First Birthday


My sister’s birthday is coming up in April.

This will be the first time in over sixty years that I will not buy a card, select a gift, or have dinner with her. No candles, no cake, no celebration. The following month, in May, I will observe the first anniversary of her death—and then I most likely will light a candle, known in the Jewish tradition as a yahrzeit candle. This type of candle can burn for over twenty-four hours, and is customarily lit at sundown on the eve of the anniversary of a loved one’s passing.

It’s interesting that tradition dictates the lighting of candles to honor both life and death. This year, had she lived, we wouldn’t have lit sixty-seven candles.

Only a single symbolic one, probably.

Had she lived, we would’ve taken her out to dinner– and at the restaurant  there would have been a candle in a piece of chocolate cake, brought to the table by a member of the wait staff shielding the small flame with a cupped hand. A discreet word at the beginning of the meal would’ve alerted the staff to plan this predictable surprise for her. We did the same thing every year.

I’ve decided to go ahead and light one of those long-lasting candles on this first birthday without her. I don’t consider it an inappropriate use. The candle has no idea whether it’s being lit for one occasion or the other. Frankly, I would rather commemorate the day her life began this first year than the day her life ended.

Over the twenty-four hours, I’ll think of her, as I do every day, and remind myself of the many celebrations we shared in the past and all the good years she had.

I’ll celebrate her life and watch the flame as it flickers and burns for the day— one more day in the long year since she’s been gone.

As the candle burns down, I’ll gear myself up to face the next day, the next week, the next year. . .





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