Marriage & Family Life: Mary's heart and ours: Allowing joy and sorrow to coexist

by Adam Storey | June 2, 2021

Kara Storey

By Kara Storey

My 18-month old likes to hang onto my fingers as she nurses, slowly pulling them this way and that as she drifts off to sleep. I have been savoring these moments a little more lately, knowing that this phase of our relationship will all-too-soon be over. 

So the other night as Marigold nursed, I marveled at her curly hair and pudgy cheeks. But as I felt her relaxed body against my own, my mind jolted to the thought of another little girl, a daughter my arms ache to hold, but I can only carry in my heart. June marks three years since Zita’s stillbirth and still the grief seizes up unexpectedly. I permitted the alternating waves of gratitude and grief to wash over me, gazing lovingly upon one child while simultaneously longing for another. My reality is that Marigold would not exist without Zita’s death. In fact, when I was nearing my due date with Marigold, I confided with a mentor that I was worried about what I would feel in the moments immediately following her birth. Would I feel guilty if my instant reaction was joy? Or would I look my new child in the face and think, “But this is not the child I wanted”? Thankfully, she wisely counseled me to not judge my emotions, saying that whether I missed Zita or experienced the new explosion of love for Marigold, it all meant the same thing. “It means you’re a mother,” she said. “There is room in your heart to love both.”

In these waning days of May, the month when we celebrate Mary and motherhood, I find myself pondering our heavenly Mother’s heart and what it means for me to love even though a sword of sorrow has pierced my own. All mothers endure their own penetrating swords as they accompany their children on the Via Dolorosa of life.

Yet, a mother's heart refuses to stop loving and hoping. This co-mingling of anguish and hope in a mother’s heart is acutely present in Mary. “The sword of sorrow pierced your heart,” writes Pope Benedict XVI of Mary in Spe Salvi. ”Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary!’ (Lk 1:30).”

Like Mary, we should also not be afraid to live in the tension of sorrow and hope. Yes, it would be easier to either succumb to despair or deny that we have been wounded at all. But the Lord calls us to live in the truth, to share our hearts openly and honestly with him. It’s okay to mourn the dreams we had for our children or our motherhood while at the same time praising the Father for his perfect plan. Mysteries abound in the Christian life, not least of all that his ways are not our own (Isa. 55:8). “Wounded, I will never cease to love” is the motto of the Community of the Lamb, a French-based group of religious brothers and sisters. I’d argue it should be the motto of mothers, too.

The evening of June 8, my family will load cupcakes, balloons and flowers into a stroller and walk the three blocks from our door to Zita’s grave. We will sing and blow out candles, giving thanks to God for her beautiful life. Then, once we tire of scolding the kids to stop climbing on the headstones, we’ll head home to lay our living children to rest in their beds. Marigold and I will settle into the rocking chair for our nightly routine and as she snuggles close I know that grief and gratitude will be my companion. I will rest in the tension, knowing I can’t imagine life without either of these girls. This mama’s heart has more than enough room for both.

Adam Storey

Adam Storey leads the Marriage Ministry Department for the Diocese of Des Moines, which seeks to work with parishes and couples, walking with all families in all their stages, in their joys and sorrows, their celebrations and challenges.