Twenty-Four Hours of Light

Today it is ‘World Wide Candle Lighting Day’. From seven to eight tonight, when somewhere else in the world it is already eight o clock, in the townhall of my city (and in a lot of places elsewhere in my time zone) candles will be lit. And when it is eight o clock here, somewhere else in the world it is seven o’clock and there will be candle lightning there. And so, hour after hour, over the whole world there will be candles burning for twenty-four hours in a row in remembrance of our deceased children.

I was joining this event last year with my family and it was a very special moment. It was special to be together with other parents who lost a child. It was special to experience this with the six of us. And it was special because during the lighting of the candles, the names of the children we lost were called.

We plan to go again this evening. It is so nice to hear Amanda’s name spoken out loud. It is so weird to notice what that does to us. I think it is because when her name is called, her existence is acknowledged. And she is in my system, in my head, but speaking about her doesn’t come naturally. Because no one sees her and I can’t tell if she already starts to talk, that she has the same curly hair as her sister had and where I bought her little shoes.

And it is so good to do this with the six of us. I wrote somewhere earlier: mourning together is almost impossible and I still think it is true. When I don’t need to cry, someone else does. When I am having a hard time, someone else thinks: ‘please, not now!’ And this is okay and understandable, but it makes ‘mourning together’ something that just is not possible.

Mourning is something individual, while in the meantime we long for contact, also in our grief. That is why such a moment, going to the townhall together, write down her name, hear her name called and cry (or not), is an important and precious ritual to express the sorrow and the connection we all have, even though we are very different in how we process this.

Today it is World Wide Candle Lighting Day and I think this comes in a good time. Last week we celebrated ‘Sinterklaas’, a Dutch tradition where we give each other gifts wrapped in a craft with a poem. And actually more gifts are given. As I was preparing the gifts for my children, the pain of loss came up now and then. I do not have gifts for her. All the gifts I bought are for children above nine. And I wonder how she is doing. If God is spoiling her. And I realize that the love she receives now, is so much bigger than gifts can ever communicate.

And after World Wide Candle Lighting Day, quite soon comes Christmas, where everything revolves around a baby. God who became helpless to show us His love. The Almighty who became powerless to draw us close to His heart. In our family, everyone gets a book on December 25. A tradition we copied from the church we grew up in (In Holland it was not common to give gifts with Christmas, we do that on December 5 with Sinterklaas). We go for a long walk and we do a grill party at home. We visit our family. And again we will do this without her. Especially on these special days, the loss feels extra heavy.

Then we will celebrate New Year’s Eve. We think about what we can thank and pray for. We write everything down in two columns on a big piece of paper: ‘we thank for 2018 …’ and ‘we pray for 2019…’. And then there is again a lot where we are thankful for, there are prayers answered and we look forward for what is coming. And there are prayers unanswered, longings unfulfilled. The missing of Amanda has not diminished. Some problems are much more severe and persistent than we hoped. And we lay that down too at the One who oversees it all and knows what He is doing.

I like it that between all those special days, there is World Wide Lighting Candle Day. To lit a candle, to hear Amanda’s name called, to cry together or not. Because she indeed is always an invisible but tangible part of our family.

Published in Dutch on December 4, 2018

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