My family faced terrible grief a year ago. It tore a close family apart. It caused bitterness and anger. Hatred and resentment replaced deep love and appreciation. It led to jealousy, selfishness and self-centred motivations where once generosity, appreciation and a spirit of sharing prevailed. It turned happy celebration days into lonely days of resentment and sorrow.
On Mothers’ Day this year, there were no phone calls from two of my three offspring. They sent no cards or messages of love. I had no opportunity to share a family day with the four beautiful grandchildren who have been the light of my life. Instead, I spent a happy day with a loving husband and a joyous evening with my eighty-six year old mother, delighted over flowers sent by one of my children, and retired to ponder the secret of happiness and the cure for grief.
My mother-in-law knew grief: terrible grief; grief that no mother should ever have to bear and that most mothers would declare unbearable. Weakened by poverty and cruel injustice, she had three little children taken from her. For eighteen long years she was denied communication with them or knowledge of their well-being. And then she lost a fourth, snatched cruelly from her arms by the Angel of Death in his third year of life.
My mother was no stranger to tragedy and grief either. My father was accidentally killed when I was just six weeks old. Her darling sister had passed just a few years before — giving birth to her first child.
My grandmother lost a daughter on the day of a grandson's birth. Her son-in-law hitch-hiked for days from his soldier post in New Guinea to central New South Wales to welcome his son into the world, only to find his beloved bride was dead.
Last year, three of my loved ones lost husbands. Eight loved ones lost fathers. Five loved cousins lost their mother. My mother lost her only surviving sister. My son lost a wife. Four small grandchildren lost a mother. I lost a daughter-in-law, a beloved aunt, a brother-in-law, and two dear friends.
All around the world, every day, others suffered heartbreaking loss. Fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, and children were snatched from their arms by the Angel of Death, or by the ravages of hatred and evil. Friendships were destroyed by vicious gossip, hateful assumptions, or cruel betrayals – or were ended through the insuperable challenges of life and circumstance.
Tragedy. Grief. Hardship. Sorrow.
It comes to us all. We all bear our share. We all carry burdens, and there is no valid way to compare the weight of our load with that of another.
To each of us is given a measure of sorrow, and a measure of strength to bear it.
To each of us is given a measure of happiness, and a measure of wisdom to appreciate it.
The choice we face is how well to use our strength and wisdom, and whether to wallow in darkness and self-pity, or embrace and be grateful for the sunshine and happiness that lights our way.
My mother-in-law knew sorrow most of us could never imagine, and yet she was a happy woman. Her heart was filled with love and appreciation of the many blessings she claimed were bestowed upon her. She responded in kindness to those who treated her with contempt.
She often cried at night, but in the morning, she welcomed the light. At the end of a storm, she gave thanks for peace. She accepted hurt and hardship as an inevitable and necessary part of life. Darkness makes the light appear brighter. Rain puts colour in the rainbow and feeds new life. Emptiness and cold makes the warmth of love more precious.
On Mothers’ Day this year, I prayed the Serenity Prayer. I begged for strength to accept that which I cannot change; the courage to change what I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
On Mothers’ Day, I prayed a prayer of thanks for the wisdom of the mothers who walked this way before me; who learned, as I am learning, that:
· We find happiness in serene acceptance.
· We find contentment when we forgive foibles and force down memories of pain to count our blessings and give thanks.
· We find wealth when we give without expectation of return, and when we appreciate those gifts of love and nature that can’t be bought or sold and that bear a value that cannot be quantified except in terms of the joy they bring.
· We find joy when we reject negativity, compartmentalize pain, and embrace love, warmth and sunshine with appreciation.
Grief locks us in a world of darkness, blinding us to beauty and causing wounds to fester. We find relief when we cease to dwell on what we have lost, and focus, instead, on what we were given and the beautiful memories that are left to treasure.
We find happiness when we welcome the sunrise, rejoice in new birth, and open our arms to warm embraces and our hearts to love.
My Mothers' Day prayer is that someday soon my children will welcome the light and open their hearts to the love I hold in my heart and the arms that long to embrace them once more.
My Mothers’ Day tribute is to the mothers who taught me to wait serenely and patiently for that joyous day to dawn, and meanwhile to embrace the sunshine and love in my own life – and be grateful.
Soon to be released, “The Pencil Case”, by Lorraine Cobcroft, is the slightly fictionalized biography of the son who was stolen from my mother-in-law. (Names have been changed in the book).
A heart-wrenching story, it tells how the memories of his parents' spirit and love helped a child survive deprivation, abuse and cruel family separation. Finally reunited with his family at age twenty-six, he continues to struggle with the loss of his identity and self-worth. Now a prisoner of his own mind, he struggles against continuing injustice as his life’s journey teaches him acceptance and finally brings peace.