Mourning Mother: Finding My Way Through Grief
- 2005 6 May
On April 15, 2003, I held my mother's hand for the very last time. Surrounded by her adult children in the hospital room, Mother took her final breath after my oldest brother read the twenty third Psalm. While she finished her race well, I encountered an overwhelming and unknown course: Facing life as a daughter without a mother.
Grief is a personal and intense journey that all of us will experience at some point in life. Although death does not "sting," emotional hornets still swarm around those of us left behind. I was surprised by my own "hornets" of separation anxiety, loss of identity and immeasurable tears. As a Christian, I rejoiced at my mother's reunion with the Heavenly Father. As a daughter, I mourned my own great loss. I missed my mother.
Faith became my autopilot of getting through the immediate days after my mother's death. But after the flowers wilted and the phone calls dwindled, I had to face the reality of a choice: Do I let grief take over or do I give my grief to God and ask for direction?
The first option seemed an easier route - stay in my pajamas and hang onto the Kleenex box. However, I am a mother of two young daughters. I couldn't let my own grief affect the happiness of their childhood. My mother would not have wanted that.
Instead, I gave my grief to God and He helped me find my way through the swarm of emotional hornets by following one of the Ten Commandments: Honor your mother and father. By obeying God's rule, I found a healthy and healing alternative to face my grief.
Words From Heaven
Ironically, my mother's ninth and final book When Grief is Your Constant Companion: God's Grace for a Woman's Heartache (New Hope, 2003) was published at the same time she was diagnosed with leukemia. In this book, she wrote about her own immeasurable loss after my father's unexpected death. She filled the pages with her personal outpourings of grief and outpourings of comfort from the Scriptures.
When I read her book, the words feel like hugs from heaven. Since my mother didn't have a chance to share her book with others, I decided to honor her by finishing an earthly task that she was not able to complete. These days, I read excerpts from my mother's book at grief groups and share her words on radio programs. By reaching out to others who are grieving, I discovered that my heart was starting to heal.
Two years have passed since my mother died. Some days I sprint. Some days I crawl. However, I continue to move forward on the now familiar course of being a daughter without a mother. As promised, the Heavenly Father has truly become my ever present parent, never forsaking, always uplifting, always guiding. Always there. We are not left alone in our grief. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." ~ Psalm 34:18.
My prayer for you is that you will find comfort through your faith and find a tangible task to approach grief: Complete something your loved one didn't finish on earth. My friend, Linda Kurcab honored her mother by providing a comprehensive list of accomplishments to the Women's Memorial in Washington D.C.
Her late mother, Roberta Schilbach Ross was a flight nurse during World War II and received the distinct honor of a DFC, (Distinguished Flying Cross) for completing 200 flights over the Himalayan Mountains in the China Burma India theatre. Linda's mother was too modest to share her extensive accomplishments with the Women's Memorial group. Another friend of mine plans to learn how to knit so she can finish the sweater her mother had started.
Perhaps the unfinished project involves reading a novel your loved one never had a chance to finish or putting the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. Or perhaps the unfinished dream is to visit a place that your loved one didn't get to see - Paris, London, or even a local tourist attraction in town.
Although completion of the task will not bring closure, it will bring closeness to that loved one. You will have done something that would have remained undone, unsung, untied, unseen, unknown, unraveled, unfinished. Even though the emotional hornets will still buzz, they will feel farther away as you move forward.
Mother's Day Memoir
For Mother's Day 2005, my first book will be published A Mother's Heart Knows (J. Countryman, a division of Thomas Nelson). Although this gift book for mothers was inspired by my two daughters, I dedicated it "in loving memory of my mother, Carolyn Rhea, whose heart blessed me and inspired me to follow Christ."
As a mother and a daughter, I realize now that one of the most poignant verses from the book is the following: "A mother's heart knows how to stretch and to grow. A mother's heart knows when it's time to let go." Letting go is an essential part of being a mother. "Let go to let grow" should be a motherhood motto. A mother lets go of her toddler's hand so first steps can be taken alone. A mother lets go of the bicycle's handlebars so the child can ride alone. A mother lets go of the apron strings so her young adult can leave the childhood home. By letting go, the mother and child experience their own purposeful growth.
Even though she was not conscious on the evening of April 15, 2003, my mother's heart knew that it was God's time. Surrounded by her children, she "let go to let grow." Her growth was immediate: Her faith gained eternal sight as she met the Heavenly Father.
My growth, however, has not been immediate, but rather a painful stretching process. Yet, this emotional workout has an ultimate purpose - strength and stamina through God's grace to finish His course for my life.
Margaret McSweeney lives with her husband and two young daughters in a Chicago suburb. Her book, A Mother's Heart Knows was published by Thomas Nelson in 2005. Visit her website at www.margaretmcsweeney.com for links to her book, as well as her mother's book, When Grief is Your Constant Companion. E-mail Margaret at email@example.com.