Although I otherwise have no religion, I retain the Jewish ritual of yahrzeit, burning a candle each year to commemorate the death of loved ones.
I'm pretty sure that if I followed Torah teachings, I'm supposed to burn candles only for a parent, sibling, husband or child, but I ignore that and include everyone I love who has died.
In my late years now, that makes for a busy yahrzeit schedule, particularly at this time of year. For some reason, December and January are heavily populated with dead friends.
What I like about the rite is that during a 24-hour period, every time I walk past or catch a glimpse of the candle, I think for awhile about that person.
Sometimes my mind takes off into reveries of events I haven't recalled in a long time. And sometimes when that happens - many years, even decades after someone's death - it is suddenly as if I only just heard that my friend has died and it feels again that the hurt will kill me.
But, of course, it does not.
Last year, when I was reading Bringing Up the Bodies, the second volume of Hillary Mantel's stunningly good trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, I ran across this passage which speaks to the pain of grief more eloquently than I can:
”You think you might die of grief – but the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your rib cage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs.
“You must thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh and gives you one of stone.”
I am grateful for this necessary grace that carries me through the heaviest stages of grief and which returns with additional balm for the unexpected recurrences.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Diane Johnson: Sticks and Stones