The Insatiable Desire to Mother and to Be Mothered

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It exists in each of us.

The unquenchable, insatiable desire.

To mother our children.

Even when a child passes from this earth, we still long to mother our babies. That may look different for each person. It may be the planning of a yearly birthday party. It may be decorating a grave, spending time, sitting on the cool earth, breathing in the memories with the ache of a longing heart. It may be buying Christmas presents for the Angel Tree or Samaritan’s Purse. It may be the ornaments we hang in their memory. A mother recently shared the need to take her baby’s ashes with her on trips. Several other mothers shared her sentiment. Mothers may start an organization in their child’s memory. Join a crusade to make things better for the next mother. Donate, or raise money to further a cause in their child’s memory.

Reading their stories and knowing my own, I thought deeply about the aching arms. The unsatisfied longing a mother feels in her depths when her child is taken too soon.

A mother still needs to mother, in whatever way that looks like for her. Even when a baby isn’t here for her to care for physically.

Not even the bounds of heaven and earth can quench a mother’s love.

Something isn’t wrong with you, if you find yourself left without a baby in your arms, but still feel the need to mother someone…something…to do something tangible. It oozes from a mother’s heart. It’s a need, like breathing…existing.

This truth I’ve known for many years, but recently, I’ve been struck by another truth regarding the mystery of motherhood.

In the eight years since my own mother went home to heaven, a phenomenon has occurred in my own typically rebellious heart. At least rebellious toward my mother. I didn’t allow her to mother me very often. Occasionally, when it suited me. But, I was prideful. And, gave her few glimpses into my heart, rare concessions. I fooled myself, too. I didn’t need her. I didn’t need mothering.

At the PLIDA Conference in November, I recently had the opportunity to meet a woman who pioneered efforts to advocate for mothers walking through the loss of a baby in a time when it was not only unpopular, but in some cases unacceptable to do so. She was courageous. She helped pave the way for others to be brave enough to change the way bereaved parents were treated. She helped to give them a voice. To set them free. Because of her courage, women were allowed to honor the brief lives of their babies, to give them a proper hello and goodbye. She stood in a time when mothers were discouraged from or forbidden to hold their babies, to even see what they looked like. They were sedated, and the “unpleasant situation” was whisked away from the mother, who was told to move on. Years ago, funerals of tiny babies were held while the mothers were kept safely away in the hospital to recover. If a mother cried too long or didn’t seem to heal at a reasonable rate, she was institutionalized, deemed insane. Not only is this pioneer and the few others who existed back in the years when I lost my sweet babies a bit heroic to me for standing with grieving families when few were, but she is also a wonderful author.

Pat Schwiebert, author of When Hello Means Goodbye and Tear Soup, among others, was playing solitaire quietly on her tablet when I walked over the first time. I didn’t know the quiet unassuming woman was one I respected and admired for years, until I heard a conversation about her book as someone said the name “Pat.” I interrupted, and like a crazed groupie, asked for a hug.

I never used to be hugger. Funny thing…when the person who loved you first and longest on planet earth is gone…you might discover you’re ok with the occasional exchange of hugs. Because life is fleeting, and there’s less time for pride and walls that keep people at arm’s length, when you realize that.

I found myself flocking toward her table a few times, soaking in nuggets of her wisdom, drinking of the knowledge she shared like a woman in the dessert who found a rare stream of fresh water. It wasn’t long before I poured out my own emotions as if we were having a therapy session in the exhibit hall. She’s good, that Pat Schwiebert. With her quiet steadiness, covered in a shroud of peace. Gentle peace emanating from her. Like a mother.

I touched one of the silk scarves she had on her shelf. Beautiful, bright violet with butterflies.

“Wanda Wilmetta,” I whispered. The name of my grandmother. My sassy grandmother, who once had bright violet lipstick and a violet suede jacket with fringes.

She gave me the scarf, as a gift. And, I kept it wrapped around my neck, feeling the soft comfort. Feeling loved. Feeling ok in my own skin. Feeling empowered and special. Feeling worthy and seen and acknowledged.

Feeling mothered.

Last night, I was at my son’s basketball game. A couple mothers were sitting in the stands at the game with their mothers beside them. I am almost 40 years old and the other moms are not far from my age, give or take. I noticed the one (50′s ish) mother brushed her (mid thirties aged) daughter’s hair from her eyes. A simple, quick gesture.

