The road trip to visit family had been long, but we were home at last. I stood in the kitchen, surveyed the chaos and wondered where to begin. The counter was cluttered with the piles of unread newspapers and mail that had arrived in our absence and the remains of the picnic lunch we ate on the road. I lifted a large cooler from beside the sink and placed it on the floor to unpack as my daughter walked into the kitchen. She leaned against the counter and plucked a small candle from the midst of the clutter – a candle that bore the imprint of a tiny child’s hand on the side.
“What is this?” she asked me.
“It’s a candle your aunt gave me,” I responded. She held the candle as she listened to the story of Frankie and his birthmother, a woman who knew she would not live to see her baby grow into a boy. So, before his birth she packed a bag for him. Along with his clothes she included an empty bottle of her perfume so that he would forever remember the scent of his mother. Frankie’s adoptive parents had the candle made in that scent and were selling it to raise money to feed hungry Haitian children.
My daughter listened thoughtfully as she inhaled the aroma of the unlit candle. Then she began to run her fingers along the top before pressing them to her nose to breathe in the scent more deeply. Familiar waves of grief and longing passed behind her eyes- deep, deep sadness.
“This candle smells like the orphanage,” she said.
The perfume Frankie’s mother wore must have been a popular one in Haiti. The nannies entrusted with my daughter’s care must have worn it too. Tears silently began to fill her eyes as she ran her fingers gently across the surface of the candle over and over again. It is a mystery, this grief, an incongruence I have learned to accept. The years she waited for a family were filled with grief and cavernous longing, but sometimes she still misses the orphanage. That in-between waiting place where she said goodbye to one life to enter another was part of who she was and all she would become. Frankie’s candle smelled like home.
She took one last sniff of the candle and then placed it on the kitchen counter before turning to wrap her arms tightly around my waist and bury her face in my chest. I held her silently because she has taught me there are moments when grief is too sacred for words; there are times when the best gift love can give is shared sorrow wrapped in silence.
Too often it seems we feel some compulsion to offer gems of wisdom in the midst of grief as if learning a wonderful lesson could heal the deepest, most rending wounds of the soul. Yet, Romans 15:15 simply instructs us to “mourn with those who mourn.”
It is the simplest and most difficult of commandments. Shared mourning is infinitely more painful and messy than offering a succinct catchphrase. But it follows the model of Christ.
After Lazarus’ death, Jesus’ first interaction with Mary and Martha was simply to weep with them (John 11:35). His example challenges us to enter into the suffering of others with the simplest of gifts: listening ears, warm embraces, shared tears, and tender prayers. When we do this we become the felt presence of Jesus to the grieving. It is here that hearts find the room to heal – as we mourn with those who mourn.Leave a Comment