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Slices of Life

Lighting the Candle

December 1, 2010
Dysart Reporter


Jill Pertler

I never imagined the simple task of lighting a candle could be completely overwhelming. Today I lit one candle and it took all the strength I had in me, and then some. The day started innocently enough. We went to church a custom many people follow on Sundays. Only problem was, this week we celebrated saints. At my church that means lighting a candle in remembrance of a saint in your life who has died. Last year I recall sitting in my pew. I didn't light a candle because I didn't personally know any saints who had died. I didn't realize the significance of that at the time. Six months later, my mom passed away. I don't think she saw herself as a saint. I'm not sure if any religion would consider her a saint. I certainly did. I won't go into details, but she was a wonderful mother, wife and person. She had her baggage, like we all do, but I could always count on my mom to answer the phone when I called. She put me first, or at least she made me feel like she put me first. In this day and age that means something. She understood me better, sometimes, than I understood myself. She had a sixth sense about things. Each time I got pregnant, she knew before I ever got the chance to tell her. If I ran into her a minute after finding out myself, she'd look at me with a knowing eye and ask the question: "Are you?" A person who knows you inside and out and manages to love you anyway is like the credit card commercial: priceless. My mom was priceless. Then she got Alzheimer's. And then she died. It's been six months and I thought I was doing well. I can talk about her without crying. I am starting to remember the good times. I understand grief, while infinite, is not insurmountable. But grief is a curious beast. You think you have it licked. You begin to let your guard down, but before you can catch your breath, it comes out from the shadows, swinging with both fists. That's how it felt when I had to light the candle: like an insurmountable punch in the gut. As I stood waiting for my turn, I worried about a flame catching fire on someone's clothing. Hundreds of people filled the church. There are so many good reasons not to allow hundreds of people to light hundreds of candles indoors. What were we thinking? If I'd known it was candle lighting day at church I might have skipped. Then I would have escaped grieving publicly. People would not have witnessed my tears. Then I would have missed the memories that flooded me today. I would have missed the opportunity to honor my mom with a flame representing memories of her. My turn came and my hand shook. I only hoped I wasn't going to be the one to set the church on fire. I tried not to cry and failed horribly. I attempted to wipe my tears away so no one would see, but as soon as I completed a face swipe with the back of my hand, my eyes produced even more tears. Note to self: carry a tissue in your pocket at all times. You can never predict when you'll be asked to complete a difficult task like lighting a candle. I did light the candle. I stood a moment to watch the flame. And I remembered my mom. I returned to my seat and something magical happened. Someone came to hug me. Then another. I was surrounded by support. It didn't take the sadness away, but it made it bearable, somehow. If I'd realized it was candle lighting day at church today, I might have stayed home because I thought it would be too hard. I'm glad I didn't know. I'm glad I went.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." Email her at; Follow Slices of Life on Facebook, or check out her website at



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