And, I felt the stir in my heart. It doesn’t matter how old or young our children are, we still and will always long to mother them. We still see our sweet babes in their eyes. Whether they are wee ones…or whether teenagers…or almost 21…or almost 41…or almost 61.

And, whether we realize it or not when we still have our parents, whether we would shrug them away or wince at their need to mother us, we still need to be mothered…no matter how old we are. We still long to have someone love us the way only a mother can. With a desperate longing we may not even realize or acknowledge in ourselves.

Not only is the need to mother our children insatiable…the same is true of the need to be mothered.

Capturing Sacred Moments ~ Colleen

At Sufficient Grace Ministries, we have the honor of walking on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth…again and again with families as they say hello and goodbye to their precious babies.

We enter in with families, walking with them awhile on that sacred ground. Empowering them with options. Helping them to tell their story.

Capturing the sacred moments…of lives that are brief.

It was a great privilege to walk with the Burkhard family as they treasured the life of their daughter, Colleen, a couple months ago. They knew their daughter’s life would be brief before she was born. They knew she had the same condition as her older brother, Colin…Meckel-Gruber Syndrome. They chose to use the time they were given to plan, to soak in precious memories, to dress their baby girl and to pour a lifetime of love in the moments they were given.

As Colleen’s father, Larry (who was originally hesitant to get the photographs), powerfully said, “I like to relive the moments in the pictures, because the pictures tell the story. Her story. I love to see the people in the background, the people who were there with us.”

The love is evident as mother and father, husband and wife…lean into one another, after a long labor, and the birth of their baby girl.

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There is nothing like a mother’s kiss…

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A family, fitting a lifetime of memories and love into the moments…

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Generations of love filling the room…

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Beautiful handmade jewelry covering tiny wrists…
Because every life matters…


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Because the most painful of goodbyes comes from a heart that loves so deeply…

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A mother’s love lives on. And, a mother’s heart continues to dream her dreams of you…until heaven’s sweetest reunion…until we meet again.

*Photos by SGM Remembrance Photographer, Kelly Gerken ~ Edited by SGM Remembrance Photographer Angela Keck
Copyright protected, property of Sufficient Grace Ministries.

Ballet Slippers and Silver Bells

My mind has been thick with nostalgia and my heart heavy with the missing as Christmas fills our senses. Flashes of yesteryear…moments captured in time like a snapshot stopping my hurried steps.

I am seven, standing proudly in the black leotard and pink tights my mother worked three jobs to buy, my long, wavy brown hair pulled into a bun. Silver Bells fills the studio with a melody that makes  me close my eyes and really believe it’s Christmas time in the city . I practice my plies as little girls with more grace than I…girls who don’t live in the trailer park…snicker in a group. I look at my mother, standing a little straighter , my tiny pink ballet slippers gliding across the worn wood floors. Ballet was never my thing, but that year, with snow falling in the background, Silver bells filling the air…that year was magic.

Another flash…another year, 1980-something…another moment captured in time. My mother, wearing the long nightgown with the zipper our neighbors gave to her one Christmas morning. They started the tradition of coming over Christmas morning shortly after we moved to the first house my mother owned. The flashes run together in a blur of memories. I can still taste the orange and bag of candy consumed on many a Christmas Eve at the prettiest church in town,laughing with Billy…his mouth full of chocolate. My grandpa laughing an identical laugh in unison with mom , his arm draped around her, eyes wrinkled with joy as he gives her shoulder a gentle squeeze one Christmas Eve.

 

The house lit up like Vegas…different themed trees in every room. Her tree. Her home made ornaments documenting the various themes of each year’s home made Christmas…the macaroni angel, the year of crochet, cross stitch, the year of wooden peg angels, the year we filled my cart with mauve Victorian decor and bought the Mariah Carey Christmas CD at Hills.

Shopping with my mother so many Christmases of my grown up life. Oh how she loved to buy presents for her people. Flash…mom pushing me in a wheel chair so I could shop while on bed rest for Faith and Grace. Flash…the year she bought me a brand new tree as we shopped on a day when we were angry with our husbands. She always spent more on days we weren’t happy with our husbands.

 

Laughing in her kitchen…

Baking with Nicki and her people…making buckeyes for the first time…marveling at the gathering of women. Flash…my own Gerken baking day…with Sarah and a young Timothy and even younger James, covered in flour. This year’s Gerken baking day left my kitchen filled with big kids who are not mine by blood, but certainly mine in my heart.

