Monday, September 15, 2014

How My Cousin's Death, An Honest Confession and Two Little Words Have Changed My Vision of Motherhood

Our weekend was a busy one, as I'm sure yours was too, although I hope for some of you it had some slow, lazy, lovely fall moments - and football, lots of football! Isn't this time of year wonderful?

In the midst of football games, birthday events, housekeeping and school prep, my thoughts drifted constantly back into last week and a series of events that have kept me thinking about the preciousness of life and the power of forgiveness.

On Sunday afternoon (a week ago), my parents called to share with us the news that my cousin, Vince, was involved in a terrible car accident and did not survive.  The shock of the news overwhelmed me, and as tears of grief rushed over an expression of disbelief, my very first thoughts were of my Aunt Susan.  What can possibly comfort the heart of a mother who has just lost her baby?

The night before the funeral, I tossed and turned unable to sleep. Watching the clock press on toward dawn, every ticking second an audible countdown of hours slipping away from the night, I knew I wasn't the only one awake, the only one who couldn't sleep. My aunt was awake too. My inability to sleep was not because Joseph was awake, he's on a roll, that boy, with giving his mama at least 5 hours at a time through the night (knock on wood!), it was because I just couldn't stop thinking about everything....

I layed there in the silence, the sweetness of our baby slumbering just inches away, wondering if my aunt was thinking of her baby, too.  As I wondered about my aunt, considering the greatness of her suffering, I lingered also on the thoughts expressed in a candid post written by my friend Stephanie that I had read just before bed, her words filled with a broken honesty, an honesty I could truly relate to concerning the struggles of motherhood. Both the death of my cousin and Stephanie's confession would have a profound connection in my heart over the next few days.

The morning of the funeral was cold and rainy, the overcast grey intensified by a strong wind unwilling to blow the clouds away from the sunshine.  When I arrived at the church, I wondered if I would even get inside, as the line of people that stretched outside the door waiting for the funeral to begin was forever long.  Thankfully, everyone noticed that I was holding Joseph, and they kindly waved me on ahead of them and, once I was inside, a very kind gentleman gave up his seat for the two of us.

From the back of the church my eyes continually drifted over toward my Aunt Susan. With every glimpse of her grief, I clutched Joseph to my chest, just as she once clung to her son, Vince, during his infancy and every day since.

She clings to him now.

We never stop clinging, never stop holding on tight to our babies. Their lives are pressed so deeply to our flesh to our very souls. It is impossible for us to ever let go.
{Joseph with my dad after the funeral. Their joyful exchange was a great consolation to everyone's sadness.}

The three hour drive home was a silent one, one spent sipping on coffee in an effort to stay awake and contemplating motherhood, the gift of time, and the preciousness of life. I thought too of Stephanie's post, relating deeply to the phone call she made to her husband, tired and broken:

When I called my husband, I truly didn't think I was capable of mothering these three boys anymore. I just didn't have enough patience, enough multitasking abilities, enough this or that to keep it together, to make them happy, to take care of each of their (MANY!) needs all at the same time.

With 6 boys and nearly 13 years of motherhood under my belt, I can honestly say that I have made that very same call more times than I can count.  I have felt overwhelmed, frustrated and full of doubt about myself as a mother, wondering if I'm really cut out to raise the little boys God has entrusted me with all the way into manhood.

I know my Aunt Susan must have had moments like those as well while raising her four children. But, I also know that she would tell me, and Stephanie, and all the moms out there to never give up. Keep going. Don't let anger, frustration, fear and doubt cause you to lose a moment of life with your children, because you never know how long they will be here to hold.
Several years ago, I expressed an anguish similar to Stephanie's to my spiritual director (a mother of 12!), and she said to me two simple words that forever changed my interior disposition toward myself and toward my children: BEGIN AGAIN.

Every day, through the ups and downs, the Lord's mercy is made new to us when we seek it. So too can be the mercy that we show ourselves and our children when we choose to forgive and to receive forgiveness.

I'll never forget the day years ago when Ben and Andrew were just 6 and 7, I had lost my temper far too many times, letting their little squabbles and my own submission to stress get the best of me. That night, as I tucked them in, I confessed to them my failures and asked for their forgiveness, fighting back tears of shame over my lack of patience. They reached out to hug me, eager to forgive, and very sweetly comforted me with those encouraging words, "Begin again, Mom, begin again."  

They had heard those words from both Steve and me time and time again, and now were blessing my heart with them, too.

