From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Sharing Love

Family isn’t about whose blood you have. It’s about who you care about.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone

When my son, David, was six, he got the idea that he could call heaven on his toy antique telephone. He’d pick up the earpiece and pretend to call his father, who died in a car accident when David was three, and have a one-sided, cheerful conversation about his toys, books, and Mommy.

One day he introduced a new topic. “Hi, Daddy, this is David. We met this guy, and his name is Jeff. He’s really nice,” he said. Jeff was the new man in our lives. We’d met through mutual friends, and he seemed so perfect for me and David that I wondered if I’d invented him. David was thrilled to have someone new to play with and talk to. He loved to sit on Jeff’s lap and discuss Winnie the Pooh or show him Lego creations.

One afternoon Jeff stopped at our house while David was napping after morning kindergarten. David woke from his nap and came to the door of the living room. When he saw Jeff and me hugging, he stopped abruptly, his big brown eyes startled. Then he turned and raced into the bathroom, slammed the door, locked it, and began to wail with huge heart-wrenching sobs.

I ran to the bathroom door. “David, will you let me in?” I asked softly. Sobs were the answer.

“David, I love you. Would you like me to rock you?” I asked quietly. The door unlocked but did not open. The sobs continued.

Slowly I opened the door. The little brown-haired boy wouldn’t look up, and his body was rigid.

I led him to the big gold rocker recliner in the living room. His sobs continued, quieter now, as I picked him up, sat in the rocker, and began to rock. He’d lost his dad. Now he felt he was losing his mom, too, to that big man named Jeff.

This was not a time for talking. It was a time for primitive rocking. So I rocked and rocked. And I didn’t talk and I didn’t sing. I just held tight and rocked. And I thought of all the times his father had rocked him in this chair, all the times I had nursed him there, and all the times we still squeezed together there for bedtime stories.

What could I say that would help? Could I help him understand that my loving Jeff did not mean loving him less? How could I help him understand I was not abandoning him, that he was not losing me, too?

I closed my eyes as the crying continued. Please help me know what to say, what to do, I prayed.

Suddenly an image of candles being lit came into my mind.

I whispered, “Do you want to hear a story about candles?” The little head nodded sharply but did not look up.

“Love is like a candle’s flame. If you share your candle’s light, you just get more light. If you share your love, you get more love.” This is too abstract, I fumed inwardly.

“Do you want to see how the candles’ love works?” I asked. The head nodded.

We located the birthday candles and matches in the kitchen and turned out the light. Then we sat by the kitchen table, facing each other, knees touching.

I lit a birthday candle and handed it to him. His eyes were alert but sad. “Here’s the little boy candle,” I said. “He has love.” I lit my candle from his. “Here’s the mommy candle. He shares his love with the mommy candle. Now they both have love.

“Let’s put your candle and my candle together,” I suggested. We did, and the combined flame flickered high. “Wow, they have lots of love together,” I said.

As if on cue, Jeff, who had stepped into the office to give us privacy, slipped into the kitchen and lifted David onto his lap.

I lit a third candle and handed it to Jeff. “Here’s the friend candle. The mommy candle shares some love with the friend candle. But look, she still has all her love left. . . . Let’s put all the candles together,” I said.

We touched our three candles together. The flame rose, casting a soft light on the kitchen. “Wow, look what a big love we make when we all share love together,” I said.

Jeff and I looked at each other over David’s head. Was it time to personalize the message? we asked each other’s eyes.

“David,” Jeff said quietly, daring to say the words I couldn’t yet. “Do you know who these candles are? That’s David and Mommy and Jeff.” We touched our flames together and the flame rose high again.

“We need another candle,” David said in a little voice. “Daddy.”

I lit another candle and held it about two feet away. “Here’s the daddy candle. He loves us and we love him. But we can’t go where he is in heaven, and he can’t come where we are,” I said. “But we can always remember him and love him.”

I set the daddy candle, still burning, in a cup. And we played with the other candles a bit more, moving them together, moving them apart. I explained that I would always love David, even if I loved Jeff, too. “Even if I give some love to Jeff, I still have lots of love for David, too,” I said, moving my candle from one to the other.

David was soon smiling and ready to run off and play. Jeff and I talked about how profoundly moving the candle experience had been for us. We wondered if it had helped David.

A few days later, David was pretending to talk to his father again on his toy phone. “Daddy, is it okay if I love Jeff?” he asked. He looked at me to provide the Daddy voice.

“Yes, David, that would be really nice if you could love Jeff and he could love you,” a shaky Daddy voice said. “I’ll always love you, but I can’t be with you now on Earth. So I think it’s nice if you and Mommy have other people to love and other people who love you.”

David flashed me a grin. “Thanks, Daddy,” he said, and gently hung up the phone.

Julie McMaine Evans

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