Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eternal Flame

“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

I’m not sure when or where I first read the analogy of comparing a mother’s ability to love more than one child to lighting candles, but I think it was in a woman’s magazine years before I had any children.

As the story goes, an older child felt jealous of a new sibling and was acting out her frustration. The mother took the child aside and asked, “Let me show you how Mommy loves you as much as ever but also has plenty of love for your new brother (sister).”

Holding the older child’s hand, the mother walked to a table on which several candles stood. The mother lit one candle. “Imagine this candle is me, your mommy, and the flame is all the love I have.”

The mother lifted the candle from its holder, and using that candle, lit a second one. “The flame on the second candle is the love I have for you. Look at how bright and big my love for you is! Yet the candle that stands for me still burns as brightly as ever.”

Continuing to hold the candle, the mother again used it to light a third candle. “This candle flame stands for the love I have for your baby brother.” Pointing at the candle representing the older child, the mother said, “The flame on the third candle is as bright as that on your candle, but your flame – the love I have for you – shines as brightly as ever.

“And look at me, look at my candle,” the mother said, gently directing the child to focus on the “mother” candle. “It has lit two new candles but its flame, the love I have to give, is so great that I can light, I can give my love to, all of the candles on this table and my flame will not change. I will still have as much love to give another and another and another. No matter how many candles I share my flame – my love – with, it will never change how much love I have for you.”
 This analogy works for me. The love I have for each of my children is as intense and as unique as each child, although each has had times when she or he needed more of it. With the addition of significant others and grandchildren, love continues to be shared without diminishing love for the others. What a wonderful thing.

It is easy to take a candle’s flame for granted. It continues to burn steadily. That is unless or until the wind threatens the flame or extinguishes it completely.

My children are adults and I’ve never found it to be sad or a problem that each has his or her own life. I’ve never expected each to call me every day. They don’t expect I’ll intrude or meddle, unless I’m invited to do so. (When invited physically or emotionally, I’m definitely more than willing to walk through that door!) In spite of embracing their adult selves and our “empty” nest, or perhaps because of it, my relationship with each was never in jeopardy, and the siblings only grew closer. It was a good feeling to know each new flame I’d helped light years ago had become bright and confident enough to now share his or her flame with others.
Brandon about to blow out the candle on his 35th, his last disease-free, birthday
Then the wind came. At first it seemed to be nothing more than a rather stiff breeze, ruffling one of the special flames within my family circle, but quickly moving on with all flames still burning brightly. Or, it seemed to me, each burned even more brightly and all more deeply appreciated the light and warmth of the others.

However, the wind was not finished with us. It was merely playing a cruel game.

I hope none of you must ever hover at the bedside of one of your babies, knowing his next breath may be his last. Knowing that even if the next one isn’t his last, that last breath is going to happen soon – not in years, months, weeks or days. It is going to occur within hours or, more likely, within minutes.

Brandon’s last breath literally sounded like the snuffing out of a candle. Yet in one of life’s strangest paradoxes, his flame remains as bright or brighter than it was prior to that last breath. I can’t see it as before, but I still feel and need its warmth.

That’s the thing about love. Once shared, it can never be snuffed out. It never burns down. It is the only real eternal flame. 

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