46: The Yahrzeit Miracle

46: The Yahrzeit Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

The Yahrzeit Miracle

Angels are never too distant to hear you.

~Author Unknown

I turned the calendar page to the month of April. This month it would be a whole year. I shuddered, still reeling from the entire experience. It seemed like it just happened. How could it be a whole year since my brother Louis died?

Louis, my only sibling, was born with Down syndrome. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I took my role as big sister very seriously. I helped my brother learn to tie his shoelaces, taught him the alphabet and sat in front of the clock with him for endless hours until he could tell time. Often, too, I would chaperone his play dates with schoolmates, keeping score at dominoes or calling out numbers for a game of Bingo. One year, I even hosted a Christmas carol sing-along for my brother and a few of his friends where I accompanied their sincere voices on the piano. I still remembered it so well. It was a night of pure enthusiasm all the way around.

The connection my brother and I shared never wavered throughout the years and became even stronger after our mother’s passing when I became his legal guardian. Though I had since married and moved out of the family home and Louis had moved into a community residence that he shared with five other special-needs adults, I would take my brother out for lunch and on the errand or activity of his choice every week. In return, Louis was sure to phone me each day. I also accompanied him on his numerous doctors’ appointments. We had been through a lot of health crises together, Lou and I — a broken elbow, his hernia surgery, and pacemaker surgery, to name a few.

That was why his passing cut so deeply at my heart. I knew for several months that my brother had not been feeling well. His hearty appetite waned. He became pale and thin. When I took him to the beach that summer, he refused to swim in the ocean — something he looked forward to each year — napping instead on a lounge chair and asking to go home early. I took him from one medical specialist to another. The closest I got to a definitive diagnosis was anemia. The rest of the symptoms were written off to aging. He was, after all, close to fifty years old.

Then one day, he stopped eating altogether. When questioned by his aide at the residence, he told her matter-of-factly, “I’m dying.” She called me that night and the next morning we took him back to his doctor again. He took one look at my brother, phoned some associates at the local hospital and arranged for Louis to be admitted immediately. By the end of the week Louis was gone — a week before his fiftieth birthday and two days before the big party I had planned for him. The cause — a very rare, difficult to detect, aggressive form of lymphoma.

I put on a brave face for those around me, yet inside I was torn apart. Decisions about his care had been entrusted to me and I had failed him. I knew he hadn’t been well and scolded myself for not doing enough to ensure a proper diagnosis had been secured while treatment could have still been an option. Some days, I tried to find comfort in the fact that, despite his disability, Louis had had a good life and had accomplished everything we all hope for on this earth. He had a small job in which he took pride, had won sports trophies, lived in a lovely home, became an artist who crafted beautiful paintings and collages, and had friends. In the last few years he had even found love when he met his girlfriend, a delightful young lady, at his art program. Together, they would sit side-by-side searching magazines for just the right photos to add to Louis’s collages. I believe those were the happiest times of his life.

Well, I thought, as I looked at the calendar, a life like that needs to be honored. I decided that his anniversary needed to be commemorated in some way. But how? The grief and guilt were still too raw for me to include anyone else in my plans. Whatever I decided to do in his honor needed to be done privately, just between Louis and me. I turned the idea around in my head for several days. Then the answer came.

I had often heard my Jewish friends speak of the Yahrzeit tradition used to honor loved ones on the anniversary of their passing. Although a Christian, I’ve always had a respect and interest in Jewish tradition. It is, after all, the root of my own religion. So I did some Internet research. I discovered that Yahrzeit, from the Yiddish word meaning “year time,” involved lighting a special twenty-four-hour candle on the anniversary of a person’s passing along with recitation of certain prayers. One website even suggested that the spirit of the deceased comes back to its loved ones for that twenty-four-hour period. Oh how I wished my brother’s spirit could come back to me, if only for a moment, to let me know that he was well and happy wherever he was.

Fueled with enthusiasm, I set out to purchase a Yahrzeit candle, which all websites indicated could be easily found in any supermarket. Once there, I surveyed the aisles, grabbing a few groceries. Suddenly, from the other side of the shelves, I heard a familiar voice. I recognized it immediately — my brother’s girlfriend. I turned the corner quickly, excited to see Louis’s dear friend. I just had to say “hi” to her. Yet as I approached her, I became so overcome with emotion that I dropped my groceries and left the store empty-handed. I drove home, sobbing.

Now I had even more reason to scold myself. I had failed my brother again, I thought as I turned the key in my front door. I couldn’t even buy a candle in his honor. I stepped into the warmth of my sun porch with my head low. There, I saw something amazing. The peace lily that had been the centerpiece at my brother’s memorial service was in full bloom, with not one but several white lilies standing at attention. It was the first time the plant had flowered. I was still shaking my head as I walked into the kitchen. And there, I saw something even more amazing. On the shelf where I kept my brother’s prized basketball trophy stood a white candle. On its label was printed “Yahrzeit.”

I couldn’t logically explain these happenings. Yet, seeing my brother’s girlfriend, the lily plant in full bloom and the mysteriously appearing candle all pointed to one thing as far as I was concerned. My brother’s spirit did not require a special candle to be lit or prayer to be said in order to be with me. It was with me always, as I had been with him. Louis was fine, wherever he was. And so was I.

~Monica A. Andermann

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