I discovered this image of the Sorrowful Mother shortly after Evie died. It spoke to me in so many ways, and I decided to make it the wallpaper on my phone. It was the first image that I beheld in the morning as I opened my eyes to check the time and the last image to fade away as I plugged my phone into the charger before retiring for the night. It flashed before me numerous times throughout the day as I responded to texts and phone calls, listened to music, checked lists, and utilized my phone in various ways.
At that moment in time, it was the only image that I could bear to glimpse repeatedly throughout the day. I could only look at photos of Evie in small doses and only when I was feeling strong. Pictures of my other children were a cruel reminder of a fragmented family. I knew that hidden behind the smiles was indescribable and confusing pain. Pain that little hearts shouldn’t have to feel.
But this image was one to which I could relate. This image represented everything that I was feeling inside. It was bold, unashamed, and true. It depicted a mother’s heart, exposed for all the world to see…burning with pain and love and stabbed repeatedly with the sharp daggers of sorrow that only a mother who has held her dead child in her arms can feel.
I couldn’t relate to the Virgin birth, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her perfection, or her struggles to raise the perfect Son of God. But I could relate to her grief. This image of the Sorrowful Mother became my mascot because there was no room for anything but pain. It consumed my mind and my thoughts. My energy was sapped as my heart bled from the wound. Every new experience without Evie twisted the swords in deeper. I wondered how one could survive that kind of misery. Daily, I questioned whether or not I wanted to survive it. Sometimes, I begged God to please let me go to Heaven. I wasn’t sure I had the fortitude to keep getting up in the morning.
But each morning, His mercies were new. He gave me the grace that I needed for that day. Each tear shed, word written and prayer uttered brought healing. Jesus fed me with His very body and blood and brought dear friends into my life who simply cared, listened, and allowed me to express my pain in all of it’s raw ugliness, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.
In time, I found myself changing the image on my phone to pictures of Evie and my other children as I worked through my grief and learned to make room for life and joy in my heart again. The pain itself was no longer the center of my existence.
Today, as I examine the image, I am able to look beyond the pierced burning heart of Our Lady. I see her face clearly now. It is not the face of a mother who has just held her dead child. It is not a face twisted in horror and anguish and seething with the sting of death. Although the small trickle of tears unveil the anguish in her soul, her expression does not match the shocking state of her wounded heart.
As a grieving mother now further removed from the epicenter of her grief, I can appreciate the juxtaposition between Mary’s heart and her visage.
My face is no longer always twisted in sorrow. I smile, laugh, and celebrate life. I make plans and look forward to new things. The raging torrent of tears, have mostly given way to a small trickle.
But I live life now with a wounded heart. An innocent question from a stranger about how many children I have are a reminder of that fact. As my other children grow, I am faced with the constant reminder that Evie will never grow older or meet the two newest members of our family. The simple act of taking a family photo becomes a heart-wrenching experience. Family life is complicated as I help my children through depression and anxiety. We often stumble over one another as we attempt to spend time together as a family without the glue that held us all together. I will never have all of my children together at once. The hopes and dreams that I had for their childhood and even their futures has diminished and been replaced with a longing for God to somehow, in His own timing, draw them back to Him, mend their brokenness and make them whole again.
Through my own suffering, I’ve become more acutely aware that a mother’s outward appearance doesn’t always reveal the agony inside. Whether it’s child loss, a difficult marriage, a wayward child, a diagnosis, infertility, or a host of other hurts, the wounds she carries are very real and very difficult.
It would be easy to admit defeat when carrying this level of pain, to become bitter and cynical, even to push it away and to trick ourselves into believing that we shouldn’t feel it. The Enemy wants us to believe that our sorrow negates our faith.
But in the image of our Sorrowful Mother, we see both devastating pain and a countenance of quiet resignation and prayerful contemplation. Her open hands are cradling her burning and pierced heart in a gesture of motherly tenderness and protection, ready at any moment to present her suffering to the Father as a sacrificial offering.
And herein lies the ineffable mystery of our faith; that suffering, peaceful surrender, and redemption can co-exist in the human heart. Our Lady is a flawless example of this truth and a perfect example for all mothers.
Through her example, we encounter a mother who emptied herself and humbly accepted her suffering as a means to bring Salvation to the world, even at great cost to herself. We witness a woman who stood by her Son as he appeared to fail miserably when He hung upon the cross. We see a mother who does not give up on Hope but ponders all of these things in her heart as she waits for the coming of the Holy Spirit after her Son’s miraculous resurrection and ascension into Heaven.
So if your heart is hurting this Mother’s Day, if the tears threaten to trickle down, if you can’t bring yourself to enjoy the earthly fanfare and Hallmark nature of this day, take heart that you are not alone. Jesus sees your broken heart just as surely as He sees the broken heart of His own beloved mother. Offer all of it to him, and receive the peace of knowing that in sharing His suffering, no tear is wasted. You can lean into your pain while also clinging to hope, knowing that perfect motherhood is not defined by the outcome, but in remaining obedient to your vocation as a mother and allowing the mystery of that experience to transform your own heart.
And when your wounded heart is tired, know that can find rest in the loving arms of a good, good God who loves His children, your children, more than life itself.