Cousins filling my grandmother’s house, families young and full of promise…moms wearing 80s attire…big bows around their necks with big hair to match and hips curvy from the birthing. The smell of grandma’s homemade noodles filling the kitchen. Seventies carpet. Gathering around the fireplace, the noise of family…filled with love and security. Life ahead.

 

Santa leaving his big bag of toys on the porch at my other grandma’s house. Sitting on my father’s lap…I’m seven again…wearing my new sweater vest, my hair carefully curled by my mother earlier in the day.

 

Timothy’s first Christmas. His eyes heavy with sleep, wearing his second hand puppy dog pajamas, as I woke him up in the wee hours of the morning…too excited to wait any longer. Tim yawning in the background…wrapped in a red and black blanket……starting our own traditions in the tiny one bedroom apartment we once called home.

Laughing together as I helped decorate her tree on our last Christmas with her. I’m glad I didn’t know about the missing that waited for us…the ache a momma feels for her baby, I knew. But the ache a daughter feels for her mother still lay ahead as we added the decorations to her tree in between giggles.

I can’t go back and conjure each moment into reality…but each memory is part of me, part of today…woven into the tapestry of this life. So, I will fill my tiny home with as many people I love and as much laughter as we can muster, for as many years as the Lord allows.

Because laughing with people I love…this tiny house full…well…that’s my favorite.

 

May you find joy and peace in this Christmas season as we celebrate the amazing gift…that Jesus came for us. May there be quiet moments of reflection, warm memories to fill your heart, and laughter, if you can muster it…laughing with people you love, imperfect and broken though we may be. There is hope.

 

For on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born. You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger…

P.S. So desperate was I to release the words in the wee hours of this morning, this post was typed entirely on my phone. Impressive…or sad…whichever. But, if you’re a writer, you get it! :) Merry Christmas!

Dancing and Giggling…

My mother loved Christmas. Every year, no matter the circumstances of our family (and believe me, sometimes there were some difficult circumstances), she always made Christmas special! In the days leading up to Christmas, we enjoyed many shopping trips to purchase ornaments and look at all the decorations. She loved decorating…some years the house looked like Vegas inside and out with all the lights!

I remember the year I was on bed rest while pregnant for Faith and Grace, she wheeled me around in a wheelchair so that we could have a little Christmas shopping fun. And, after they were born, we shopped for the perfect ornaments to hang in remembrance of them. But, that’s another story.

The year we were into everything mauve, burgundy, and Victorian, Hills had a bunch of ornaments on sale. And she bought me a cart full! After an especially rough year, she bought me a new pre-lit Christmas tree. We had the best time!

Since she has been celebrating her Christmases with Jesus the past three years, I have missed her greatly. The missing that often visits washes over me every year the first time I walk into the Christmas aisle. And, yet…her love for that very thing compels me to go there so that I can remember and feel her closeness. My boys hear me say, “Grandma loved this…she loved Christmas.” They say, “Mom, you always say that.” I smile and ache all at the same time. Then, I remember her gift for finding the joy in everything…her uncanny ability to not just make lemonade from lemons, but to enjoy the lemonade with the glee of a little girl.

Tonight, James and I had the best time eating dinner at a nice Italian restaurant. James appreciates a nice restaurant with some good bread dipped in oil and Parmesan, excellent Italian cuisine, and ambiance…ahhh, he is so a boy after his mother’s heart! I love my food, you know! Of course, it was the icing on the cake that Biaggi’s puts paper covering over their lovely white, linen table cloths so that children can draw on them.

After dinner, we went to WalMart to get some essentials, and there it was…the Christmas aisle. I took a deep breath as the missing washed over me, and I looked down at James. “Come on mom, let’s go look.” His eyes lit up with excitement as he appreciated each ornament with the fullness of joy that comes from the heart of the young and from the rare soul like my mom who manages to hold on to that ability long into adulthood. She gave me that gift, by the way. I smiled, and said, “Grandma would love this…she loved Christmas.” James started filling the cart with a few little ornaments…he was exuberant when I allowed him to choose a few.

