Last spring, I wrote a post entitled The Spiritual Education of Mommy, Part II, and reflected on a sobering, emotional religion class I’d just attended. To recap: As a group, the Monday night religion classes (kids and adults) were told about an upcoming annual four-mile walk/run, organized by a father in the parish whose son, Alec, had been run over and killed by a car backing up in his own driveway. Alec’s parents organized this yearly event to raise money and awareness, trying to press car manufacturers to make back-up cameras standard equipment.
We also talked, that evening in my class, about what Alec’s dad’s activities had to do with his faith. Our very wise teacher got us all thinking about the intersection of faith and being open to community. About how it is in the reaching out, the opening up of self, that we derive strength. As if Alec’s story was not enough, a woman in my class hesitantly ventured a concern of her own. She was afraid that she wasn’t very good on the whole opening-up thing, the letting go it requires to lean on other people. She needed, she told us, to learn to accept the fact that other people would have to do her most important job, which was to care for her daughter, a sweet little redheaded only child named Alexa, who my son had sat next to for all of first grade.
Because she was dying.
I bring this up this morning because that mother passed away last week. Wait a sec. She died. She’s gone.
I’m sure I’m not alone, as a parent, in naming this as probably my worst fear, leaving my children behind before they are ready to lose me. It ranks higher than my quite natural fear of something happening to them, or of losing my husband. Is that natural, do you think, or is it selfish? The thought that they cannot get along without me?
My husband says that when this fear crosses his mind and grips his heart, he comforts himself by knowing that if I were to die, my children would have the pile of stuff I’ve written over the length of my career (though one wonders what they’d glean from binders full of magazine articles on morning sickness or osteoarthritis or swim workouts) to learn about who I was, and how much I loved them. To me, even words I could write would be cold comfort to my boys, who need not just something written down by me, but me.
So last night, the religious-ed program’s director asked us all to say a prayer for this family, citing the often-repeated trope that our prayers help ease even a tiny bit of their pain.
As I’ve written before about faith and religion, I’m not sure I believe that.
The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that I won’t soon get the image out of my head of Alexa’s mom in that class last spring, her blonde hair precise and neat, her hands folded in her lap, facing the hardest moment a mother is likely to face with such composure. Hers were the only dry eyes in the room. Maybe she’d cried it all out already, or saved her tears for when she was alone. Or maybe she knew something that I resist understanding but know I must learn: That to raise your children, you have to be open to the pain of knowing you may not be able to finish the job.