Today I leaned on the shovel that spooned Ukrainian soil over the mound covering what remains of the woman who birthed the boy I call my son. Maybe you need to know that another mama knows how it feels to love a child who did not come from your body and who is unable to love you fully until their buried grief has been resurrected and faced and painted with the hope of heaven.
Looking at him now—standing at the edge of manhood, at the edge of her grave, I feel ashamed. Only today, as I witness four siblings reunite after eight years of separation, do I understand even a sliver of my son’s heartache.
Thoughts collide with long-held emotion as I stand in summer evening sunlight on the edge of a rural cemetery near the village he remembers from childhood. How could I have asked him to allow me to love him as a mother loves her son when all the while he was grieving the loss of this mother who lies under the earth?
I observe love between him and his little sister. She was only six when they said goodbye. They cling to one another as the gravekeeper sets their carefully chosen cast iron fence in concrete-filled holes, shoveling excess earth onto the top of the mound that marks their mother’s resting place.
My Honey stood still when we arrived here, silently watching three brothers and a sister almost frantically rip weeds from the unidentified, unkempt heap on the graveyard’s edge. I read empathy in his eyes and see jaw muscles clench and release as he holds emotions in check. Honey understands what I cannot fathom. He still recalls standing at the edge of his beloved father’s grave when he was only four. A parent’s death is common grief ground he shares with our motherless sons.
I don’t know if I can even find words to describe my thoughts and feelings as I watch four children, separated by death, time, an orphanage and an ocean work together to honor their mother by creating a beautiful memorial in this place. I long to wrap my arms around each of them and just hold them as a mother does. But I only just met the younger two today. They don’t know me. I can’t speak their language. Maybe they see me as the reason their beloved brother lives so far away. I argue with myself and try to catch the eye of the eldest. He stands apart, arms crossed, eyes down. I know him a little. We have a connection, but I don’t have the courage to cross the invisible barrier that keeps his sorrow from spilling onto his cheeks. Instead, I place my hand on My Honey’s shoulder. He stands strong, in his “God’s Plan” t-shirt and his hope of resurrection morning.
Our son is just on the other side of My Honey, arms around his sister, head bowed, face soft. I cannot make eye contact. I am torn between wanting to move toward him and respecting the space he always seems to need from me.
What is my role here? Who am I and why does my heart feel as if it will burst open and bleed out onto this fertile ground? What IS your plan, God? Because I cannot fathom the suffering these children have experienced— and why? For what purpose is all this pain?
Please heal my son’s heart. Relieve him of the guilt he has carried for these six years since his mother’s death. Guilt that gnaws at him because of his childish words, spoken in anger and never made right. Please help him to forgive himself for allowing time to make it too late to say, “I didn’t meant it. Please forgive me.” Give him the hope of heaven and the courage to walk with You until the day this grave bursts open and his mom comes forth in all her beauty. May each of her children choose You, God. May they place their hope in You. What else do we have, if we don’t have this?
For a moment, little sister stands alone. I move next to her, sensing her openness for a mama hug. She feels small in my arms. We exhale together and share the common language of tears. She receives the unspoken love and compassion seeping through my skin as my arms cradle her for a long little while.
My Honey finds his voice and asks if we can hold a short graveside service. The young people agree. We listen to these words of hope from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV):
“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”
We create a circle that spans the grave, spans the language barrier, spans the ocean that will soon separate us once more. Holding hands, we bow our heads. My Honey prays for hearts to heal, for hope to live, and for love to remain for always. I look up from the prayer and smile at my boy-turned-man who will have two mamas in heaven. And I understand his heart as never before.
When we love a child from hard places, it’s easy to ignore or forget the pain that fuels their rage and rejection. It’s easy to make it all about us and to resort to all kinds of human techniques that simply cannot work on trauma-triggered brains. What I know is this: Healing happens in tiny increments over time in safe, loving environments. The best thing we can do as parents is to be safe, loving people. If we have unhealed wounding and our own trauma triggers, they WILL become fuel for a fire that can destroy our families. We must work our own recovery program with Jesus and day by day be the strong, loving people only He can make us be. Only then can we offer a life ring to kids who are drowning in their own pain.
*Image Credit: Julia Starikova