Alchemical Altar

It’s been 15 years today since my daughter walked into the light. Each year with the arrival of the winter solstice, I celebrate both her arrival and departure from this plane of existence. But this year has me transmuting grief on an unexpected level.

I learned some years ago that my mother had borne another child before me. There has been some discrepancy as to whether the child was stillborn, died shortly after birth, or had been born unviable. Since my mother entered the light when I was eight years old, I have only the stories of her friends to guide me. What is unquestionable, however, is that the child had been a girl. The idea that I was not my mother’s only child and that I had had a big sister sat well with me. As the baby sister, I would’ve been entitled to some favorable perks, and I fantasized about the many occasions for which I would’ve cashed in those perks.

Also unquestionable is that my sister was White and not biracial as I am, and I often wonder what complications, if any, this would’ve caused had she lived. Would we have been separated from each other when my mother died… ripped, clinging and clawing, from each other’s arms? I wonder if we would’ve loved each other or if circumstances would’ve forced upon us some sort of contempt for one another. But seeing as I’ve only had her ghost to work with, I’ve been able to fashion her into my own idea of perfection.

Where I am pensive and bookish, she is high-spirited and outspoken. Where I seek out escape routes and places of solitude, she is a social butterfly.  As I am a riddle not easily solved, she is an open book. I have imbued her with all of the traits that I myself lack. I’d also traveled back to my childhood and filled in the gaps with her presence. Where I was bullied, I colored her in. When I’d felt alone or abandoned or misunderstood, or when I’d celebrated victories and successes, I sketched her into those places, too. And having her perfectly arranged and completely sealed into my backstory, I’d moved on and thought of her only randomly through the years.

But these past weeks, for some unknown reason, she has risen with me in the morning and lain down to sleep with me at night, and during the waking hours, she calls out to me from a shadow. She doesn’t demand anything, only that I cast a sidelong glance every now and then to acknowledge that she’s there.  She has not come alone; I find myself thinking unusually long and hard about my mother, and, of course, about my own darling daughter.

These days, the longing for all three has propped my heart upon a pedestal where it contemplates a deeper question—How have all of these women managed to be gone from me?

Am I a damaged womb that’s unable to hold an embryo? Do those who are meant to attach and embed themselves into my life fail to catch and simply slough away because of me? I allow myself to ask these questions even though I know they are foolish; asking myself foolish questions is a cleansing tonic that allows me to consider the idea and then put it to rest once and for all. It is not because of me that they are gone, for I am strong and healthy and full of light. Consistently, I go about the inner recesses of my own spirit sweeping out the darkness and replacing it with wisdom so that I can sustain myself and others who come to me, perhaps even those who watch me from a shadow.

My ghost sister, my mother, my daughter. They are three legs of a four-legged altar, and I am one leg, twisted and contorted to carry the weight of the missing three.  I drown in grief, yet I am buoyed by the objects of my grief all in the same breath. Transmuted!

Life is full of such dualities. Maybe the shadow is a duality, a two-way mirror. Maybe they are on my mind so heavily simply because I am on theirs. Maybe they come to me because my beautiful light draws them. Maybe I’m able to bear my own weight, and theirs, and then some because I am surrounded by love.