One Friday afternoon, as the sun was starting to set, I reached into the cabinet to find Sabbath candles. It was a few weeks after my 27-year-old daughter’s death. I could only find 5 candles, and I needed 6.
The standard number of Sabbath candles is two, but it’s a custom to add a candle with the birth of a child. So I have the set of silver candlesticks that my in-laws bought me as an engagement gift, the 3 pronged matching silver candelabra that they bought me as a gift when my triplet daughters were born, and a smaller silver candlestick that I added when my son was born.
I commented out loud that I was missing a candle and my husband asked, “Do you still light 6?” I answered him that I had given birth to 4 children, and I will always and forever light 6 candles; however, truth be told, the same thought ran through my head as well. Do I continue lighting a candle for a child who is no longer alive? Am I still considered the mother of 4 children? I ripped the cabinet apart and found a lone candle that had fallen to the bottom. I had my 6 candles after all.
For me, candle lighting has always been a time for private conversation with G-d. Over the past few years, I always began that conversation with gratitude that I still had an intact family. I was painfully aware that my daughter’s eating disorder and co-morbid depression threatened her life, and I was grateful with each passing week that she was still here with us. It was something that I didn’t take for granted, and something that I profoundly treasured while I had it, because deep inside I knew that my daughter’s life was tenuous and fragile. Each week as I lit candles, I would close my eyes for a few moments and literally count my blessings. Some are represented by candles, and others are not, like my sons in law and grandchildren. They are all phenomenal blessings.
The continuation of that private conversation would focus on each child as I lit “their” candle. One by one, I asked G-d to keep each child safe, and I offered a prayer specific to the needs of each of my children. It was the kind of prayer that cannot be found in a prayer book; it was intimate and intense. Those were deeply personal moments for me, moments of connection with G-d. Only after I finished my private conversation with G-d did I say the traditional blessing on the candles, almost as an afterthought.
I dreaded lighting Sabbath candles on the Friday night during shiva for my daughter. What type of conversation was I going to have with G-d now? How can I touch a match to a candle representing a child whose light has been permanently extinguished? Is there any purpose to that? What do I do with all of the hope that I held in my daughter’s recovery from her eating disorder, even when all odds were cruelly stacked against her, that hope that I shared with G-d every Friday night while asking Him for what I knew could only be defined as a miracle? How can I possibly continue to feel gratitude for what I have when my heart is shattered by what I have lost?
My private conversations with G-d during candle lighting are a little shorter these days; I lack the emotional energy for any type of real connection right now. When I get to my daughter Gavriella’s candle, I don’t know what to say to G-d, so I just speak to Gavriella instead. I tell her how much I love her and miss her, and I ask her to watch over our family.
My daughter took her own life after 13 years of valiantly struggling with her eating disorder. She lived those years in horrific pain. As her mother, part of me is relieved that she is not suffering anymore, and that her soul is free of the torture that it endured. But I can’t thank G-d for the fact that she is not in pain anymore, because that is tantamount for thanking Him that she is gone, and how can I possibly do that? I absolutely cannot. I wanted my daughter to live and I wanted her to be free of the illness and suffering that made her life a living hell, and I couldn’t have both. I wish to G-d that I could have had both.
It’s been 3 months, and I still dread that moment when I light the candle that represents my third child, who was so full of kindness, virtue, integrity, and dignity, and whose presence I miss every second of every day.
I am struggling to find the right thoughts for my new private conversations with G-d as I light candles every Friday night. It’s a work in progress. Maybe I will never find them. Either it happens organically, or it doesn’t happen at all. Regardless, there will always be 6 flames floating above my candlesticks. I will always have 4 children.