As Mother’s Day approaches, we find ourselves thinking about the relationship that started it all, and about our need to honor the woman who helped to make the world a better place. Indeed, perhaps the greatest partnership of all, and one that aids most in the replenishment of a holier, more “Divine” world, is the relationship between woman and God.

For woman, who becomes mother (whether she is a biological or a psychological mother), is the progenitor of life, transmitter of covenantal law, and leader of the family. As mother, she lives not only for herself, but for “the multitude” of others as well. She is concerned with the destiny of her children, and of the world in which they will grow and live.

In partnership with God, woman is thus infused with a commitment to renewal, improvement and love for the world.  Her relationship with her children endows her life with ethical meaning, and she becomes a teacher, a prophet, and a carrier of tradition and history.

In the words of one patient: “When my grandparents died, my parents gave me the holy books of my grandfather’s mother. Some were so worn and without covers, they are stacked high away from hands, just to rest. Upon receiving them, I gently searched these treasures, wanting to feel my legacy.

Finding one book marked, I immediately recognized that someone, likely my Great Grandmother (Bubbie), had mourned with this book in my hands. I felt so intimately a part of her, her weary hands, and her sadness. It was filled with the tears of my Bubbie’s prayers. My Bubbie prayed for me. And at 36, I was now a mother myself, with hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities just like she had. And now I know that the past and the present are connected to share a moment.”

A mother teaches her children the Biblical obligation to honor one’s parents. She knows that this commandment summons her children to act out a technique of good will directed from the innermost recesses of their psyche; and she understands that it will help them to establish relatedness and a spiritual closeness to a higher force. In families where two parents live together; a mother stands side by side with her husband, creating an effective coalition.

She honors the hopes and dreams of her spouse and she strives for the realization of a common goal between them. The two share a vision, though silently she recognizes that she is the determining influence in many situations.

Indeed, we can expound from the Biblical story in the Book of Genesis that a good mother is like Sarah, who is perhaps responsible for all of the accomplishments attributed to Abraham. She leads the leader and teaches the teacher.  She interprets his dreams and guides him when he is lost. And yet, when her job is done, she retreats into her tent and remains shrouded in mystery. She is modest and humble; and her humility brings her her reward.

However, motherhood also involves pain and sorrow. As mother, woman must be strong and valorous, for she says no to the easy ways of life. She is involved in the act of creation, and is thus ready to surrender to the energy of the world.  And through her suffering, she is sanctified by her sacrifice. She is hallowed through her pain, placing her own needs and concerns to the periphery.

And as her children grow, she loosens her ties to them. She nurtures and caresses, serves and teaches, and responds to the faint echoes from above that disturb their complacency. She recognizes that many of the rules of her family will come into question, and she knows that some must even withstand flexibility. She helps her children to take personal responsibility for their thoughts and emotions (even the negative ones); and in times of crisis, she finds ways to make even the most difficult conflicts resolvable. And as her family grows in age, she shares her children with God, and with the world. Like Miriam who surrenders her baby to the great River Nile, the mother anoints her children with the possibility of attaining the greatness of Moses.

In sharing her children with the world then, a mother teaches her children the ways of society. She imbues them with social values and mores, and helps them to connect to others while still remaining independent. She rises heroically in times of crisis and need, even if those needs conflict with her own. For she knows in her heart that, as they begin to imbibe the lessons of life, and incorporate the skills of their youth, her children will one day move out and live on their own.

Thus, when a mother dies, it is as if we are losing our world. God and His imperfect cosmos come more clearly into question and we are unsure of His presence in our lives. The world He created is even more diminished now and, like the weakening moon, darkness is all we see when we look to the heavens.

But just as man and God unite to create and repair the broken world, so too are we summoned to renew and create in the midst of our sorrow and grief. Indeed, it is our very sorrow that forces the act of creation; for we must create a new “I” a new sense of self in the absence of our mothers. And as we recreate ourselves, we question our identity and our charge.  Like Moses, who said to God: “Who am I, that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” so too do we ask “Who am I, God, that I should bear the burden of this sad and difficult journey?”  In the words of one mourner:

“I struggle so hard; I work so hard in my grief and I hurt so much all of the time. And to what end? There is no reward. In the end, she won’t come back to me. I never expected to have this job, and I don’t want to do this. There is no redemption, no gift for all of my labor.”

But in our search for the answer we discover that perhaps we are not really that different from Moses. For we, too, are being asked to become heroes against our will. There is work to be done – and with an ember of faith still alight in our hearts, we commit to finish the job.

Grief teaches us that man must create himself in the context of a living, enduring past, while facing a bright and welcoming future. Thus, when we journey through land of grief, we refuse to accept the irretrievability of a mother’s love. Instead, with valor in our hearts, we take on the challenge to create ourselves anew, carrying our mother’s love within us every step of the way.

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Norman Fried

Norman Fried

Norman J. Fried, Ph.D., is director of psycho-social services for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Winthrop University on Long Island, New York. A clinical psychologist with graduate degrees from Emory University, he has also taught in the medical schools of New York University and St. John's University, and has been a fellow in clinical and pediatric psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Fried is a Disaster Mental Health Specialist for The American Red Cross of Greater New York, and he has a private practice in grief and bereavement counseling on Long Island. He is married with three sons and lives in Roslyn, New York.

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