At my daughter’s recent dance recital I was trying hard not to nod off during one of the many performances she was was not in when a gaggle of tiny girls in frilly yellow dresses stumbled onto the stage. Their small bodies attempted to freeze under the direction of their teacher, waiting for the music to start: their cue to twirl and perform.
The first chords broke the near silence and my body shuddered, the wind literally stolen from my lungs as though an anvil had landed on my chest… Jack Johnson’s song Upside Down reverberated through the auditorium as the wee-small girls leapt around the stage, and a river of grief and tears welled up inside me, so surprising, so shocking and so violent, I could barely hold myself together.
The visceral response to the song was greater than any response I’ve had to music: images and memories of my now 15 year old man-child were rapidly firing through my mind. I could see him at the age of four dancing and singing, his blond hair, snarled and eyes shining bright. This song was his song. The Curious George movie popular among tiny humans circa 2006, featured Johnson’s music and happened to be his chosen soundtrack, on repeat for many months..
Even as I write, it is all I can do to not absolutely shatter into a million heartbroken shards as I think of my son, nearly grown and so far from that industrious, creative, inventive, outdoor explorer of a little he once was. Recounting memory is a grieving process.
Long after the recital ended, the ache in my chest continued to widen. I am familiar with this kind of pain, I think all mothers are. We fight, we conquer, we go to battle with and for our babies, we watch them grow, fall and fail, as we misstep over and over, praying for a redo, start over, a spirit of forgiveness to take root in their hearts, wondering how much damage we have inflicted upon our children in our brokenness. I remember thinking to myself: there will come a point when he sits on my lap and it will be the last time he EVER sits on my lap, and I would hold him tighter.
Nothing vanishes. Memory bubbles to the surface and demands attention, our experiences are part of our tendons, tissues, ligaments. The passing time and the roles we play for our children morph along with their ever evolving stages and ages, roiling around illuminating the grief and wonder that is hidden on a cellular level.
Please hear me, my intention with bringing up the heartbreak intermingled with the joy of mothering is not meant to minimize the grief that mothers who have lost children experience. I get to stand in the presence of my children, allowing grief to wash over me and still hug them, hold them, rub their backs and kiss their cheeks. I do not know, understand or comprehend the shattering pain that comes with the loss of a child. You mothers, my heart aches for what was stolen from you. My grief is not the same thing at all, just a film of the absolutes you mamas carry.
Nonetheless, as mothers we mourn the impermanent. The past six months or so have been a season of allowing what needs to rise up, rise up despite the urge I have to stuff it all inside.
The Holy Spirit continues to whisper the word brave into my heart knowing that my inclination is to try to gloss this over, to pretend that all is well and good as time speeds up and threatens to leave me stunned on the side lines. Jesus heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3. He encourages me to sit with these emotions, to feel the well of life inside me rather than force what demands my attention to fester and ache.
The day after the recital, still raw and shocked, I opened my Spotify app, searched the Curious George Soundtrack and listened to Upside Down no less than 5 times, the number it took to listen and not choke on memory of my once baby dancing and singing along. As I obeyed this call to recall that story, Jesus bound those wounds, breathing life into my ache and planting seeds of presence and gentleness inside me. I wanted to run and hide from this wellspring of grief but Jesus asked me to sit with Him in it and so I did and as I sat, He blessed me with the gift of awareness.
Above all things, I want awareness to be my companion as I ride out the remaining years raising five children with my warrior husband. Had my little heart not been ransacked by Jack Johnson’s song from over a decade ago, my Jesus would not have had the opportunity to minister to me, to parent me, to remind me that my life and role as a mother is a sacred, hard, holy and fleeting one.
I want to memorize moments.
Lately, my ability to stay grounded in the now has not been so great. We have prayed on this as a family. I am not sure I would even know what music my teenagers and pre-teens love, or the song that God has laid on their hearts, so distracted have I become. This is no longer okay with me.
At some point in the very near future, I will wake up and all these children will be gone. There will come a time when I send them off into the day as I have for years and years and it will be the last time I do so as, as they will no longer be under my care, residents in our home.
There are ten million tiny deaths that pop up out of nowhere on this cobbled path of mothering. These losses are accompanied by new life, new lessons and seasons peppered with glory and goodness. We often ignore these hard topics in conversation and talk in niceties, espousing the same lukewarm, Christian version of “messy motherhood” but rarely do we get into the actual parts that feel like death/agony, that when announced, ransack our peace, steal our breath and threaten to condemn us with guilt and shame.
As we close in on Mother’s Day, let us sit in the darkness as we celebrate and anticipate the light. Let us share in telling our children the stories of their lives, the relevance of their once favorite book, song, or game and celebrate all that has come to pass and all that will yet be. Perhaps we can bravely sit at the feet of Jesus as He urges us to face the grief that is so woven through the fabric of mothering the babies He gave us. Maybe we can encourage one another to feel the ache and then remind each other of the joy that lives in tandem with the loss.
Someday our years in the trenches of motherhood will settle into our memory banks only, crying out to be recalled and savored.
This Mother’s Day God is calling me to lock eyes with all 5 kids and allow Him to write their stories into remembrance. Our eyes are the lamps to our bodies, may we shine bright light into the faces of our babies, and may our eyes catch the light shining from theirs. We belong to each other.