Then, we spotted the animated, musical stuffed animals. James and I started pressing the buttons to see what each one would do. We danced and giggled in the middle of the WalMart aisle, as I remembered all the other times I have freely giggled with my mom and friends over the years. But never before, have I had such a great time giggling deep belly giggles with anyone as I did tonight with this sweet gift of a boy that God gave me.

I just love him…

Thank you, God for deep belly giggles, one of my favorite sounds…especially the kind that happen right in the middle of the missing, reminding me that she will always be part of us. She would’ve loved giggling deep belly giggles and dancing in the aisles of WalMart. And, because she did…we still do.

September Wind

I can feel the September winds blowing in, filled with intoxicating memories that swirl around me, pulling me to that place of remembering moments I ache to experience once more and moments I never want to revisit.

Her birthday was in September. She turned fifty in a hospital bed, smiling as she ate a piece of my famous peanut butter cream pie…laughing carelessly with Pastor James (who incidentally, if I recall is among the two people in the whole world that did not profess my pie as the most wonderful thing in all the land!!). I was wishing she didn’t have to endure the treatments much longer. She was determined to continue fighting.

I remember the day they said the word cancer. Actually, the oncologist spouted off a thousand other unrecognizable words. The kind of words that doctors use when they don’t really want to tell you the findings. Words are easy to hide behind.

So, I finally said, “Are you saying she does not have cancer?”

“No,” he said. “I am saying she most certainly does have cancer.”

We walked out of the room, after she promptly told him that she would make him famous when she beat this cancer. He pulled me aside and said, “I need you to understand. It’s not good. What we’re dealing with…It’s very serious…it’s bad.”

I guess it was easier to tell me than to look into her determined, beautiful eyes and say those horrible words. I appreciated his honesty, though. From the places I’ve walked, I’d rather know what I’m dealing with head-on. Once you know that you are not invincible…once you know that it’s possible to lose someone you love…it’s kind of always with you. That possibility.

I acted strong, nodding to the doctor, smiling at my mother. I felt the room start to spin, as I struggled to steady myself. I thought, “If I could just get to the bathroom before anyone notices.” I barely made it inside the door, when I collapsed against the wall, my body shaking with the sobs of a helpless little girl…not the strong woman of faith who had been carried more than once through the sea of grief by her loving Savior. But, a little girl…whose mother was filled with a hideous disease that would steal her health, her body, her mind, and her life…but couldn’t kill her spirit. The sea of grief swirled around me, taking me captive with swells of images from other times when death’s darkness stood mocking me…as he threatened to steal the ones I love. I resisted crying “NO” from the depths of my soul as the memories washed over me, “I’m sorry there are no heartbeats…they’re gone”…”a condition known as Potter’s Syndrome”…”incompatible with life”…and, now…”cancer…it’s not good…very bad”. I cried out to God, begging him to spare her…to spare all of us. The sorrow had it’s way with me in that oncology office bathroom. Then I wiped my tears and walked out, stunned to face a life that held that ugly word.

She had “cancer of unknown origin” that they think possibly started in her lungs. It had spread to her lymph nodes, her brain, her bones…it was everywhere! They said she had two weeks to six months. Two weeks? I couldn’t even process that. Thirteen months and tons of chemo and radiation treatments later, she sat in that hospital bed on her fiftieth birthday, lighting the room with her smile.

Growing up, we had a tumultuous relationship. I was so head strong…always wanting to establish my independence. I spent most of her life missing all of her gifts and her beauty…all of the things about her that made almost everyone who knew her fall in love with her. She had that kind of gift about her. She was so beautiful that people were held captive by her, even after the cancer treatments left her bald and thin as a rail. Didn’t matter. She glowed with beauty. I spent most of her life missing it…but when that word was spoken, everything between us disappeared. All I could see when I looked at her was the person God created her to be. All of the barriers between us tumbled helplessly when that word was spoken, and we could hug and laugh and share our hearts. As often happens, there were precious gifts, even in the face of such hideousness.

A few weeks after her birthday, we made the trip we had taken so many times down river road…the one with all the big beautiful, extravagant houses. She had one picked out on that road. Only, hers was a little cottage with some hanging baskets on the porch. She always did prefer the simple things in life. The leaves were a myriad of colors, exploding with the majesty of fall as we drove the winding path to the hospital for a visit to the ER to help manage her pain. It was just a “routine” pain management visit. We should have gone home later that day. We made jokes in the ER and giggled. I looked over and she was out cold…resting from the medicine they had given her. I felt the relief a mother feels when her baby is resting, knowing that she was not in pain at that moment.

