Last week, we lit a yahrzeit candle in memory of my father-in-law who passed away two years ago. Benjamin, my 7 year old, blew it out.
I knew I couldn’t blame him. Benjamin can’t help but think “birthday” when he sees any kind of candle—even the deathday kind. That’s just how his hyper-literal, behaviorally-trained autistic brain works. But at that moment, staring at the bleak, extinguished wick, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed.
I am never thrilled by the destruction that often occurs when Benjamin is left unsupervised for even just a couple of minutes. It’s one thing, though, for him to dump an entire bottle of expensive conditioner into the bath, or scale the kitchen counters in search of the candy he thinks is hidden in the highest cabinets. But putting out the flame that is supposed to bring his Saba’s spirit into our living room for 24 hours? Now that was just taking it to a whole other level.
And of all people to dishonor. Nobody doted on Benjamin like my father-in-law did. The guy was so obsessed with his grandson he basically forced us into letting him be our nanny when I went back to work. While that was definitely not a perfect situation (our new babysitter was convinced car seats were a marketing scam, and we lost a significant amount of closet space whenever ketchup or scratchy, one-ply toilet paper went on-sale at Pathmark), it was sweet to see the special bond that formed between the two of them.
I considered calling Benjamin over and reviewing the difference between the candles on a cake and those on our credenza, or maybe even attempting to explain that he’d done something that made me feel sad. But it just didn’t seem worth it, especially since I’m sure my father-in-law would have found the whole thing funny anyway. Instead I sat there thinking about the the Hebrew songs he used to sing to Benjamin as an infant, the homemade baby food he made for him, and most of all, how over the moon he’d be if he knew his formerly non-verbal grandson could finally say “Saba.” And that he actually says it now whenever we show him his Saba’s picture.
Then the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law, calling to remind us of the yahrzeit. Which would take place the next day.
The following evening we lit the candle again. This time Benjamin didn’t blow it out.