There was nothing sterile about the experience of watching her Son — innocent, bloodied, abused — dragging himself and his cross through the filthy streets. It was raw pain, horrible grief, unbearable watching.
What did she pray? In her shoes now, I grip a rosary; she didn’t have a rosary. Did she use the words of a Psalm?
This picture of Mary has been with me since January 3, when my brother-in-law unexpectedly died. It has been the image of Mary that I look to when I picture my sister-in-law, widowed at age 34 with two daughters. It is this shoulder that I lean on when I think of how I might comfort her.
I used to wonder how, exactly, Mary could understand our grief and terror and pain. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a statue of her dirtied and disheveled, as she must have been during the Passion. We don’t glorify the ugliness of life by making statues of the experience, but I need something other than the sterility of the statues in church.
I need to know Mary understands. It’s hard to open myself up to someone who seems distant, judgmental, perfect.
Seeing her at the side of the road, though, perhaps while I meditate on the sorrowful mysteries, changes our relationship. She goes from a flawless statue above me at Mass to a woman who has felt my pain. As she holds me, I realize that, while I’m not as much like her as I’d like, we have more in common than I thought.
In the coming weeks, I’ll see grief up close as I prepare to visit my sister-in-law and her girls. I’ll feel my brother-in-law’s absence and I’ll struggle with words. I’ll squeeze the rosary in my pocket and pray for the wisdom to know when to keep my words to myself, when to reach out and hug, when to let the Spirit speak through me. I’ll try to do, because there is comfort in doing, but I will also try not to forget that the gift is also being: being there in person, with hugs and ears and shoulder.
This grief is indisputable, huge, raw. It’s larger than I am, bigger than my ability to handle, huge in a way I’ve never felt before.
And it’s not even, really, my grief. Is it harder to watch someone you love suffer than it is to suffer yourself? Is it more wrenching to think of their tribulation than it is to forge through it on your own?
Mary knows. That’s my comfort. She’s a mother to us now in ways we’ve never asked her to be before.
In her knowing, she nods and holds me close, snuggling me close to her Son. She’s lived pain before, and she shares it with us now, offering us her prayers.
The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is this week, on February 11. My latest at Faith & Family Live examines the “big splash” Mary made at Lourdes in light of my ordinary life. There are links at the end to help you discover more about the history and devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. If you’re motivated, you can even plan something for Thursday. 🙂