I held the candle. Mom gripped the pew in front of us with both hands – teetering – but full of song; a delicate bird exposed to too much weather clinging to an impossibly narrow branch too weak to stand but chirping with gusto. Mom sang every word to every verse of “Silent Night”…from memory. The same dear woman who moments before held her sparkle clutch purse up in an odd but determined white-knuckle gesture. Only when she asked me to take it did I realize she believed the purse was a candle.
Alzheimer’s clouds her mind and scatters thoughts like delicate snowflakes.
When I was a child old enough to hold a candle of my own during the traditional Christmas Eve candlelight service, I remember the awe and pride I felt listening to my mother sing “Silent Night” with the voice of an angel. Dad’s hand in the middle of her back while he held the hymnal, mom’s beautiful face danced in the glow of the candle she held. She stood tall then, the ballerina she aspired to be, the woman who spent hours as a teenager practicing in pink toe shoes on the Nebraska farm was a wonder of grace and beauty…my mom.
I put my hand gently in the middle of her back. Choked sobs tumbled over words while I sang and stumbled on an obstacle course of emotion and memories. I wanted the song to last and I worried that she would be too weak to stand through the whole song. I buttoned mom into her coat and left my blown-out candle in the box of burned candles near the church door before navigating her into the snow-filled night.