My Protective Cloak
Saturday, June 13th, 2009
Motherhood brings out the lioness in me. No task is too small or sacrifice too great to ensure the well being of my three children. In my mind’s eye I can see myself jumping in front of an on-coming train to save their lives; feeding them first from my last ration of bread; offering myself as a meal for the hungry bear that is chasing them and in every one of these imaginings I manage to save the day.
In the normal course of life moms feed, bathe, clothe, soothe, encourage, celebrate, hold, hug, and protect their little ones through the bumps and bruises associated with living, learning and loving. Sometimes I think of my love for them as a protective cloak that serves the double purpose of reminding them of their innate value and also guarding them from the many perils that threaten to harm them as they walk this journey of life. But when death came knocking, I could not protect them.
After delivering the devastating news to my children that my husband died in a cycling accident, I rode home in the back seat of a car with the three of them crying in my arms. They asked question, after question as I felt my heart writhe repeatedly inside my chest. Why did that man hit him, Mom? Where was Phil’s bike? Wasn’t he wearing a helmet? I thought you said he probably broke some bones. How come that driver didn’t see him? Why did he die? I remember these moments like you recall a dream, vivid and yet unfocused and out of sequence. But through the fog of emotion one feeling from that night is piercingly clear…the terrifying sensation of being completely helpless. For the first time in their young lives there was not one thing I could do to take away my children’s pain. My own pain was echoed in their cries of grief, and the invisible cape I naively believed could shield them from every trauma lay crumpled on the floor mats at our feet.
Being powerless to alter the course my children were about to travel, I realized all I could offer was a hand to hold as we walked the road that lay before us. And so we grieved together. Some days were ugly. Some days I yelled more than I should have. Some days we cried; others we laughed. They went back to school; I sat on the couch and stared into space. They did homework; I tried to pay attention. Dinner was sometimes from a box, and other times from the drive through. We went to the beach, we slept in just because, we said Phil’s name often, and celebrated the fact that we loved him every day. Life milestones were bittersweet. We held fast to some family traditions, while others were re-designed. Slowly we built a new life one day at a time.
My kids taught me many lessons in the aftermath of our family tragedy. In those early days we discovered that tears can be shared; strong parents cry too. They taught me that time together is the foundation for the memories that hold us up in times of loss. Laughing with them reminded me that being happy was necessary, too. Their love was unconditional…which meant I didn’t have to know all the answers. My kids taught me that I could lean on them; the whole world didn’t have to rest on my shoulders alone. . Together we have risen from the ashes of loss to do more for the world we inhabit, because death taught us to value life. Three teenage angels taught me to be a better mother, and to see the world as it can be if we parents truly believe all those things we teach our children…love much, laugh often, and live well.
Ironically, my inability to shield my children from every pain has allowed them to learn lessons that will shape their future in ways I would never have imagined. And my lack of superhuman powers allowed their amazing courage and natural grace to shine brightly even death couldn’t dim their beauty.