They decided to keep her in the hospital over night. But it soon became clear that this time was not like all the others. She wasn’t making sense and could barely wake up. When she did, she seemed like a little girl. I realized that I couldn’t leave her in the hospital when I saw the condition she was in the next morning. She stayed for three days, and our very large family surrounded us as we tried to make sense of what was happening to our mother. In and out of consciousness…barely coherent. Where had she gone? I was just talking to her hours before. I can’t describe to you what transpired next. The memories overwhelm me.

All of her doctors agreed that the next step was to take her to the Hospice Center or a nursing home. The cancer had spread throughout her body and it was only a matter of time. They said, “Maybe 48 hours.” We had promised her that we would not put her in a nursing home, so we reluctantly chose the Hospice Center, thinking that it would probably only be a few days. We decided right away that we wouldn’t leave her alone. So, we stayed there with her…sometimes all together, sometimes taking shifts. The Hospice people were amazing…and we are so grateful for their compassionate care.

Forty-eight hours turned into four weeks. For four agonizing weeks, she suffered in a way I never knew it was possible for a human being to suffer. We didn’t sleep, except for a couple hours here and there when we would collapse out of exhaustion and then we would awaken in a panic. I sang to her, prayed over her, read scriptures…as I’ve described before. What I haven’t described is the depth of suffering she endured. And I won’t…I can’t. Only the ones who were there can understand what it was like. All I can say, is that it shook me to the core…trembling the very foundation of my faith. There were, of course, glimpses of joy in the midst of sorrow and gifts…even in the pain. She would awaken sometimes and we hung on every word, when she was able to speak. We never wanted to leave…desperate to soak in every moment we were given with her…and wanting to be there, when she was finally carried Home.

I won’t lie…I begged God to take her Home. The suffering was so much…and I couldn’t bear to see her in such agony. But the moment she left us, I realized that her leaving left us without her. And, the missing came. The missing was like nothing I ever thought possible, either. And, if anything, it has intensified with time. Every September – October, when the leaves change and start to fall, and the fall winds blow…the missing washes over me anew…and the memories flood my mind. I even resist sometimes…wanting to just keep my eyes on Jesus and rest in His comfort…wanting to just enjoy the land of the living. But, almost involuntarily, my body reacts. I can’t sleep in September and my heart aches with the missing of her so deeply, I am overcome. The memories flood my mind. The sights and smells and feelings of fall all bring with it that time.

I walked into her house this afternoon to let out her dog (which we do for my stepfather every afternoon), and the ache was stronger that I could contain. I felt suddenly so desperate to see her sitting on her couch. It’s been three years, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to walk into her house and not feel disappointed that she isn’t laying on her couch. I walked through the house, stopping in the kitchen as I remembered the feeling of “home” when we would stand there, laughing about when we were kids and the silly things we did. We would tell stories in the kitchen. I washed countless dishes in that kitchen (those who have known me a long time always laugh, because it seems I’m always doing the dishes…and have been since they’ve known me!) I thought about how if she were here, she would laugh at my “teaching Timothy to drive” stories and annoy me as she told him the stories of “teaching me to drive when I was 16″! I can’t explain to you the bittersweetness of those memories or the depth of the ache. I can’t explain how it feels to stand in the kitchen of your childhood home and feel like your “home” is no longer. It disappeared with her. But, if you have felt that kind of missing…if you have lost someone you love like that…someone who was your constant…your definition of family, you know.

There are so many things that a mother fills in our lives. Sometimes I wonder where she begins and I end. So much of our mothers are part of the person we become. You know, you can’t really brag about your kids to anyone but your mother. No one else gets it, cares, or loves them like she does…like you do. She would love to hear about Timothy going to the Homecoming Dance, and James scoring a goal in soccer. She would be excited to hear her grandson’s name on the radio for having the lowest round of golf. She would relish it and wallow in it like Grandma’s do.

For the rest of the time I walk this earth, something…someone will be missing. Several someones. Eventually that is true for all of us, and I know that. We will all lose someone we love. I also know that there is comfort in the arms of our heavenly Father…that one day, we will see them again. One day, I’ll laugh with my mother and hold my babies. I know, until that day, His grace is sufficient and He will carry me…I know all of that. But, right now…I’m just aching with missing…swept into the memories of a September wind.