When Bob and Joan were visiting last week, Bob gave me a book to read: Prayer, Our Deepest Longing by Fr. Ronald Rolheiser. It is an incredible little book, actually a collection of articles Father had written over the years and compiled into three chapters. Bob suggested I not read it all in one sitting as each article was a morsel that needed to be digested over time. When you’re starving for ‘something’, not being able to put into words or understand what that something is, a morsel a day to a starving person is torture. Needless to say I devoured the book in a day. Sorry Bob. But, like all my other special finds from John Paul II and Peter Kreeft, etc. I will go over this book again and again and fully digest each morsel properly, I promise.
The articles not only had morsels to digest, contemplate, and ponder on, they had some out right gems that one could receive immediately and treasure. The second last article in the book was one of those gems for me. So much so that I need to record it here so I don’t forget it or where it came from. Hopefully it’s short enough that Fr. Rolheiser won’t mind my quoting it without permission.
He was talking about the death of his young nephew in a car accident and as he described the experience of losing a young person, he put into words what I was struggling to understand in our losing Bernadette. Not only that though, he had words of hope and encouragement that came at such a perfect time. I’d just been sharing with a friend that one of the hardest aspects of losing Bernadette was the age she was at. Six, almost seven, is still such a tender age when only mommy will really do, and in Bernadette’s case that was made painfully clear when she was sick. As much as she tolerated Daddy (and she was so very close to her daddy), or her siblings, the one person she really wanted more than anyone was mommy. Often my heart still breaks when I torture myself (unintentionally) imagining Bernadette still needing me and asking for me and I’m unable to be there for her no matter how much I want to be. Fr. Rolheiser’s words bring such comfort to that terrible ache and pain.
From the entry: God, Our Real MotherWhen someone close to us dies, especially a young person, we experience more than simple shock and hurt. We are left with feelings of guilt. At one level, we feel guilty because we go on living while someone else dies. At another level, a more painful one, we feel guilty about the incompleteness of our relationship with the person who has died, even if that relationship was essentially a good one.
Coupled with this, especially if the one who died is young, there are feelings of fear and anxiety. We sense an unfinishedness, an unreadiness, and even a certain brutality: “He is so young, so fragile still, so unprepared to give up life and to be so finally separated from home and friends.” Like a mother who worries about her child when she or he first leaves home, we worry about the young who die. They are too tender still to be subjected to death, to irrevocable separation, to a terrifying newness, to a final judgment.
As we search among the strands of hope and grasp for something to hang onto in the face of such a death, perhaps we can do no better than to seize onto the words: He is in better hands than ours. Those are the words of faith and they assure us that the God who gave this young man life – who gave him a gentle mother, a loving family and friends, who gave him exuberance and the lively life of the young – can be further trusted to bring that life to completeness and to bring him gently into life everlasting.
In understanding death, it is useful to look at birth. When a child is born, she or he is born into the arms and care of a mother. Save for the tremendous care, gentleness, and attention of a mother, a child is radically unready to live in this world. Given a mother, though, everything changes. There is some trauma in being born, but it is brief. Very quickly, the gentleness, patience, and tenderness of a mother erase the trauma of birth. In the care of a loving mother, the passage from birth to adulthood is not ungentle and traumatic, but a delightful adventure in awakening.
God is our real mother – more tender, more loving, and more understanding than any earthly mother. Our birth into eternal life through the birth canal of death must be seen just as our birth into this life. Just as here, in infancy, our mother was ever so tender and patient with us; in death, even more so, is God. The hands that receive us at death are not the rough hands of our world. The heart that embraces us there will not let anything be too much for us. We will, children that we are, be gently, understandingly, and tenderly guided and coaxed into eternal life. Being born into God’s arms surely will be as gentle and tender an experience as was the experience of being born into our mother’s arms.