This is hell week for those who are grieving the loss of a mother or child. Greeting card companies, florists, jewelers and kitsch vendors urge us to celebrate the mothers in our lives. School children across America are making crayoned cards to gift to their mamas this Sunday. Churches have mothers stand for a round of applause or pass out carnations to adult women as they leave the service. Though some churches have grown more sensitive to the fact that Mother’s Day isn’t easy for some in their congregation, mentioning those who are sorrowing for mothers or children in prayer during corporate worship, is a scant comfort for a day that seems full of pastel sentiment and family brunches.
Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays amplify grief. Loss isolates us most when everyone else around us seems to be celebrating. Those of us who’ve never been mothers but long to be are suffering alongside those who’ve lost mothers or children through death, abandonment, addiction, or abuse. There is no alternate Hallmark holiday for any of these people.
My mom is gone. And my troubled, ill oldest child has long been estranged from us. For more than a year, she has not been involved in the day-to-day parenting of her own children. There’s no way to make Mother’s Day pastel-pretty in our family.
A party-loving friend of mine used to joke with me about the two of us living life as though we were on the Lido deck – the play place on a cruise ship. We girls just wanted to have fun planning events, gathering friends to savor life together. A couple of years into the painful, difficult sojourn with a troubled daughter, I realized the only ship on which I had a ticket was the S.S. Prodigal. Any parent who has been on that journey will tell you that this ship doesn’t possess a Lido deck. Worse yet, it is permanently dry-docked in the Valley of the Shadow.
To be on the S.S. Prodigal is a journey of going nowhere by waiting with God. Even if my journey on that ship miraculously ended tomorrow, I could never return to the Lido deck. Where I’ve gone by going nowhere (just like the Father who stayed put in the parable of the prodigal) has turned me into a pilgrim seeking God instead of the party girl I think I once might have been – that girl seeking affirmation from my invited guests. Frankly, at this point, I can’t remember who I might have been, because I’ve been on this journey for nearly a decade and a half. Though we pilgrims enjoy a good gathering when our sorrow downshifts to chronic instead of acute, I’ve found that few of my brother and sister passengers on this ship enjoy the parties that go along with holidays like Mother’s Day.
There is a practice during another holiday, Passover, that contains a helpful lesson for all of us during these times of cultural celebration. The meal commemorates God’s miraculous deliverance of the Chosen People from their enslavement in Egypt. At one point during the Seder meal, the leader of the gathering asks all those at the table to drip drops of wine from their cup as he (or she) reads the names of the ten plagues God sent to the Egyptians. Wine is a symbol of joy. We decrease our joy in order to remember the suffering experienced by others. If Mother’s Day is for you a time of joy, make it a practice to remember those who are suffering loss. Pray for them. Reach out at some point during the upcoming week – because for most of us, the days anticipating these holidays are harder than the days afterward – to let them know you’re thinking of them.
For those who are struggling through a Mother’s Day in the face of loss, my heart is with you. If you’d like me to pray with and for you, please use this contact form to drop me a note. On the S.S. Prodigal, we may not have a Lido deck, but we can carry each other in prayer.
God’s words in the final line of the passage below is my source of comfort, and my prayer for each beloved member of my family – and for you, my friends, this Mother’s Day.
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15)
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It’s lovely to be back blogging again after my recent hiatus. While I was away, I finished my book (working title – Everyday Eternity: How The Jewish Feasts and Christian Calendar Connect Us With Something More) and submitted it last week to my publisher, NavPress. “Finished” might be too strong a word, as it really won’t be finished until the editorial and marketing team say it’s finished.
Image via Creative Commons 2.0 search/Flickr