My daughter asked to light the yellow candle. “Why the yellow one?” I asked, as I always do, giving her opportunity to voice her heart. “Yellow because my birth mom misses me, yellow because I want to thank her for letting me be born before she died.”
I struck the match. I lit the wick. The candle burned for the next couple of hours, a sentinel guarding my daughter’s gratitude into the dark.
At bedtime we stood before the tall glowing candle. She considered blowing it out, as per usual. But she hesitated. “Do you want the candle to burn longer? Do you want me to blow it out when I go to bed?” I asked. She nodded in agreement, “You can keep her company.”
She hugged me long and tight, offering a final kiss before she shuffled down the hallway in her still-too-long flannel pajamas. “Good night, birth mom!” she chirped as she disappeared into her bedroom.
That’s my girl – able to bid us both good night with such ease. She went to bed knowing we were keeping watch together into the night where dreams reign and stars twinkle. I walked back into the kitchen with a bit of a giggle, a visceral happiness watching my girl as she learns how to hold us both.
It can’t be easy knowing your birth mother died and there’s no chance of an earthly reunion. We’ve had that hard conversation and cried the tears together. That’s why there’s also a red candle – for the times when it’s sadness or anger she feels.
But the yellow candle stands as a reminder that this woman gave a great gift when she made sure her baby was born in a hospital on that December night in Burundi. The yellow candle creates space for her to offer thanks and honor her birth mom’s bravery amid a scary time in her own life. And, as my daughter has become fond of saying, the yellow candle becomes a place where her birth mom speaks to her those words, “I miss you.”
We light that yellow candle together and testify to a wish that things could have been otherwise – that this woman could have had the bodily strength to live and hold her baby girl in her arms, draw her to her chest and name her. We wish that disease and poverty did not collide and rob my baby girl of her own mother. We recognize that in another world, one with more shalom and less sickness, a woman wouldn’t die in childbirth. A baby wouldn’t be orphaned. There would be no need for missing each other, no need for yellow candles. We know that each time we strike the match.
Adoption is a beautiful and complicated sacrament. Without ever denying or ignoring the injustices, we embody redemption together. One who was relinquished, even involuntarily, belongs again. She belongs in this family, under this roof and to the company of the adopted. And as far as my daughter and I are concerned, her birth mom belongs, too.
The yellow candle is lit, and the three of us women stand together for a moment. We belong to one another – it is our shared mystery as women in the company of the adopted.