We drove down to visit my mom and my sister and family yesterday, just for the day. Last night, the first of the holiday, we all lit Chanukah licht together. My brother-in-law and their four older kids, and Shayna, Shalom, Ben and I. Each of us making the three blessings in turn, lighting our individual candle or oil wick. Finally, nine menorahs sat on the table by the window, a lone flame burning in each.
The scene filled me with such pride and amity, I dared hope no somberness would intrude to blemish my joy. But as we began the Maoz Tzur hymn, I felt the all too familiar lump rise in my throat, the tears begin to sting my eyes. I quietly edged away into another room, not wanting to dampen the children's festive mood, reluctant for even my nears and dears to see my grief breach its containment.
Debbie found me by the kitchen door, knowing at a glance, as usual, everything I was feeling. She gave my forearm a loving squeeze. "I know, me too" was all she needed to say.
Now we are preparing for the second night of the holiday, the first time lighting at our own home, where Aaron's absence will all the more conspicuous and acute. Will I be able to keep the holiday joy in the foreground this time, and my sadness at bay? I don't know.
But I pray that I can keep in mind that Aaron may no longer be visible among us, but neither is he truly gone. Somewhere, in a far deeper and more spiritual sense than those he left behind, I think Aaron will be lighting his Chanukah licht tonight; perhaps guided by my father and grandfather, who both preceded him into the next world by only a single Chanukah.
And if I can't hold back my sorrow again tonight, if I can't help but be profoundly aware of the menorah that is glaringly absent from our table, I will at least try to smile through my tears, and remember that Aaron's flame is really not missing.