The lights started shortly after Matthew Vollmer’s mother died. It was the fall of 2019, and Vollmer’s father now lived alone, sleeping in the same bed where his wife of decades had released her final breath. He had spent 10 years caring for her as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases slowly took their toll. Now Vollmer, his sister, their respective families and their father were learning to live without their mother’s buoyant laughter.
So it was understandable when friends and acquaintances offered a quick explanation for the appearance of mysterious lights near the elder Mr. Vollmer’s rural North Carolina property. They must be Mrs. Vollmer, of course, signaling to her husband from beyond the grave.
This easy answer didn’t sit well with Vollmer, who had long wrestled with matters of faith after leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church in college. The other members of his family were still Adventists, and this well-meaning explanation didn’t align with their beliefs either. Adventists believe that once you die, you’re dead until Christ returns and resurrects the dead. Vollmer’s father even suggested to a few people that the lights might not have been from his late wife but from a demonic source instead.
Vollmer explores these possibilities with open-minded curiosity in All of Us Together in the End. An English professor at Virginia Tech who has previously authored short story and essay collections, Vollmer brings a fiction writer’s knack for narrative to this account of his life, vividly recounting family gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdown and other tender moments. Likewise, Vollmer’s analytic prowess shines in his research into possible causes for the lights. He turned to an author of a ghost lights book and a shaman, among other sources, attempting to make sense of not only this phenomenon but also the hole Vollmer’s mother left in the family.
Throughout this journey, Vollmer invites readers into his world via detailed renderings of the places he’s called home. He recalls his childhood house with exquisite detail and recounts searching for the lights outside his father’s window so powerfully that readers can place themselves in the scene. And as he searches, Vollmer evokes a painfully universal experience: the process of moving forward with a life that doesn’t make sense after a loved one’s death.