One year, not so long ago, I faced the paradoxical situation of welcoming one life into our family and bidding farewell to another. We had gathered for our annual four-day Christmas celebration: my mother, husband, siblings, the children and the grandchildren. It was a bittersweet occasion. My mother had reached a stage of palliative care and was only weeks away from dying; my grandson was only two weeks old.
I thought about this child and how, in his neediness and dependency,
he was calling something forth from them. Tenderness, protectiveness
and love were drawn out from them as they opened their hearts to him.
Their personal wants, needs and time were willingly sacrificed in order
to care for him. This helpless baby was, in his vulnerability, bringing
about a transformation in his parents. As they moved from self-centredness
to other-centredness, their hearts were being shaped. They were learning
the lessons of love.
In a more painful way, the same dynamic was happening with
my mother and my family. After two and half years of illness and deterioration,
my mother’s cancer had brought her to the point of death. Now,
bed-ridden and semi-conscious, she required total care. We changed her
clothes, spoon-fed her liquids, massaged lotion onto her swollen feet
and held and sang to her as she lay helpless in her bed.
Parents cradling their newborn have no idea of the journey of the heart
this child will take them on. Nor do any of us when we enter into love.
The lessons of love will teach us that love is more than sweet feelings.
Presently in my life, at opposite ends of the country, there are two
mothers and two daughters facing life and death struggles against illness.
It is not the mothers who are in danger; it is the daughters. These young
women are literally fighting for life. They are each in their own crucible
Their mothers stand with and alongside them. Like Mary at the foot of the cross, they are silent witnesses to the suffering of their children.
Swords are piercing their hearts. They know, as Mary did,
that it is a privilege to be where they are. Love requires it and they
would not choose to be elsewhere.
The outcome of each of these battles is not determined. But we know that the places of love are always the places where God is present. Where hearts are being broken open in suffering for another, where hearts are being stretched to new depths of tenderness, compassion, gentleness and patience out of love for another, then God is powerfully present. That gives us the hope and courage we need to trust in God’s merciful, generous love as we pray for God’s healing for each of these young women and their mothers who suffer with them.
Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.