A Mother’s Suffering: When our Mere Humanity Fails to Understand Death
This piece is written from a Catholic/Christian perspective. I respect people of all walks and all beliefs, but when dealing with the sensitive topic of death, I am personally able to get through it only by relying on the tenants of my Catholic faith and the promises of Christ.
I have never handled death well. In fact, I still don’t know how to handle death.
It is near impossible for our earthly, human brains to comprehend death, and perhaps that is why it is so hard. We simply cannot wrap our minds around the concept. Why do people have to leave us, why do they have to leave us far too soon? If you believe in Heaven, then you are taught there is a beautiful after life, you are reunited with loved ones who have already passed, and you get to spend eternity in paradise, face to face with Jesus. But yet, we still struggle; I still struggle.
I fight the tears, but can’t keep them inside. I look at the faces of those closest to their loved one. I empathize with their loss so deeply and truly struggle for the words of how to comfort them. The problem is I cannot comfort them.
Death comes suddenly. It sucks the breath out of our bodies, and makes the depths of our soul literally tremble. I look into the eyes of a mother and see her loss so plainly on her face – her eyes almost hollow. She tries to make light in a situation where she is surrounded in darkness, but I grasp her hands and shake them like I never want to let her go, never want to let her suffer like this.
To see the face of a mother mourning a loss of their own child, their own flesh, is the greatest sadness I have ever had to witness.
Yet, we have witnessed it for over 2000 years through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Mary held her son’s wounded and broken body; she held the savior of the world and wept for her earthly loss. She wept like all of us and she wept for us. More than that, Mary knew her son was going to die, she had full and clear knowledge that her son was willingly sacrificing himself to save us from our sins and allow the entire world eternal life. She knew this, she knew her son was going to die and she watched him suffer. How did she do it?
Perhaps the secret is she didn’t do it, but God helped her through it. I wonder if she too felt the sadness take away her breath and cause her to tremble. I wonder if she had to greet others in mourning and try to offer comforting words while watching every eye she greets well up with tears. I wonder if she is haunted by the image of that death and that suffering, replaying it in her head. I wonder if she too did not know how to deal with death, like I still do not know how to deal with death.
I have no answers.
When I think of Mary mourning Jesus’ earthly loss, and weeping, I often picture Michelangelo’s Pietà. This masterpiece depicts Mary as completely defeated in her body language. She slumps down, her head is down, and she is full of the deepest sorrow, the deepest resignation. Yet, her face also shows a serenity and grace that I hope to find solace in. Her face somehow gives hope to those who have lost loved ones, even to those who have lost their own child.
She holds her hand upward as if reaching out to the Father for strength – as if she is giving up all desire to control what she cannot, turning her well being completely over to God the Father and Jesus Christ in Heaven. The Pietà, while only an artist’s rendition of Mary holding Jesus after his death on a cross, provides a powerful reminder of the greatest sufferings and tragedies of this earth. But it also provides hope that perhaps we can also cope with death with a serenity and grace. If we let go of our earthly desires and our control, if we open our hearts to the Father’s love, we have hope that we can return to our loved ones one day in Heaven.
I have never handled death well. I still don’t know how to handle death. But Mary wept as we weep normalizing our suffering and humanizing our deep and raw emotion. My lack of comprehension is only remedied by hope.