Mothers Left Behind
As a pastoral officiant and a mother, I have discovered that there are few tasks any more difficult than finding words for another mother who has lost her child. The respective ages of the mother and that of her child do not matter. For any woman who has both welcomed her child, and then faced an hour when she is left behind on this earth without her child – regardless of how many minutes or decades later that time might arrive – there is nothing that really can be said except, “I am so very sorry.”
I sat with a mother whose child died shortly after he was born, and her grief was no less deep than the grief of the mother who was almost 90 and lost a son in his 60s, who was himself a grandfather. There was no difference in what each of them felt.
Many people believe that talking about a mother’s child who has died brings her more pain. The truth is that when you silence the name of the child or keep a memory to yourself, you deny a mother genuine comfort. Her heart is already filled with a thousand thoughts, and knowing that you are also remembering her son or daughter is very important.
Every life has value and is treasured by God. Luke says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
What this passage tells us is that if even the smallest, most undistinguished little brown bird is known to God, then each of us matters. Even the briefest existence, fragile person, or troubled soul is precious to Him.
Perhaps we can best understand the unconditional love of God if we look at how a mother loves her child. Genuine maternal devotion comes from somewhere other than rational thought. We are aware that our children aren’t perfect, but we don’t judge them by their last mistakes, or their current weaknesses. We forgive them over and over again, whether or not they ever ask for our pardon, and we claim them always. They are our children, always. We love them, always.
We are not blind to their faults, but they are so much more to us than their imperfections. We hurt when they fall, we rejoice when they rise up again, and if they pass from this world out of the reach of our arms and into the hands of a loving God — we try to accept what cannot possibly be understood.
One mother asked me to find something from the bible or in scriptures that would help honor her daughter, who had died. I did not find anything that seemed more suited for her than the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, who is known to have revered life, and the good and gentle things of the world.
Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Ecclesiastes also tells us:
To everything there is a season,
And a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
May God lift up all mothers who love their children, no matter how any of them come into this world, or leave it. Underneath our flesh of many colors, we share a single heartbeat.