Mom loved Sparklers (5/9/13)

 Mom loved sparklers. The way they lit up the night, the way they sizzled and danced like tiny stars falling from heaven.

She made sure to bring some along those summers our family spent together by the lake. We'd sit near the water's edge and wave our sparklers, writing our names in the air with a flourish.

Sparklers never lost their magic for Mom. She kept a box around even after we were grown, even after she was widowed for a second time and she moved into a senior citizens' residence.

I was there with her one summer night, still hurting from my recent divorce. I didn't really say much at dinner, and Mom must have sensed my unhappiness. "Come on, Sweetie," she said. "Sit out on the balcony with me."

We sat in beach chairs and watched the sunlight fade from the sky. Mom broke out a box of sparklers and lit one. The little starbursts chased the years from her face. I felt the reassurance I always did in my mother's presence—as if some of her unwavering faith had been transfused into me. Everything will be all right, I thought. No problem was too big for God's light.

Eventually Mom's health failed. She was in and out of the hospital. One November evening I got a call from my sister Shelley. Mom was back in the hospital and had taken a turn for the worse. But she seemed to be rallying by the time I got there. I figured I would let her rest. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mom," I said and kissed her on the forehead. I'd barely walked in the door at home when Shelley called again. Mom was gone.

After the funeral Shelley and I set to cleaning out Mom's apartment. We emptied the cabinets and closets, donated furniture to a thrift store. We put aside boxes of clothes and linens for the church rummage sale. Pots and pans and dishes we boxed up for our siblings. Then Shelley and I vacuumed and scrubbed every inch of that apartment. Mom would have wanted it that way.

Then we were done. There were only faint rectangles made of unfaded paint on the walls where pictures had hung, slight indents in the carpet where furniture had been. It was almost as if Mom had never lived there at all, and in that instant all the sadness I'd kept in check in the days following Mom's funeral welled up within me. She was gone.

"Let me check the kitchen one last time," Shelley said. I heard drawers and cabinet doors opening and closing. "Stone!" Shelley called.

I rushed into the kitchen. There on the bottom shelf of a cabinet that I had emptied and my sister had wiped completely clean was a thin silvery thing—one lone sparkler.

We took it out onto the balcony. I struck a match and lit the tip. The sparks sizzled and danced in the brisk air, and I felt warmed by their brilliance.

Warmed, most of all, by the faith my mother had given me. A little piece of heaven here on earth, like Mom's last sparkler.