Yesterday was a day of extremes. As I finally lay my head on the pillow in the evening, I pondered the various energies of the day. The transitions between them and the lessons to be learned from it all.
I began the day with a much needed massage. It was relaxing and all about me! Something I don't do often enough. It's always interesting to find out where my trigger points have meandered to...
The middle of my day involved attending the Winter Ball. An amazing afternoon of ballroom dancing on a ginormous floor. We were dressed to the nines, along with everyone else in attendance. My man in a tux with tails and I in a black evening gown. It was an afternoon of good food, good conversation and fantastic dancing with wonderful partners as well as a chance to practice our own dancing together on a real ballroom floor. The energy of the room was upbeat, fun and elegant. Everyone was there because they loved to dance. No wallflowers there! Watching the (much) more skilled dancers was as much a treat for us as the dancing was. Everyone had smiles on their faces. Everyone was like-minded in their love of music and movement. It was nice to belong to such a fun crowd!
As I headed to the ladies room to change for our next event of the day, I could feel my mood shift to a more mellow, contemplative one. Preparing for the transition from such a fun and happy event to the one we were going to just happened without active thought. I started to become anxious about leaving so we'd not be late to our next commitment. We left our dancing friends and their fun-loving energy and we were off.
We left the winter ball to attend the Compassionate Friends Candlelight Remembrance. I didn't go last year, but had been every year prior since Meghan died. I felt really called to attend this year. I knew we'd be late and we had the OK to come just for the end as I didn't want to disrupt the process, I know how special it is. We arrived at 6:40 pm. We quietly entered the room. What a contrast. It was silent, save for the one woman who was speaking about the son she had lost, in his thirties, 14 years ago! She was tearful. Her pain was palpable. The room was full of 100 people who had all lost a child. The energy was heavy, laden with grief and sadness yet with a beautiful undercurrent of love. Those who had been there before had an ever increasing nervous tension building up to the moment of the candle lighting itself, knowing it would be the culmination of the past few hours they'd spent together remembering their own children and learning the stories of others who had lost theirs.
Normally, the event starts at 4 pm and includes dinner. Everyone places their child's picture next to their name tag on a long table across the ballroom floor. They are in alphabetical order. Next to each picture is a tea light. A centerpiece is lit first, while some recites the "We Light These Five Candles" poem. Then, each and every parent comes to the dance floor, one by one and is handed the microphone. They say their child's name. It often sparks tears out of the blue. You think you'll be fine and then, as their name starts to roll off your lips, you lose your composure. Some cannot even speak their name, the pain is too great. They start to, but then the tears. Some walk up with their spouse, their children or their siblings. My sister and I have done it in the past together.
Next, they light the tea light next to their child's photo. Every year, ornaments are donated. There is one for every child lost. Their parents hang it on the Christmas Tree. It's interesting to watch where people place their ornaments. This is followed by dinner, an opportunity to visit the table with all the photos and get to know them in a way. It's all followed by some readings and the opportunity for parents to say a few words about their child, if they wish. It's difficult for them to speak and for everyone to hear, because it's so raw and real. It's all very ritualistic the way the evening unfolds. Which is helpful and healing, but so, SO emotionally exhausting.
This is where we walked in. We waited for the woman to finish speaking and made our way to an empty table at the back of the room. Even though we were 'late', I was almost immediately invited to say Meghan's name and light her candle. I hung her new angel wing ornament, complete with bell, on the bottom right hand corner of the tree. Where we've hung it every year we've attended this ceremony. Everyone watched in silence while I did this. It was about respect and honor. Funny. No one else's ornament is ever hung there. :-)
Then it was time. A Jewish blessing/prayer with a response of "We Remember Them" is read together. Finally, it's 7 pm. Time to light the candles. The reason everyone was there. Knowing we were being joined by bereaved parents and family members all up and down the East coast in honoring our children. It's a powerful moment, personal, yet one of community. We were immediately invited to join the table next to ours. They didn't want us to be alone. Not that we really were. We did. We lit and held our tapers. "Tonight I Hold This Candle" by Alan Pederson was played. Almost immediately, the tears flowed around the room. Silence, peppered by sniffles and a few sobs. I closed my eyes. I smiled as I remembered Meg's beautiful face, her loving and wise soul, her silliness. Hot tears ran silently down my cheeks, as they always do. I felt the warmth of the flame. I basked in the glow of the candle light. I felt love, sadness, love. I saw Meg's beautiful face. I felt Joe's arm around me, his gentle kisses on the side of my head briefly. For the most part, I was aware of nothing else but my heart, My Megs and that candle. When the song ends, the lights stay dim. Silence prevails, save for a few sniffles. The candles are extinguished. Several offers of tissues are made to me. We hug total strangers.
Except they are not really strangers. We are all there for the same reason. Because we lost a child. We don't have to explain why we are there. We don't have to apologize for our tears. We can talk about our children and laugh and cry and be angry and listen to others do the same without judgement. Because we get it. No one else can possibly get it unless they lived it. It's as if we already know each other. There is a bond we have. We didn't want it, but we all share it. We hear stories of others. We laugh with them. We cry with them. We hug. We always ask their names. Most were adult children. It always strikes me how powerful and strong the grief is even decades after the loss of an adult child for some of these mothers.
I guess it just never occurred to me that it doesn't matter how old your child is. A mother's love never changes. Never lessens. Meghan is often the youngest child remembered at this event. They see her picture and they remember her. They remember the story in the paper (with the same picture). They remember me being their in previous years. They remember her beautiful face from years prior. It's always surprising to me what an impact she's had, how many people come to talk to me because of her picture.
As we left the candle ceremony and headed home, I thought about the similarities between the two events. The energy and the reasons for being there were very different, yet they were much the same. We are members of two very different communities. We are blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people for both. The sense of belonging, albeit for vastly different reasons, is comforting and uplifting. Just like at the dance event, everyone was there because they wanted to be. Like minded in purpose and movement, only this time the movement was one of ritualistic remembrance.
The dance floor the central focus of both events. One to dance, the other to honor.
Maybe next year, we'll use that dance floor at the candle ceremony to dance a dance of remembrance for my Meggie and for all the children. Right in front of their pictures and their light. More powerful than any words I could say.
Yes. Let's do that.