The other side of motherhood
Standing on the bank of a scenic river, I noticed a woman sitting alone on the bank while she half-heartedly threw her fishing line into the river.
I smiled at her and she smiled back. It was a sad smile that never quite reached her eyes.
"I just watched my husband die," she said. "I held his hand and looked in his face as he took his last breath."
I told her I understood the depth of her emotions and knew how hard it must be for her.
"Hard?" she said. "Girl, let me tell you about hard." Then she started to tell me about her son and grandson. Neither one can be with her as she buries her husband.
Her son, at 44, is in jail, she said. He's been there since he was 22. His crime? Home invasion. "They don't put murderers in jail that long," she lamented, claiming that there's a different justice system when you don't have money for a lawyer.
When her son went to jail, he had a son of his own who was barely a year old. The boy's mother was a drug addict who took off after the boy was born.
That meant that the grandparents were left to raise the little boy.
"We poured everything we had into that child," said the grieving woman. "We taught him right from wrong, took him to church and tried to raise him to be a good man."
But she thinks there must be something about being 22 that is a jinx in her family. At 22, her grandson was recently sentenced to jail for a home invasion, following the exact pattern of his father.
"Do you have any idea of the heartbreak of raising a child and seeing him turn out wrong?" she asked. "Do you know the sorrow of a mother's heart?"
She was well spoken and I knew she needed to talk so I stayed with her for a while. We talked about motherhood with all its joys and sorrows.
When I walked away, the woman's plight stayed with me. I thought about the other side of motherhood - the side that hurts when your child hurts and cries when you can't help that child.
Later that day, I reached out via phone to my daughters, checking on them and their lives. When we live far apart from our grown children, we need a lot of phone calls to stay in touch with their lives.
My daughters and I are now close friends as well as mother and daughter. We share with each other the happy times of our life as well as our trials and worries.
We find that sharing lightens a burden and we often find wisdom in the other's words. We know we can talk to each other with an honest heart, knowing beyond all doubt that we offer each other the healing salve of caring.
Often, my daughters share their own trials and triumphs of motherhood. During our last conversation, Andrea was glowing when talking about her own 11-year-old daughter.
"I'm often amazed at how sweet and caring she is," said Andrea. She told the story of hurting her ankle and having to be on crutches for a few days.
"Sophie couldn't do enough for me," she said. "She baked me cookies and kept coming to ask me how else she could help."
A mother needs to cherish those "feel good" moments. Warm fuzzies are important to store in our heart because motherhood is a long, uneven road.
That became clear once again when I talked later with another relative who is experiencing motherhood in a different way. Her only daughter, a bright kid who seemed to have everything going for in life, just dropped out of college, not even waiting to complete the semester.
She's in love, said the 18-year old, so she's going to live with her unemployed boyfriend. Maybe they'll live on love, or on the occasional money the boy is said to make from selling drugs.
The mother, of course, is heartbroken. "You live to do everything for your kids," she said. "But there comes a time when you can't fix their problems anymore."
When our kids hurt, we hurt. And that doesn't change regardless of how old we are.
When kids are young, a mother can pick them up when they fall and can wipe away their tears. When a child has a problem, a mother can help to solve it.
When they can no longer do that, when the kids grow big and their problems grow bigger, a mother can't whisk away all of life's thorns.
But a mother can always be there with love, support and encouragement.
When I was a kid I wasn't always nice to my mother, insisting she was far too strict compared to my friends' mothers.
"Your friends will come and go," she said, "but your mother will always be there for you."
She was right, of course. A mother's love is forever, even when we don't deserve it even when it hurts to love.
In recognition of Mother's Day, one national firm is using the slogan: Pay back the love.
But we all know it's impossible to pay back the woman who loves us through thick and thin.
So here's some applause to mothers everywhere, to the ones with happy hearts and most of all, to the ones with heavy hearts.
The older we get, the more we learn to value a mother's unconditional love.