I came to know the slow flicker of the votive candle in the months after my mother’s death. How it lights, brightly, then dimly burns as the wick’s wax coat drips slow. The wick burns black, tip to base, and when the flame reaches the candle body it ignites again. I walked to St. Paul’s cathedral every Tuesday morning this spring to light a flame for her. I found beauty in the repetition, the solitude, in the act of going to meet her there. I went in spite of the God she loved, the one I thought had played a cruel game with me: believe in him and I would see my mother again. Or believe what I felt, that at the most, God was heartless and distant, and at very the least, nothing at all—and I would be rid of hope, and my mother would only ever be a box of ash and bone.
My mom taught me that Christ is love manifested, that grace entered the world through him. But she was the grace I knew—kind, humble, unassuming, and quick to forgive. She was my first love, and her body grew and carried mine. She was my creator, my soul’s passage to earth. Now I wake, I sleep, I dream of her. “Do you remember dying?” I ask. “Can you see us? Speak to us?” In my dream she sat next to me dressed in blue. I put my hand on her knee, her shoulder. I looked away for a moment and she disappeared. She was there and not there. She is here and not here.
What is it that the dead become? Is my mother just ash to be buried, scattered, breathed by birds, us? I dream, instead, she is a spirit loosed, free to speak and move in a different way. She is real to me—then, now, still. She is more real to me than the vapor-God of whom I’ve never dreamed. He is figment and fog that spills through my hands—invisible, always. Some days I have felt his presence acutely; but most days it is faint, like the cold light of a dying star. Those days have stretched into weeks, months. Love is veiled and my eyes are cloaked in mud. And yet and yet, my mother is everywhere, I can still see her every detail. Her gray-streaked hair and blue eyes, the freckles on her shoulders.
Love, return to me. Take me back to the water; my throat is dry and the land is dead. Take me back to the mountain where you live, and let me build a home. Take me back to the bright and breathless sky or bend down from the clouds and walk among us. Because down here the fog rolls thick and I grow weary in wanting.