“Would you go back in time?” I heard her whisper in the quiet of my heart. I pondered these thoughts while walking through the blossoming spring woods and smiled thinking about her calm soul and beautiful brown eyes. “Not now, I have grown too much…thanks to you.” I responded quietly to myself, stepping over broken branches and misshapen stones along my path. Gazing at the vast array of branches and stones, I thought about how each one represented some aspect of my journey since losing mom. The broken branches which were strewn about the path constituted my shattered heart and soul several years ago. But slowly over time, this heart has grown stronger through love, prayer, reading and reflection and it now looks more like a fairly decent stone – one showing a little debris, but not so dirty that you’d mistake it’s appearance. I’m not sure if it will every be the same again – apart of it was lost forever when my mom left this world – but at least it is healing in an acceptable way.
Mother’s Day brought a mix of emotions for me this year. I experienced a triad of vastly differing feelings – pain, sadness and joy. It took some time to realize that my sadness had surfaced from a place deep inside my heart where only joyous memories of my beloved mom reside. Acknowledging this truth, I sought to stay in the moment, being mindful for the blessings of the day and savoring all that my mom had lovingly given to me over her lifetime. Staying in the present allowed me to enjoy the overflow of love from my beautiful family, which led to a brief respite in back pain. In the moment, I could cherish the kindness, attention and love from my husband, dad and children. I could also happily honor the memory of my incredible mom, without the danger of slipping into the past.
The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present – and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future. – Audrey Hepburn
I’ll admit that I could have easily spoiled Mother’s Day by wallowing in self-pity at the loss of my irreplaceable mom. Let’s be honest – it’s easy to look back longingly when we lose someone we deeply and completely love. But living in the past is a trap (that I have experienced) which steals our peace and joy in the present moments of life. Nothing good comes from living in past sadness and regret for what could have been. My mom always reminded me that God is with us today, in the present, guiding our way toward the light. Our job is to trust in Him and know that all will be well when we purposefully live one day at a time.
Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
So what, then, do we do when we find our souls yearning to live in the past – a time which may have been happy and which included loved ones who are now home in heaven? I think the solution lies in our ability to be grateful. Gratitude has a way of lifting our focus from the self and turning it toward the other. When we take time to give thanks for the other in our lives – friends, family, faith, job, home, etc. – we learn that living in the past is futile. Dutch, Catholic priest Henri Nouwen said it well “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
Loss, regret and sadness are realities in this life. When faced with these difficult experiences, we may be tempted to nurture our wounds by remaining in the comfortable past. But as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” With a spirit of gratitude for the gifts which God has given us – those of the past and present – we can happily live with intention and purpose. Our renewed efforts will allow our hearts and minds to experience a lasting peace, joy and contentment in the present and for years to come.