Monday, September 23, 2013

Four Motherless Children

Disclaimer:  I am not a perfect mother.  I am not even an excellent mother; I know a lot of moms who are better at motherhood than I am.  But, by the grace of God, I love being a Mom (most of the time), and I am either with or available to my boys.  Once disorder sets in, there are a lot of circumstances that cannot be helped.  Addiction and divorce are two of them.  I am not criticizing the mothers below.  I could easily be where they are, if my circumstances were the same.  I simply pray for them, and grieve for their children. 

I spent three and a half hours at the skate park with my two older boys yesterday afternoon.  The skate park is almost always a win-win because they're doing what they want to do, and I get to be outside, sitting.  Two of my favorite things.  But, if you've read some of my other posts, you already know that sometimes I leave with a heavy heart.  Yesterday was one of those days.

The first heartbreak (and joy) was spending the afternoon with my little four-year-old buddy.  He was there before we arrived and stayed until who-knows-when after we left.  His 7th grade brother was also there, and everybody knows them, but the just-turned-four-year-old is still pretty much on his own.  At some point, his older sister showed up to bring him lunch.  A sandwich, chips, and a Capri Sun.  She left right afterwards.  His brother "stole" his chips, and they were ultimately spilled on the ground.  It was the first time I ever saw him cry.  I was getting ready to head home to supplement his lunch when one of the girls hanging around offered to buy him another bag, which was the first act of kindness I've seen there (that part was refreshing).    

I asked the boys if their Mom ever came to watch them.  The little one said, "No".  The older one said, "Sometimes."  While I was thinking about my four-year-old at home napping, and seeing my little friend's  "thousand yard stare", I was struck by such a feeling of helplessness.  After sitting with him the whole afternoon, I had to tell him it was time for us to leave because I had to make dinner.  The helplessness struck again.  He can't cross the street by himself and he can't come home with me... 

His mother is alive, and lives right across the street.  I can't blame her because I don't know her, and justice is not mine to meter out.  But, I know what I see (and have seen many, many times), and that, for whatever reason, is a motherless child.

The second heartbreak was running into an old friend who told me "Things aren't so good at home right now."  I pressed a little, and he told me that his wife (and mother of his only son) is strung out on prescription drugs and alcohol.  She was recently arrested for public intoxication after she lost her son at the store.  She just went through a drug rehab program, and according to him, things look the same as before.  I overheard one of their friends say, "I hate seeing her like that.  She wouldn't even talk to us."  Her son is the same age as mine.  And right now, he is a motherless child.

The third heartbreak was when my friend told me that a mutual friend moved several states away, to live closer to her daughter.  The closer-to-her-daughter part was good, but she had to leave her two boys behind with her husband.  Again, they're about the same age as my guys.  Until they rendezvous for the summer or holidays, it seems to me, they are motherless children.   

I have to admit, my boys don't seem like they need me most of the time.  But, I cannot imagine being separated from them for much more than a week.  Anything less than that, I fantasize about.  But anything more, I cannot fathom.  I can't imagine saying goodbye, or leaving them in my rearview mirror, or not being "there", for whatever

I ache for these mothers, for I know their love is no less than mine.  I ache for these children, for I know their love is as boundless as any child's love.  I am powerless to reunite them or swoop in to fix what's been rent.  But, I can pray for them, and love more intensely, because the thought of living in any one of their shoes, unable or unwilling to guide the children God entrusted to me, leaves me numb. 

And to the parents in my community, who lost their 4-year-old son last week when he was accidentally killed in their driveway, please keep loving.  The kids in this world need your love.  We all do.

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Your Mother, who was present throughout Your Life, and most especially at the foot of the cross, when very few were left.  Thank you for a mother's heart.  Help us to intercede for those children, mothers, and families where something has gone awry.  Please comfort those who need more love than what they receive.  Please help us to take our responsibility as parents seriously, for it is the greatest work on earth, and we will have to give an account of how we've done.  Please be with parents of older children who have to make them live somewhere other than home, to keep them safe.  Please hear the cries of those parents who have lost their children.  The pain of trying to imagine it is unbearable.  There can be no words for the pain of living it.  Please give us the grace to love well while we can, since we do not know how long we get to try.    Amen.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Funeral of a Stranger

I attended a funeral yesterday of a person I met only once, for about five minutes.  She was a 64-year-old woman who battled cancer for a year and a half.  I  met her about a month ago because she signed up to be a substitute driver for the transportation ministry I coordinate at my Church.  At that time, I made an appeal for drivers at the end of Mass, and she approached me afterward.

She had a very short crop of white hair and walked with a walker.  She said she had cancer, and would especially like to drive anyone else who had cancer.  We spoke briefly about her chemotherapy sessions, and I learned that she was usually alone and read during her treatment.  This was interesting to me, as the only other person I know who has gone through chemotherapy, always had at least one person (and often many) to pass the time with.  My friend, a mother of ten, has a never-ending list of people who love her and who were eager to take a "slot". 

This woman, though, was an only child and never married.  There were 35-40 people at her funeral, most of them co-workers.  If it weren't for the brief account of her life given by her best friend, all I would know about her is what I learned from her; She was willing to serve until the end of her life.  And that is why I was there.  I want to be like her.  I want to be willing to serve long after the world says I am relieved of my duty to do so. 

I never thought I would want to be cremated.  Before yesterday, it always seemed an unnecessary desecration of the body, and it disturbed me to think about my body going through an incinerator.  But, yesterday, upon entering the Church, I was struck by the beauty and profound simplicity of what she was leaving behind.  Her remains were in a simple white box, resembling a small treasure chest, and the only other thing on the 2x2 covered table was a single red rose.  I love it that the only other thing on the table was something simple, and yet exquisitely beautiful.  I really, really wanted to take a picture, lest I forget the impact this visible reality made on me.  However, I hope sharing it with you will etch it in my memory, just the same.   

The absence of her walker leaning against the table reminded me of how encumbered we can become in this life.  All of her earthly possessions were dispersed (and generously given by her).  There was no casket, and no ceremonious carrying of the casket by six strong men.  There was no funeral procession, and no cemetery plot.  There were no extravagant flower arrangements.  There was no crucifix, and no Rosary.  Simply proof of her existence, and something beautiful.  God's handiwork.     

I don't remember where I saw it, or who said it, but "All that is not given away is lost."  The only thing of value from our life, after our life is over, is what we have given to others.  The love we have sown in the lives of those who care enough to come to our funeral is the only thing we can claim, and the only thing that remains after we are gone.   

Dear God of Life and Eternity,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet Nancy, albeit briefly.  Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her.  May she rest in peace.  Thank you for her willingness to serve until the end of her life.  Please give me the grace to imitate her.  Thank you for my husband and children, and all of the joy and love that come with loving and living so intimately.  Please draw near to those who are traveling through this life alone.  Help us to know them when we see them, so that we may bring You to them.  Thank you for funeral Masses and experiences that demand an honest assessment of where we are and where we're going.  Thank you for beauty and love, for they always point to You, their source.  When I die, please let me have retained nothing for myself.  Let the simplicity of my life reflect the truth of Your Life.  Thank you for all that was, is, and is to come.  Amen.