When the boys have challenging days, when they misbehave and continue to make poor choices over and over again, what they need at the end of the day isn't another reprimand, but our forgiveness, our understanding and, most importantly, our encouragement.  And, so we tell them, tomorrow is a new day. Begin again.

I don't know about you but sometimes, at the end of those rough days of mothering, my heart can feel twisted into the tightest knots, held firm with the tension of failure, of frustration, and bound by the temptation to believe that I'll never be a good mom.
We need to give ourselves permission to release the tension that holds those shortcomings so tightly together. Grace can soften those knots. But that grace can only heal us when we humbly receive God's forgiveness, and then forgive ourselves (that can be so hard!) To begin again is to trust that God will fill us with every gift and every grace we need to fulfill His calling to care for those around us.

I owe it to my aunt, to every mother who has ever lost a child, to every woman who longs to be a mother to make the most of the moments I have with my children.  I've wasted so much time carrying around heavy burdens of self-imposed guilt, being sad, thinking negative thoughts, feeling like every other mother in the world out there gets this gig except for me.

When I tell my children that I'm sorry for my shortcomings, accept their forgiveness and then forgive myself, I show them a love that is freeing. I want to live in that freedom and truly desire for my children to live in it, too.

Today is a new day, my friends.  No matter what happened yesterday, or what has already transpired today, if it has been hard, messy, loud, hurtful or shameful, do not despair.  Begin again, and again and again.  Life is precious - let's not miss a moment of it with our children!


  1. I love this! Thanks for the encouragement and it is amazing what an impact some simple words can have.

  2. Oh Susan, I am so sorry for your family's loss. Death is never easy, but it especially difficult like this.

    Your reflections are just beautiful. The most profound thoughts come in the middle of the night, don't they?

    We've been doing a lot of forgiving and beginning again here at our house recently. For real, being a parent is so difficult sometimes. I will forever be grateful for the grace and mercy God shows me. How can I not show mercy towards my kids and myself?

  3. So very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart, these words today.

  4. Susan your reflection is so very beautiful. I cried because I was in a very similar place last year around my birthday. A dear cousin passed away suddenly and I was heartbroken. Your motherly reflections and wisdom are such a gift and grace. Thank you for sharing. Prayers for you, your family, and your aunt during this very difficult time. Also, I'm sure that you would anyhow, but be sure to check on her every once in awhile, I know that brought my aunt comfort in the year that followed. So many prayers for your family during this time of loss.

  5. So sorry for your family's loss Susan...what a beautiful reflection! Your aunt will be in my prayers:)

  6. What a truly wonderful post, Susan!!! I can't even tell you how many nights I've gone to bed in tears saying that I'm the world's worst mom and that my boys would be better without me. (Thankfully those days/nights have gotten fewer as the boys have gotten older.) I love the idea of "beginning again" each day - sometimes each hour!!!
    So sorry about your cousin - I hope your Aunt is doing OK.

  7. Oh Susan, I am so very sorry for your loss! I can understand how heart-wrenching that is. My cousin (17) took her life last month, and the agony I see in her mother's eyes cuts to the core. It's devastating and at the same time a reminder to us moms that every single moment with our babies is precious. I'm trying so hard to remember that on the toughest days. I'll be praying for you and your family - thanks for being such a beautiful example for us moms!

  8. A beautiful reflection, thank you for sharing with us. Yes, life has a way of reminding us just how precious and fast it is.

  9. I just read this today, but I'm so interested that I needed to read it sooner. I had a moment just a week ago that I actually needed to take some time to apologize to one of my girls for the way I had spoken to her. I had been so hurtful, I was so angry with myself for allowing the unkind words to fall so freely from my lips. But she was so kind as she forgave me through her tears and we hugged. I have found one of the greatest graces I receive is through the forgiveness of my children. While I'm sad that I have occasion to apologize and beg their forgiveness (I wish I would never do anything that requires that of my children!!) I'm so blessed to have those moments that really help drive home what we are learning and living through our faith.

    Also, your words about cherishing every moment hit home for me, too. I lost my sixth baby when I was only halfway through my pregnancy with him. I miss him every day. But, you know what? I recently found the "bump" pictures I took throughout that pregnancy. I had never done that with any of my previous five pregnancies, but for some reason I had done it with Gregory. And, I realized that I enjoyed every minute of anticipating his joining our family. Sometimes I worry that made the grief that much more difficult to bear, but I don't think I'd change it for the world. I miss him every day. And, I think I cuddle more with my little ones than I would have if Gregory would not have died because I think I know, at least subconsciously, that I am so blessed to have them here with me and I should cherish every moment when I can.


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