My mother stopped lighting Shabbat candles when I was 10 years old. Up until then, every Friday night my two sisters and I stood alongside her, watching her cover her head with a flowy silk scarf as she drew the light in and recited the blessing. This was always followed by Mommy bending over and giving each of us a kiss on top of our head. Seeds were planted, watered, and now, the tree has matured, and the message and meaning of this event and memory feel eternal.

When I was 10, my family experienced a devastating tragedy—my 13-year-old sister was killed in a camp bus crash. No more candle-lighting.

It was an immeasurably difficult time. MyIt was an immeasurably difficult time mother’s blistering pain was so deep and incomprehensible. The fallout from this was shattering, and my family as I knew it was no longer. Joy was replaced with sadness, laughter with tears, forgiveness with anger, unity with isolation, conversation with silence and light with darkness. Everything felt hard and heavy.

Fast-forward to 2013, after my father died. My mother was still living in New York, alone, scared and broken. I knew she was safe because of stellar caregiving around the clock, yet I could not find any rest at night knowing she was crying herself to sleep until her tears ran out. I was making several trips a week to see her, and life was feeling unmanageable.

My supportive, kind and very gracious husband suggested that my mother move into our home. He was so convincing and certain that this was the right thing to do—and I wanted to believe him, but I had my doubts. Old family dynamics and our personal histories had me questioning what to do. With abundant trust, I left my thinking brain and switched to my doing brain. Two months later, she was all moved in.

The adjustments were enormous, for all of us. My mother and I were still grieving, though it was too painful for her to talk about. She and I did many things together, and my goal was to show her love and care. I’d cook her favorite foods, take her on long walks, bring her sweet treats, make silly jokes, tell her how pretty she looked, take her for manicures and haircuts, and sit with her and hold her hand.

This approach helped me feel better, and while I knew that she was grateful, her energy remained heavy, and alas, the darkness prevailed. After 60 years of marriage, the loss was truly crushing. I desperately wanted something to lift her out of it and replace that space with light. Her energy spilled over into my home, creating challenges for my husband and son. I had more emotional fragments to navigate, and therefore, I came to realize, a greater opportunity to become a better version of myself.

Every Friday, when I set out my candlesticks, I also set out two for my mother, even though it had been decades since she kindled the Shabbat lights. Every Friday night, I would bring my mother down to the kitchen before candle-lighting and find a special sweetness to say, “Mommy, these candles are for you. Would you like to light?”

I suspected her answer would be just what it was the week before, and for some reason that I can best explain as an expression of my will, determination and faith that things can change, I kept believing that one Friday night she would surprise me with an affirmative reply. Maybe this would be the space where the light would rekindle and replace the darkness. As much as I wanted to hear a different answer, I knew I could not make her change her mind. She had to come to that on her own.

For many many months, her answer remained “not tonight.” Watching my mother’s sadness gave me a chance to feel sad as well, and to practice awareness of gratitude that it did not disempower me; on the contrary, it strengthened my resolve to persevere and pursue the light.

In an unspoken way, this weekly exchange sheThis weekly exchange felt like a partnership and I had felt like a partnership. Though I didn’t see any observable indication that she would say, “Yes, I’m going to light candles this Shabbat,” I sensed that we were moving in that direction. As long as I didn’t stop my simple efforts and loving acceptance of the answer I did not want to hear, I felt there was hope.

Lo and behold, after several months, week after week, she completely surprised me, and before I even asked her, she said, “Seena, bring those candles over to me.” Initially, I acted undaunted, though the truth is my heart was pumping with adrenaline; it filled my body with excitement and my soul with joy.

I wondered, what changed? “Why tonight?” I asked my mother. And all she replied was, “Why not?”

For me, it felt herculean. From that moment, she continued to light candles until the Shabbat before she took her last breath. In some hard-to-explain way, in this moment of change, I arrived at the thought that my mother came to live with us so that she could find her way to light.

Years ago, a teacher introduced me to the Jewish idea that “growth happens in the darkness.” When life is easy and things happen with little effort, our spiritual muscles don’t get tested; there are no winds of struggle. This is not so, however, when we feel torn with fear, emptiness and uncertainty after a painful experience or loss. In our heaviness, we might lack the interest, motivation or clarity to pursue what we want, and we might even feel sad about this lacking. We have to work that much harder to achieve what we desire, putting our spiritual muscles to work to make things happen that seem impossible.

This feels like what took place between my mother and me. Though it was in many ways replete with uncomfortable soreness, look at the light and satisfaction that prevailed!