On this Feast of the Holy Family I brought this symbol of family that I made some years back. It depicts four members who are holding hands and in doing so they create four hearts and also a circle that forms a candle-holder. The symbolism suggests that where there is unity there is love and where there is love there is light. In fact only where there is love are people capable of holding the light for each other.
Its been said that family is the one place you should be able to go when all other doors have been closed. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way for so many where family has broken down. The family will always be the basic unit of society and it is our family of origin that largely makes us who we are. It’s where we first experience love, warmth, affection and a sense of belonging. All too often those basic needs are not met in childhood and are then carried forward into adult life with disastrous consequences. This is where we look to others to meet those needs and this is something they can never succeed in doing.
It is particularly our relationship with our mother that affects how we see the world as adults. If we were loved we will be able to see the world as a loving place. If we feel she let us down or abandoned us we will tend to see our world as unsafe and will continually meet people who will disappoint us. It is mainly our mother who was our teacher from the beginning and remains a major influence through life.
This weekend 20 years ago my own mother passed away at the age of 84. She died in one millennium and was buried in another. It’s at an anniversary time that we all think back over someone’s life and what they meant to us.
I take consolation from the fact that my relationship with my mother was good in the beginning and good at the end. In between there were many unconscious factors that made communication difficult, but never to the point of undermining a deep and mutual love that was always there. Relationships by their very nature are complex, and while they have to be lived forwards, they often can only be understood backwards. Reflecting on my son/mother relationship I sensed sometimes an invisible barrier between us that I can only recently name as anger. I mentioned before being hospitalized at the age of three. The bond with my mother was unbroken until then when it became quite fragmented. Going to sleep in a hospital bed, my parents had reassured me that they would be there when I awoke. They weren’t, and while it wasn’t their fault, I was not to know that. Children are great receptors but hopeless interpreters and the fact that it was as hard for them as for me was something I could not know. All I did know was that I felt betrayed and abandoned by the two people I trusted most. With hurt there is always anger and this anger I carried home with me later.
I was so relieved to be home and in the bosom of my parents again that to be angry with either parent would risk further abandonment and so was out of the question. As my anger got hidden so our level of closeness suffered. As in any relationship it’s not what we say that creates problems but rather what we don’t say that causes barriers. This principle is even truer when we don’t know what needs to be said, or even that something is calling out for expression. Eight years later when my father died suddenly we both badly needed to talk about our grief, but seldom did so. An invisible barrier kept us locked in our own individual worlds. While we were afraid of upsetting the others feelings we were really not acknowledging our own.
Much of my early life felt like being in a war zone with two mothers fighting over me. One was my natural mother and the other was my god-mother who was my mother’s sister. This lady had lived a very sheltered existence and never got married, so I was the son she would liked to have had. Her jealousy towards my mother was serious and well matched by my mother’s bitterness towards her. She was convinced that this younger sister had tried to poison her relationship with her father, and in that she was probably right.
Growing up I spent lots of time in both houses but always felt torn between the two camps. Anything I might say about my mother would be scorned by my aunt and anything said about my aunt would be immediately ridiculed by my mother. It was a no-win situation and very difficult to cope with. At one level it served me well because it would take a lot for me now to engage in any form of conflict anybody.
My mother was quite a religious person and someone with great faith. She could be in church twice a day and her generosity knew no bounds. Yet on the occasions when I dared to mention that the bitterness she was carrying wasn’t healthy, and contrary to her faith, it was met with a sharp defensive reaction. It was obvious that while she may have buried the hatchet she had definitely marked the spot! The idea of being bitter or resentful was something she wouldn’t entertain, and it took her a lifetime to come into that realization enough to let it go. Meanwhile the quality of her life was diminished, she often seemed burdened, and there was little joy or humor in her life.
Some years before she died my mother confided in me that she had finally let go of her burden of resentment towards her sister, and that became evident by the fact that when this lady came up in conversation she was respectful in her language and no longer cutting like she used to be. It was then that I noticed a lovely side of her personality beginning to emerge, a side that could be light and carefree and extremely entertaining. She was much happier in herself and it was a delight to see. It was in her twilight years that she literally came into the light.
I never really prayed for her soul in death, simply because I never felt that I needed to, her passage was seamless from one dimension to another and a beautiful death. At her death it felt as if heavens gate had opened wide and the beam of heavenly light into which she entered just lingered and wrapped around my own soul and remained for days. At the point when my experience should have been one of great sorrow, it was actually one of exquisite joy. I can only describe it as a time of grace where the Lord felt very close and he showed me things that were yet to happen in my own life, things that have since come to pass. From that time I have never had a slightest doubt that my Mother was in heaven and in times of crisis I have often prayed to her to help me get through a difficult patch, which I believe she has. Strange to say, even though we were close in life, I feel even closer to her in death. Her passing has been more a sense of continuation than separation, with a deep awareness that love always survives when grief has passed, because love can never die.