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Feast Days Loss Mary Victoria K

A Space for Grief: A Reflection on Our Lady of Sorrows

our lady of sorrows

A Confusing Feast

On first look, Our Lady of Sorrows is confusing. It’s a whole day, a whole “Feast” Day, devoted to sorrow. How does one celebrate and commemorate sorrow? What’s more, Mary’s the Queen of Heaven, and Heaven’s a place of eternal happiness. How does that fit with this Lady of Sorrows? She’s a woman, draped in dark clothing, a tear falling down her cheek, a sword of sorrow piercing her heart. What do we, on our journey towards Heaven, have to learn from this woman, filled with grief?

Our Lady of Sorrows made no sense to me for a long time. But there was a lot for me to learn from our mother Mary in her time of grief. What’s more, I found that I need her in my own sorrows.

 

A Self-Realization

For me, Our Lady of Sorrows was particularly confusing because I’m really bad at experiencing sorrow. Even now I’m trying to find a joke I can attach to that statement. Like, “I know, I know, how can someone be ‘bad,’ at being ‘sad?’” Or, “I’m the life of the party at funerals.” But I’m working to not gloss over this self-realization with humor.

This realization came to me at a very specific moment. A little over a year ago, my grandfather passed away. He was joyful, intelligent, and quick with a sly smile. You never saw him without a book in hand, reading on topics ranging from ancient Greece to films from the jazz age to the intricacies of ocean sailing. As I grew older, I would listen to him explain the books he was reading at great detail, forming my budding ability at critical thought.

On the day of my grandfather’s heart attack, my father called me while I was working, overseeing about a dozen middle school students working on their homework. I ignored the first call, and then he called again, and again. On the forth call I picked up. I remember distinctly not understanding what my father was saying, I knew the words but I couldn’t piece together the meaning.

After a time, his meaning finally clicked. My grandfather, while shoveling the Minnesota snow, collapsed from a heart attack. I acknowledged that I understood what my father was saying, and little tears fell down my cheeks. After hanging up, I wiped those tears away, and got back to work.

It was like nothing had even happened.

 

No Space for Sorrow

I ignored the event, and went on with my life. So, that on its own would not have been such a big deal. Sometimes it’s important to compartmentalize, to be able to get the job done, to not fall apart.

But I never gave my sorrow any space. At all. I went home. When I told my husband, it was like I was sharing another piece of news. I prayed for my grandpa, but it was mechanical, something I did because I was supposed to. The next day I went to work, never mentioning it to anyone.

I buried it and moved on.

Everyone experiences sorrow in their own way. There’s no right or wrong way for grief to appear. But the way I had buried it inside myself was not healthy for me. I loved my grandpa immensely. I still love him, and at times I miss him with a sharp pain (A sword of sorrow pierced her heart). To go on, pretending nothing had happened, was a lie. It cheated the love I felt and owed my grandfather.

 

All the Grief Came Gushing Forth

At my grandpa’s wake, I didn’t want to approach the open casket. I had so successfully buried my grief, and I knew, I just knew, that if I saw him it would all fall apart.

But I loved him. Like Mary, longing to be close to her son, I longed to be close to my grandfather. Therefore, just as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, I approached my grandpa’s casket.

As I did, all the sorrow, all the pain, all the hurt, all the grief, came gushing forth. I wept. After burying everything for so long, I wept in front of everyone.

Shortly thereafter, we prayed a rosary in the funeral home. My attention was caught by a particularly beautiful image of Our Lady of Sorrows on a prayer card. I felt very strongly our Mother’s compassionate presence beside me, praying for my grandpa with me.

Our Lady of Sorrows, who had confused me for so long, started to make a lot more sense.

 

A Necessary Part of Love

Now when I see Our Lady of Sorrows, I understand. In our fallen world, where death and sin are our realities, grief is a necessary part of love. If we love, we will experience loss and hurt. For our hearts to be pure, sometimes, they will be broken.

