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Light in the darkness


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The American Conservative:

For some years now, it has been a Christmas Eve tradition in my family for my mother and my sister Ruthie to go to the Starhill Cemetery, the country graveyard near our family home, and light a candle on each grave. A time-consuming task, but a labor of love and communal memory (because they lit a candle on each and every grave, not just the graves of family members) by Mama and Ruthie. I’ve never seen this with my own eyes, because it has been many years since I’ve been here on Christmas Eve, but I could easily imagine how beautiful it was, given the deep night blanketing the graves so far from the lights of town.

This year, Ruthie lies in the graveyard, having died from cancer in September. My mother was too sad to honor the dead this Christmas Eve, given that her own daughter was now among them. The tradition was to end.

My mother and father stopped by our house in town on the way to evening services at the Methodist Church. Earlier in the day, they told me that they were planning to join us at a family Christmas Eve get-together at my cousin’s house, but when they stopped by late this afternoon, I could tell that they were just too down. They were probably going to go home after church and go to bed.

While they were at services, I drove out to their place in the country to fetch some Santa presents from Daddy’s barn. When I turned onto their road, the sight of a couple hundred pinpricks of light in the graveyard startled me. It looked like fireflies hovering close to the ground. Mama had lit the candles after all! I thought. I wonder why she didn’t tell me? I was going to call her and congratulate her, but I knew she was in church, and couldn’t take the call.

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