Sunday, May 8, 2011

How a Mother's Heart Hurts

Laura and June
Laura, although I never called her that, was not yet 65 when she died. It was cancer that took her in 1979, before she enjoyed much of the leisure her life of labour had earned. She had lived a hard life at times. I sometimes saw the painful memories in her eyes when the rest of us were playing Crokinole and she stood alone washing dishes while staring out the kitchen window into the darkening country sky. But whatever those buried sorrows were, never did she lose the honest warmth in her smiles and hugs, both so freely given. She died too young. Like many mothers of her era she had selflessly given her life to her husband, her three children and her 10 grandchildren, of which I was blessed to be one.

Olga had lived an even harsher life than Laura. At times it was overflowing with hardship and deprivations. No time for her to learn to read or write, yet her intelligence was unmistakably poured into her children, all of whom knew the meaning of hard work; many of the younger ones excelling at school. She gave birth to 16 or 17 children, by some counts, but she also suffered the crushing losses of babies at birth, a toddler by fire and a teen at the hands of a drunk driver. Sometimes there was a faraway, stony look in her eyes while she muttered to herself in German as she rhythmically pumped the pedal of her spinning wheel, making wool yarn while I, her eldest nearby grandson, played nearby on the patched linoleum floor in the farmhouse kitchen. She lived a long life, into her 90s, perhaps too long, for her final years seemed spent longing to go to her place of certain rest and reward.

June, who never seemed to mind that her first and last name rhymed as a result of her marriage, benefitted from the hard work of her mother, Laura, and the daycare provided by her mother-in-law, Olga. But she did not escape suffering completely. Parkinson’s disease became the thief that stole my father’s “golden years”, and hers along with his. And it was the diagnosis of the same villain that brought her tears and a sense of helplessness and sympathetic pain that mothers often feel for their adult children. Yet even this cruel offence does not crush her courage and faith to drink of life as best she can.

I am the beneficiary of a rich inheritance, made possible through the pain and losses of three “mothers”.

From my perspective motherhood is, perhaps, the best and most endearing human example of love that most of us will ever experience. Once a woman becomes a mother she can never not be one. It is like a permanent tattoo emblazoned not only across her body by the strain of childbirth, but also her heart and soul. Most mothers willingly, day-by-day, give up their lives for their children. They would do anything to take their pain or suffering, or shield them from its harshness. Therefore, if as the book of John [paraphrased] says, "greater love hath no woman than one who would give up her life for another”, then certainly a mother’s love is among the greatest.
While we live in a generation that often seems to have forgotten the essential nature of motherhood, and the fundamental need of a mother’s love, Mother's Day still stirs the hearts of even those who have long since lost the physical presence of their mother. For good, or otherwise, the impact that a mother has on her children is indelible. Today, it is for each son and daughter to praise their mother “and call her blessed” as that great Proverb says. None were perfect. But with few exceptions, they did their best with what they had.
I know that I owe my “mothers” a debt I can only pay by passing on the best of what they gave me to those I can.

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