This past weekend two of my three little women and I went to see the Little Women film. I read the book a long time ago, long before real life and real sadness intruded into my experiences. It was long before I was a mother of children who have been ill, or a sister and a friend to women who have lost children.
It was long before one of my own children had Scarlet Fever, but when Rebecca got it a few years back I had a sense of distantly remembered alarm. However, things are very different nowadays with the advent of antibiotics, and so children recover from Scarlet Fever with far fewer side effects.
But as I watched the film, I could see my little Beccs in Beth – the third child, the sweet and thoughtful young woman who takes steps of kindness towards others, and who loves to play the piano, the one who fell ill – and still does. So I wept bucket loads throughout the film, one tissue was thoroughly inadequate!
However, the sadness I felt wasn’t only from the fear we mothers experience when we relate to another who has a sick child. When Jo finds her mother sitting alone at the table mourning the loss of her child I can’t shake away the image of my beloved friend, small and ashen faced, tucked up in a blanket in the early morning, weeping over the death of her son. And when the family stands at the graveside I can’t shake away the memory of my dear strong sister, bowed weak with grief over the diminutive casket of her little boy.
There are many mothers whose hearts have been ripped open by the brutally cruel hand of death. Apparently Louisa May Alcott based the character of Beth on her younger sister Lizzie who died as a young woman following complications from having Scarlet Fever as a little girl, so her mother would have been one of them.
There is a scene in the film where the mother is kneeling and praying for Beth’s recovery. Last October in the hospital when Becca had Glandular Fever, I was in a similar position. As she slept I lay my head in my arms on the bed beside her and wept, struggling with the knowledge that our children don’t truly belong to us, we may only have them for a short time to care for them. There are no guarantees when they are born that we will watch them grow up into young men and women.
As I prayed, I made a conscious choice and submitted myself to God’s will. I told Him that I acknowledge that Rebecca isn’t mine to hold onto, He gave her to me, she belongs to Him and because He is good I can trust Him to hold her safely in his hands, even if that means letting her return to Him.
It was a watershed moment because after I prayed those words, I felt at peace – I experienced grace for that one small moment.
I’m NOT saying that it was easy to let go to that final awful place. And as Rebecca is still recovering, not quite strong yet, still missing part or full days of school, but nevertheless, still here with us. I am NOT putting myself in the tear-drenched shoes of women who have no choice but to relinquish their children over to death. How could I ever presume to, walking along side them is sorrow enough.
I know that with each of my children, every time they are ill, whether physically or mentally, I will have to struggle again with the fears that plague all parents. I will have to make a deliberate choice every time to not be fearful, to trust, to submit, because Grace will meet me in that broken place to bear me up.
None of us know how deep the most sorrowful place will be in our lives but I do know that no matter the depths of that place, it isn’t empty, because God is already there and His everlasting arms will be beneath us.
In the meantime I have decided that because we have enough sadness in this world, I don’t really want to add to it by watching sad films. You can call me soft but I think real life gives us just enough heartbreak to deal with.