By Sue Elvis
Cooperating with God and creating another human life is miraculous. I have loved the child forming within me from the moment I have become aware of his existence. And when that child has died, I have been devastated.
How can we love a child that has been with us for so little time? Surely our grief and sorrow, when we have to say goodbye to a life barely started, is excessive? After a miscarriage people may say, “You weren’t pregnant for very long. You’ll have another baby. Pull yourself together.” After the death of a newborn child: “At least you didn’t get to know him well. He didn’t become part of your life. It’s not as if one of your other children has died.” But these babies have become part of our lives despite their short time with us.
My feelings of love towards Thomas surprise me at times. My love for him has not faded as the years pass by. In fact it grows stronger. This is all rather a mystery: how can a mother grow in love for a child she no longer has with her?
When you love you open yourself up to sorrow as well as joy. If a loved one dies such an empty feeling results. What is the answer? Not to love in the first place? Could I have prevented myself loving Thomas? No. I had no choice.
The other day I read the following in The Education of Little Tree, the story of a Cherokee childhood by Forrest Carter. Little Tree’s dog had died and he said, “I felt total bad about it, and empty. Granpa said he knew how I felt, for he was feeling the same way. But Granpa said everything you lost which you had loved give you that feeling. He said the only way round it was not to love anything, which was worse because you would feel empty all the time.”
The love between mother and child is not a one way love. It is returned. A baby can recognise his mother immediately after birth. After nine months of living tucked beneath her heart, he has come to know his mother’s voice, her touch, her actions, her heart-beat. He knows where he is secure and who loves him. Thomas never saw me but did he listen to and know my voice? Did he know I was his special person, his mother? Did he know it was my touch he felt as he slipped away from life? Did he love me?
Sometimes it is only when we become parents ourselves that we really appreciate and understand our own parents’ love for us. I think of my mother. Did she look at me with amazement when I was born? Did she marvel at the gift she’d been given? I know she made many sacrifices for me. She didn’t lose me like I lost Thomas but did she still discover that there was sadness mingled in with the joy of motherhood? I moved away from her, I took my place in the world, concerned with myself and my own affairs and often it seems like I never appreciate or return her love.
I often think about being reunited with Thomas in heaven. I will have to wait until then to hear Thomas say, “I love you, Mum.” In the meantime, I can say to my own mother, “Mum, I really love you. Thank you for giving me the gift of life. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made for me. Because of you, I grew up capable of experiencing the special love of a child of my own.”
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