By Anne Armstrong, Religious Education Curriculum Coordinator
When I was a child our good friend and neighbour across the road gave birth to a much-wanted baby boy called Phillip. He was dearly loved, more so because he was a thalidomide baby. He was born blind and deaf and with a heart condition. He did not survive beyond his first few months. His mother never got over the grief of her first-born son. There was another mother whose grief for the death of her born is expressed in a sculpture of exquisite beauty and poignancy called the Pieta, which is found in St Peter’s Basilica. The statue was created by Michaelangelo when he was only 24 and captures the absolute agony of a grieving mother. The sculpture is carved out of a single piece of marble, the merging of life and death as a continuum of life is a profound expression of the theology of grace. Mary holds the lifeless body of her son, draped across her. She holds grief, literally, in the palm of her hand and sits with it, in grace and beauty.
Because of her grief, my neighbour suffered what we now understand to be undiagnosed post-natal depression. She was a faith-filled woman, with a great devotion for Our Lady and found comfort in the Rosary. In those days women were told to get on with it, have another baby and everything would be alright. Unfortunately for my friend and neighbour, conceiving was difficult, although she adopted a son a year or so later and after that had two daughters in quick succession.
I am still friends with a daughter born a few years after Philip. She has no memory of Philip except that he was the ghost of her childhood, the absent birthday and Christmas guest, the unseen but real presence in the family home. Whenever we meet in person, which is very rare since she lives in Perth, she always asks about my memories of Philip because she knows I carry memories of Phillip in my heart.
People do not get over grief, they learn to embrace it, to be grateful for the times they shared with their loved one. They learn to love the story telling that keeps the memory of their loved one alive. Story is the vehicle through which we carry their memory in our hearts. We should not expect people to ‘get over’ grief, we can encourage them to tell their story, to celebrate their physical presence on earth, to mark the places, songs and ideas that shaped their identity. When I was in Perth during the recent holidays, my youngest son insisted that we go to the cemetery to visit my mother and father’s grave. My mother passed away in 1999. She was a much-loved mother and grandmother, who lived for her family. She is remembered with much love by my husband and I and her three grandsons. She would have been overjoyed by her three Australian/Korean granddaughters.
One of my favourite poets, E.E. Cummings wrote a beautiful poem (I carry all in my heart) which captures the essence of mother love, indeed, to me, it captures the God-love for all of us. This God-love we celebrate especially on such Feast Days as Mother’s Day, which this year happened to coincide with the Feast of the Ascension. There is a commonality between the two feasts. The Ascension is a rising, beyond a physical reality. We can only understand the Ascension through metaphor. For me it is about a love which calls us to live in communion with the one who loved us enough to die for us; the one who went before us to prepare a place for us when our earthly days come to an end.
Mother’s Day and the Ascension both remind us that we are called to live in love, celebrate love, marvel and ponder at the mysteries of love and give thanks for the life that such love gave to us.
We bless all those who carry our hearts in their hearts. We give thanks for many religious women, particularly the Sisters of the Good Samaritan who have modelled for us love and nurture of neighbour and community. May we be nurtured and sustained by the love that bore us, the love we bear for those we have loved, and may we know that our departed loved ones walk with us in communion with the God present among us.
I encourage you to read The Good Oil available at this site the monthly magazine of the Good Samaritan Sisters, who have gifted us with our own Sister Sue Hallams, our Pastoral Worker. The Good Oil inspires us and challenges us with insightful stories about the role of the Church and the role of women in the Church today.
The following articles might also illuminate and encourage your understanding of the role of women in nurturing the Church, their families and the environment