Being 40-something, I know the truth. Love without pain isn’t real love. That’s not any kind of an endorsement of an abusive relationship. I’m not talking about tolerating the emotional or physical belittlement that is clearly unhealthy.
But to think that love is all good, and that its antithesis is hate? That’s overly simplistic. In our Twitter driven, 140 character culture, we want things to be one way or the other. If you’re truly, deeply “in love” then it should be a mostly happy arrangement, right? And if you’re not happy, then a relationship isn’t worthwhile. So says our three minute cup-o-noodle perspective.
A few days ago, while spending entirely too much time online, I came across this:
Not surprisingly, the line that stopped me was, “A mother who gives life to a child suffers much.” Initially, it’s the lack of sleep that slays us. Physically, we’re wiped out by the demands of a newborn, to the point we’re dangerous. As our children get older, we sacrifice our time, our needs, and our wants. And then, once they’re teenagers, we suffer because we worry. Endlessly.
And in a not perfect world, our children are buried before we are, and our suffering becomes acute.
While talking with a spiritual director a few weeks ago, I confessed I was struggling to feel close to my husband. Even though we are sharing the same grief, I told him, it’s different, and feeling affectionate and loving is hard. I’ve been turning over his reply since then.
“When someone close to us dies,” he said, “We start to think other people we love may leave us, too. We start to pull away from them so that it won’t hurt so much. Our grief is as deep as our love, and so we plan a pre-emptive strike.”
I didn’t love my children the minute they were born, like I’ve heard many moms describe. With postpartum depression, bonding comes slowly. It’s not that I decided at some juncture, “Yes, I will love my child.” I just … allowed the possibility that I could love them. With time, my affection and my devotion to them deepened. By the time we lost our son, I was deeply, recklessly, and madly loving him. Loving a son is different from loving a daughter, I think. It’s less complicated and less jealous. Most boys love their mom with something approaching adoration. At least that’s what I choose to believe.
Although I also want to believe that love is stronger than death, that my son still loves me from the life beyond this one, I miss the visceral experience of it. I miss his fuzzy head nuzzling my side, his clutching hugs, his puckery kisses. My keening is spiritual, but it’s also physical. His clothes are starting to lose his smell, but I still inhale deeply and savor his 12-year-old-boy funkiness.
Truly, the opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is grief. Hate is just another feeling. Grief is the void that’s created when someone’s affection and caring and kindness are removed from you. When I was young and single, I left a five year relationship. It was devastating. One of my good friends and co-workers gave me a book, “Surviving the Loss of a Love.” She recognized that I was grieving, lost, and completely empty.
Grief can make us reticent, protective, and closed off. If I’m not risking anything, then I’m not losing anything. If I hold something back, then something will still remain should this person leave me. It hasn’t been a conscious decision, but I recognized I was pulling back from the person I loved the most. In my most discouraged moments, I never for a second considered I would lose my son. If something that disordered can happen, then what’s to keep something from happening to my husband, or my daughter, or my little guy?
It’s not rational, but the fear becomes overwhelming. The remotest possibility that I would be visited again by death and grief is terrifying. My choice, then, is this: do I remain in the safety of hesitancy, or do I abandon myself to love?
Abandonment requires trust, complete trust. And it’s not that I mistrust my husband with my heart. This December, we’ll be married 20 years. Clearly, I trust the man to hold me both lightly and tightly. But right now? I just need to accept his love, and his forgiveness, even though none is necessary. More importantly, I need to trust my faith and God’s greater plan.
Yes, true love hurts. It requires letting go of comfort, hesitancy, guardedness, and safety. In Mother Theresa’s words, “It has to be painful to love someone; painful to leave him, you would like to die for him.” If the Lord I profess to follow was willing to die for me, I can die to myself a little at a time. It’s just going to take time, and courage, and a lot of prayer. And thankfully, both my God and my husband are deeply patient.