Crowell

Like most of you, I’ve been shattered to my very core by the events that took place last Friday in Newtown, CT. There are no words any of us can offer that will help heal the deep wounds in the souls of the citizens of that poor town. 20 first graders and 6 people who work with children were killed in what should have been a safe place. A week later it’s hard to reconcile what transpired that tragic morning. 

I, of course, see this through the lens of a bereaved parent. My heart started to break open as the news unfolded and the crack has grown larger as each day has passed by. There’s a part of me that wishes I could be there to help comfort those poor parents. I want to let them know that there are so many of us out here holding them close. I want to share some of the things I’ve learned on my 26-month journey. Not because I am any sort of expert, but because I know the pain can be so intense in those early days that you really wonder if you can physically make it through. I guess I want to reassure them from one bereaved parent to another that they will survive this.

As hard as it is to imagine, I want to reassure them that they will find their way through, even though right now it feels like they are lost. Their lives will have meaning again, though it's hard to imagine it right now. They will live on to honor their child's memory, for that’s what they would want.

But right now they are in those dark, early days of mourning. I want to remind them to be gentle with themselves during these bleak days.   I remember how in those early days I would sometimes wake up in the morning and find there was this split second between sleep and consciousness before I realized that my world had completely changed. I had a love/hate relationship with that split second. I loved the all-too-brief feeling I had when first waking when I felt that all was right with the world, only to have it knocked down by our family’s new reality.

I want to tell them that everyone grieves differently, and not to be afraid of that.  I actually found this helpful. I know that in the first year my husband and I were sometimes not in the same place, but we knew that it was natural and gave each other the space we both so clearly needed. There’s also no timeline for grief, and don’t let anyone say that there is.

I want to tell them that sometimes people will say things that may sound callous or off the mark. Or, even worse, they won’t say anything at all. It’s hard to know what to say to a grieving parent. I want to tell them that they may be surprised by who comes around and who doesn't. Losing a child is every parent’s deepest fear and some people can't handle being around you. I had to learn not to take it too personally. Because what I did discover is that there are many people who will drop everything and be there just when you most need them. Sometimes it’s surprising who they are. They will drop a meal off or offer to pick something up at the store for you or take a walk or just sit with you. Sometimes all you want is someone to sit with you.

Some people say that time heals. I don't know about that. I'm only a little more than two years into this journey, so perhaps it's too early to tell. But what I can tell the parents of Newtown is that the jagged edges of grief that are cutting so deeply into your souls will round out and will be less sharp. The pain won't always be as acute. I want to tell them they will eventually be able to get through a day without crying.

Finally I want to reassure the parents that their children made a difference in the world in the short time they were here. They mattered and will continue to matter.  We need to tell our children’s stories and remember their laughter and their smiles. We need others to remember them too. If there’s anything I’d want to share with all the citizens of Newtown is to continue to talk about these amazing 20 children and 6 staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Say their names. Tell their stories. Look at their pictures. Memories are all we have now, and it’s important to keep them alive.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Candle Lighting across the World

It is better to light the candle than curse the darkness.  Eleanor Roosevelt

I've been thinking about the significance of candle lighting, and how it is a part of so many different cultures. In Judaism alone, every week we light Shabbat candles to usher in the Sabbath on Friday evening, and light a braided Havdalah candle at its conclusion on Saturday night. After a loved one has died, we light a special Yahrtzeit candle that stays lit for a week and we light a memorial candle every year on the anniversary of our loved one's death. The glow from a candle can help shed a little light onto our darkest moments. Its flame is thought to represent the human soul and reminds us of both the fragility and beauty of life. Like us, some candles last a long time while others are short lived; but all eventually fade away.

This Sunday, December 9th, as we gather to celebrate the second night of Chanukah, my family will also be lighting a remembrance candle for Matthew. For this Sunday, bereaved families across the world  will be lighting candles in a Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony to commemorate our children who have passed too early. I had never heard of this until the first December after Matthew died in 2010, and I think it's a lovely way to honor our children.

This is the 16th anniversary of the Worldwide Candle Lighting started by Compassionate Friends to remember and honor those children who have died. Held on the 2nd Sunday of December, it offers a chance for parents to stop and reflect upon their children's lives prior to entering into what can be a terribly difficult period for families-the holiday season.

Lighting commences at 7:00 pm local time and continues for an hour. It starts in New Zealand and circles the globe one time zone after another creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light. This is believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on earth. Bereaved parents all over the world will be lighting candles  to remember their beloved children. Some will do it in the quiet of their homes; others will come together in candle lighting ceremonies. If you are interested in finding out where the closest ceremony to you is, here's a link to the Compassionate Friends page.

As we move towards the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year, I find myself coming home from work and lighting candles around my house. Their illumination gives me hope, and reminds me that it is possible to light up even the darkest of nights.  Their glow casts a warmth into the room far beyond the reach of their tiny flames. So for those of us mourning the passing of a child, we stand in solidarity on Sunday night when we light the candles in the blessed memory of our beloved children. 
Havdalah Ceremony at Matthew's Bar Mitzvah