Perhaps it has never occurred to you. On the other hand, maybe you are aware of it every day. But a mother is a sacrificial being. In addition to many other things, she sacrifices her sleep, her time, her career, her thin body, and her sense of “self” for her children. This doesn’t stop after the baby and toddler years. It keeps on going, in some form or another, for the rest of her life. This is the story of my mother’s sacrificial love for me at the time of my 16th birthday.
This story, about a mother’s sacrificial love, contains content which may be distressing to some readers.
When turning 16, girls usually think about how “sweet 16 and never been kissed” applies to them. But for me, nothing could have been further from my thoughts. I will never forget how that day unfolded…
The day dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window. I had no idea I was on the verge of something. And it was nothing to do with boys or being kissed. Now I look back and wonder, was that day the end of the beginning? Or the beginning of the end? Probably both.
End of Summer. Beginning of School.
The day I turned 16 it was early February in Australia, and was the first day of the new school year. Year 11 (that is, being a Junior in the US) was in my sights.
As I woke, I heard movement in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they began the day. I realize now they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But they bypassed me unnoticed, as I had got used to those noises in this household with a sick mother. Unfortunately, she was riddled with cancer.
Being my birthday, family tradition insisted I should stay in my room and wait while the others got ready to “surprise me”. Soon they would walk in with birthday presents, singing a very harmonic performance of “Happy Birthday to You”. But not this morning. After a while, Dad popped his head around my door. “Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room,” he said.
“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”
Dad looked tired.
I quickly got up, and snuck around the corner to the room next door. Gingerly crawling across to the middle of the bed, I sat close to Mum. I was very careful. Because I knew any movement caused agony. Her face was lined with pain. But still, she smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek. “Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.
“Happy Birthday Jen,” Mum whispered.
I smiled back at her, and held her hand.
Her Little Vase
Less than two weeks before, I ‘d given Mum a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close, only 10 days apart.
I went off to school with my younger sister, not realizing that as the day wore on, events would take place that would steal our childhood from us. These were long-expected events, which had been anticipated before Christmas. But I never thought they would happen on my 16th birthday.
That day was the beginning of the end. Our lives would never be the same.
A Memorable Day: The Highs. And the Lows
The rest of my 16th birthday, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a day packed full of emotions:
Happily, during the morning I was elected Form Captain.
Then, unexpectedly that afternoon, Dad picked us up from school.
With sadness, he told us Mum was now in hospital.
And hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.
But proudly, I told her about the unexpected outcome of my class elections.
Then, unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again!
With mixed feelings we left her there. It felt very unreal. Unknowingly, we were deep in transition to our new beginning.
My mother fell into a coma six days later, and died early in the morning, one week after my 16th birthday.
NOW: End of Forgetting. Beginning of Remembering
Some people suggest that experiencing a deep loss as a child, or teen, results in many parts of the subconscious remaining underdeveloped for decades. This is certainly true of me. While I talked and prayed about my experiences a lot over the years, I’ve discovered that final healing and resolution will be a life-long process. In actaul fact, the grief cycle will never truly end. Hope Edelman writes about this in her book, :
“When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, ready to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways. This isn’t pathological. It’s normal. It’s why you find yourself, at twenty-four, or thirty-five or forty-three, unwrapping a present or walking down an aisle or crossing a busy street, doubled over and missing your mother”
Without a doubt, processing the death of a loved one, and it’s shadow, grief, take a very long time.
Unexpectedly, I had a big epiphany about my 16th birthday, when I was away overseas, decades after my mother died. Here’s what happened…
Dark Night of the Soul
Not so long ago, Stephen and I took some time out for a special month in France. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the seaside town of Biarritz. During our time away, I spent time writing and reflecting on the events around the time of my 16th birthday.
Then, one night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. As I reflected in my sleepy state, the ideas wafted through my head like a faint breeze on a pleasant Sunday afternoon:
Mum wasn’t expected to last until Christmas. I thought. Amazingly, she made to to Christmas, even though the doctors said she wouldn’t.
My brain rambled on: I suppose that means she wanted to hold on to be with us for her birthday, on January 22.
More random wandering of thoughts: And once she had got to that date, she probably decided to keep holding on until my birthday, ten days later.
No, no, no. It hit me like a gale-force wind.
SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!
I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of a mother’s sacrificial love was overwhelming.
I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, with me in her bed sitting next to her. With my vase, her vase, on the bedside table. A special memory. It truly was a mother’s sacrifice.
Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted until then anyway. But I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I now know that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they hold on. They keep themselves going.
Her end came, at last, another week after my birthday. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to my mother’s sacrificial love, the anniversary of her death has never marred my birthday celebrations. I am so grateful.
My grown-up reflections
Reflecting on those events around the time of my 16th birthday, I could finally understand a few facts of life, that will be applicable to you too.
Your mother treasures you
Acknowledging that your mother treasures you will probably make you want to treasure her more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother is (or was) like, there will be times when she treasured you. It is evidence of a mother’s sacrificial love. Remember that!
It’s good to remember
Sometimes it’s worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realize things you didn’t know before. I was not brave enough to write the story of my birthday until so much later. Taking time to consider your life may change you as it did me.
You can read more about the rest of my breakthrough year HERE
Your children may not understand
As a mother, you treasure your children, but often they will not realize what you sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time. This does NOT mean you go out of our way to tell them the cost of what you do. Because that can sometimes border on manipulation. A mother’s sacrificial love is a selfless act.
It’s a great example
Knowing how much your mother treasures you, gives a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for you. It’s unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete. God’s sacrificial love is the source of a mother’s sacrificial love.