Emerging from darkness: Medically-retired South Hadley police officer finds a new career in the comfort of candles

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, mixes melted wax into a scent before pouring the mixture into a mold at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, mixes melted wax into a scent before pouring the mixture into a mold at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles,sets the wick in her candles at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles,sets the wick in her candles at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles, pours scented wax into molds at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles,sets the wick in her candles at her home office in Chicopee.

Kelsey Wilson, owner of Pearl and Company Natural Candles,sets the wick in her candles at her home office in Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By Emilee Klein

Staff Writer

Published: 01-01-2024 2:16 PM

CHICOPEE — Kelsey Wilson popped open a bottle champagne on a cold night last March to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter in her life, or the end of the book.

The South Hadley police officer lived with depression after suffering a severe hand injury while on the job 10 months prior. The injury occurred in June 2022 when Wilson answered a call about an unconscious man locked in a car, and in the process of breaking open a window to check on the man, a piece of glass sliced open the wrist on her right hand.

The injury left her completely dependent on others for everyday tasks like cutting food, leashing up her dogs and putting up her hair. Despite relearning how to live with one hand, the doctors told Wilson that she’d never be a police officer again.

“‘But now what am I going to do?’” Wilson recalled thinking. “‘I am 32 years old. What is life now?’”

The answer came on that March night, crying on the kitchen floor with her drink in hand. After grieving the loss of her lifestyle one more time, Wilson decided to reclaim her life, starting with the glass of champagne.

Candles were a cornerstone in Wilson’s recovery process: she’d light one every night as part of her self-care bedtime routine. The emotional comfort the flickering flame inspired Wilson to investigate candle-making as a way to bring her friends and family ease during the cold winter months. As Wilson started to develop her products, she poured her own story into each candle.

The champagne-scented “Born to Thrive” candle was the first candle Wilson created for her candle business Pearl and Company, a tribute the day Wilson chose resilience. Now, she hand pours up to 150 candles a day, each scent and name inspired by her mental health journey and the self-care rituals that got her through her darkest days.

“It’s very overwhelming, but at the same time it’s really rewarding because I know one day I’m going to look back and be like ‘I did this,’” Wilson said. “Knowing that I created all of this, it’s overwhelming in the best ways possible.”

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Pearl & Company candles are made of plant-based wax, cotton wicks and premium perfume oils. The materials are non-toxic, phthalate-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and vegan, with no artificial dyes. Each candle burns for at least 40 hours.

Wilson creates each candle by personally smelling fragrances at her wholesaler’s warehouse. When she’s settled on a mix of scents, her wholesaler makes a test candle. Wilson then monitors the way the candle burns and how the smells wafts through the room.

Besides the help she receives from her fragrance wholesalers, Wilson runs Pearl & Company alone. Currently, the business offers 18 different candles, including a custom option. While some candles feature festive scents of fall and Christmas for the holidays, most aromas are calming, sweet scents like lavender and teas, vanilla sandalwood or pistachio and caramel.

The idea for Pearl and Company stemmed from Wilson’s recovery process. She relied heavily on self-care and routines to get her out of bed: she walked her dogs in the morning, went for a run later in the day and completed a self-care routine at night complete with an eye mask and a candle.

“I wanted to physically do everything to get my power back. I was hand-pouring candles with a hand I couldn’t feel,” said Wilson, noting that her arm still goes numb throughout the day and she often drops things randomly.

After the injury, Wilson became what she calls a “one-arm Sally”: she had no feeling in her dominate hand for months and struggled to accomplish simple tasks. Wilson said she’s always been independent, so when her injury took that independence away, it left anxiety, frustration, and depression.

“I couldn’t even cut broccoli properly. That’s was my turning point where I realized I need help,” Wilson said. “I’m getting mad at cutting broccoli right now, this is not me.”

Wilson was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and PTSD. She started experiencing night terrors and suicidal thoughts jumbled with fear, self-doubt and emptiness. Ultimately, these thoughts would inspire her grapefruit and mint candle Pure Harmony.

“I just remember seeing in my head all this scribbleness,” Wilson said. “I would cry and say ‘I just want peace and harmony in my head, I just want peace in harmony in my life, and I need to get there.’”

Her lavender candle Feels like Home juxtaposes Wilson’s fear of leaving her house. “I just never wanted to leave my house,” she said. “I was petrified because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Wilson said she never would have left her house if it wasn’t for her four animals. Her two great Pyrenees, Ezra and Pearl, the latter is the namesake of Pearl & Company, woke her up for walks and breakfast. The cats took turns staying with Wilson during her breakdowns.

“All the animals were with me one way or another,” she said. “When I was having my bathroom floor moments or in the kitchen, Pearl would nuzzle as if to tell me it’s going to be OK.”

The next steps for Pearl & Company is to set up a scholarship fund for children of first responders who lost a parent to suicide. As a medically-retired police officer with her own history of self-harm, Wilson understands the impact of mental health on first responders. She said many first responders take their own lives without warning, and she hopes to help these children who now must process the loss of a parent.

“I know I made it through, and in my head, if I can make it through and create a business in my darkest days and not be identified by my injury, what else can I do from this.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.