” Grief, I’ve learned, is really love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot give. The more you loved someone, the more you grieve. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes and in that part of your chest that gets empty and hollow feeling. The happiness of love turns to sadness when unspent. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
I tried reading the quote to Marc but kept choking up. He said, “That’s exactly it. That’s what we’re experiencing.” And he’s right. I don’t think I could have explained the pain any better. As mothers we don’t just turn off our hearts and stop loving our children when they die. Our love continues on but there is no where to direct it. That’s not to say that we stop loving those around us but if we stop and think about it honestly, we do love everyone individually so even though I love all my children with all my heart, the specific love I have for Bernadette can’t be directed towards anyone but Bernadette. It contained all the hopes and plans for her future, all the joys that she gave us over the years, all the gifts of herself she shared with us to make us a better family. All that love can’t just be channelled to another so where does it go? It had been building and growing stronger over the years and suddenly there is no outlet for it except grief.
Joseph’s former piano teacher, Marge Duncan, sent a quote just yesterday that is very similar. “Grief never ends…..But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith…..It is the price of love.”
It is the price of love. That is beautiful. In a way then, I don’t have to feel guilty that my grief is so different for Bernadette than for Ron or everyone else I have loved because my love for her is different. The love of a mother for her child is like no other love there is, it is more consuming, more self-sacrificing, and more giving of self. Like John Paul likes to say, it is a ‘total gift of self’. Especially in the early years it is one-sided and lopsided with far more giving than receiving which makes it that much more remarkable. Small children generally take their mothers for granted, they are basically an extension of themselves. With other relationships it is two-way and there is generally a more balanced giving/receiving, there are other relationships in the other person’s life that are more important to them than yours, and there is more reservation of one’s self. Really the difference in the relationships is like night and day and therefore the grief we experience will be just as different. I haven’t even touched on the relationship between husband and wife and dread to even go there after reading C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed.”
All that said, in the earlier days of my grief I noticed that it was much more focused on my motherly instinct that Bernadette still needs me. It’s not a part of being a mother that can be turned off and even though I know through faith that she is well cared for in heaven, my entire being wants to be with her and continue to care for her myself. That hasn’t changed, though over the last four months it has lessened a little, and more easily if I control my thoughts and constantly remind myself that there is nothing I can do to change the fact that I can’t be there with her. Now though, I’ve noticed that what I feel mostly is intense longing. I just miss her so much and long to hold her, love her, hear her little voice excitedly welcome her daddy home every time he walks through the front door, her ‘footprints’ coming down the stairs in the morning, and all her little acts of affection.
As I was writing this down to try and make sense of everything I’ve been feeling and struggling with concerning the different relationships in my life and their relation to grief, one comforting thought came to mind. Of all the relationships I’ve imagined myself having with God: father/daughter, creator/creature, lover, big brother, friend, and recently entering more deeply into a relationship with the suffering Jesus, a new one has emerged, that of mother/child. We are made in His image and likeness after all and if we have that love for our children it had to come from God and be an image of His intense and self-sacrificing love for us – hence Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross! That’s not to say that I’ve never thought of God as loving as a mother loves, (“Can a mother forget her baby? Or a woman the child within her womb? Even if these forget, yes even if these forget I will never forget you my people.”) but I’ve never really thought deeply on how much a mother loves until now. I’ve more or less taken my love for my children for granted, it’s just what you do as a mother because it is your calling, your vocation in life. So if a mother’s love is so all encompassing, self-sacrificing, and never ending, how much more does God love us/love me? How do I respond to that kind of love? In my experience it is when my children are small that they’re far more open to and receptive of my love or Marc’s love for them. Is it any wonder then that Jesus says we must be like children?
Bernadette was blessed to have known the love of such a devout and dedicated mother. I am sure it prepared her heart for all life had for her here on earth and now in heaven. It calls to mind how many years that Jeanah was not nurtured by such a love and how difficult life has been for her because of it. That deep, penetrating love introduces our children to the Father’s heart, thus it does conquer all…even death. No mother ever need apologize for the love she has for her children…