Our Lady of Sorrows gives us a place for our sadness, our distress. She sits with us in the moments that can’t be fixed, that can’t be made better by ignoring them. Like a loving friend, she empathizes with our grief. She doesn’t judge or chastise, or tell us to “cheer up” or “get over it.” She listens, all the while pointing back to the hope that only her Son can provide.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

 

Looking for more reflections on this beautiful devotion?  Check out two reflections on The Seven Sorrows of Mary, Remembering Our Lady’s Sorrows and Seven Quick Takes: The Seven Sorrows of Mary.

You can also find a beautiful prayer and reflection here.

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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary S. Parenting Special Needs Connection Vocations

Grieving for my special needs child

For a while, it has bugged me when a pregnant woman, when asked if she wanted a boy or girl, responded “I don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.” Because I had seen couples welcome babies who were definitely not “healthy”, but of course they still loved their child with all their hearts. So in my self-righteousness, I looked down on those who answered “as long as it’s healthy”. Until I had been a mother myself for several years. My first two children had both been born healthy and “perfect”, and were even relatively easy babies. But then as my son grew, we saw signs of problems. He had a speech delay, which we found was due to a hearing issue (later corrected with ear tubes), but there were other issues which seemed to point towards something more. Over time, it became clear that he is on the Autism spectrum. He’s pretty high-functioning, so while it is sometimes difficult, our lives are still pretty normal. And for a while, this actually increased my self-righteousness, since I had a child who while physically healthy, was not your typically “perfect, healthy child,” yet of course I loved him! I must be so much better than those people who replied that they only wanted a healthy child.

But then I realized that I was not all sunshine and happiness when thinking about my son. I frequently felt sad, stressed, guilty, worried, frustrated, overwhelmed, and so much more. And somehow humility struck me, because I found myself grieving for the loss of some of what I had imagined for my child. I realized I was sad that he was already having great difficulty learning to read and having trouble with his classmates because of his difficulty in social interactions. And I was sad because I knew those difficulties would continue, and others would come. And I realized without even being aware of it that I had imagined my children would be healthy, normal kids and grow into healthy, normal adults. While I was feeling superior to those who voiced the hope for a healthy child, without realizing it I had simply assumed that my own children would be healthy. And it hurt to give up that assumption, to change my image of what my kids would be as teens and young adults and parents themselves. I had to realize that not only would they all face the typical challenges of life, but my son would also face special challenges. And my husband and I would face special challenges in raising him.

And that kinda sucks.

I don’t want to spend time searching for ways to help him navigate a world that sometimes doesn’t make sense to him. I don’t want to deal with Special Ed providers at his school, or with the additional parent-teacher meetings needed to keep track of where he needs extra help, or with the extra time at home helping him. I don’t like having conversations with him where I have to explain basic social reactions when he just doesn’t understand why his classmates react a certain way. I don’t want to be a “special needs mom,” but I am. I wouldn’t choose any of those things, but I do them because I know he needs them, and I’m his mother. I have friends who deal with much greater issues with their children, and I’m willing to bet they don’t want to be a “special needs mom” either. I think any mother would prefer that her child not have to face the big or small challenges that come with having special needs. A mother naturally wants to make the road smooth and easy for her children, to watch them grow and succeed rather than stumble and struggle.

So I’m sad sometimes. I grieve the loss of the image of a normal, healthy life for my son, and I grieve the fact that his extra needs make my job harder. While I certainly love him no less, part of my mind says “I wish he were healthy,” “I wish we didn’t have to fight to get closer to normal,” “this stuff is a pain in the….uh….rear.” And that’s okay. While I still don’t like it, I don’t judge them so harshly when new parents say “as long as the baby is healthy.” And I don’t come down so hard on myself when I am sad that we have to deal with this. It is a loss. A loss of some of my hopes for my child and myself, a loss of our time and effort and energy, a loss of the ability to share my time and attention more evenly among my children. I’m allowed to grieve for the difficulties my son will face. And so are you.

I’d love to hear how having a child with special needs has impacted your family. Have you grieved the loss it includes, as I have found myself doing? Have you felt guilty about that sadness, as I frequently do? Share your stories in the comments section.