I'm exhausted, Q said as he drove me to the train. It was already evening, but I still had one more engagement before the day was done.
I'll bet you are. I knew he must be bone-weary. Yesterday afternoon was the Compassionate Friends' annual candle lighting service, held the second Sunday of every December. It is a simple thing: poems and memories, a candle for each child who has died, precious photographs brought and displayed.
What a beautiful boy!....She looks like just like you....He's the second from the left, holding his catcher's mitt...Such a lovely bride!...Look at that smile!...Here he is at graduation...Here she is with her sister two Christmases ago, and that's my mom with them...
The parents admire one another's photos, listen to stories they've heard before, stories from young lives that will not be making any more stories. The stories they already have will be the only stories they ever get, and so they tell them and retell them.
Most other people -- friends, relatives -- have moved on. The bereaved parents themselves have moved on, in fact: life just moves on, and you move with it. But the dead don't get a chance to move on, not here, and so the ones who loved them most of all cherish the lost world they lived in. It is good to be among other people who know what that's like.
Each parent lights a candle and says something. Anything. Mostly they speak to the child who has died -- We miss you...We love you...You're always with me...
Or maybe they don't say anything. That's another good thing about Compassionate Friends: you don't have to speak if you can't find words, and everybody understands.
The candles burn throughout the afternoon, while the parents have coffee and cake and talk. They talk and they laugh -- this is not just a sob fest. It isn't just about death, not by any means. It is mainly about life and love, about the tremendous blessing a child is, not matter what. No matter what.
I wasn't there this year. I was on my way home from one engagement in Connecticut, on my way to another one in New York. In between, I put the Christmas lights up on the porch, so that Q would see them when he turned into the driveway. So that the house would look beautiful, would glow in the darkness, would warm his heart when he came in.
Hours later, I returned home myself, too tired for supper. He was still up. Our two candles from the Compassionate Friends service still burned in their little glass holders -- he had lit them both, one for Ross, one for David. We talked about the service, how it had gone, who had been there.
It was dark outside. Inside, all the lamps were turned off. But still, light was everywhere: the Christmas lights outside, the candles inside. Clearly, the light of Christ was coming into the world.