Too many faces of grief-stricken mothers have haunted us in the media this week.
It’s hard to remember another time when we’ve borne witness to such rawness of despair from so many mothers in the face of tragedy, as vividly as we have this week. We’ve watched the pain of loss etched visibly on the faces of those who have lost their most precious possessions – their children.
There were the haunting images of the mothers of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran as they wept for the senseless loss of their sons, just before they were finally executed after ten years of hope; we watched the impulsive actions of the mother of a sixteen-year old boy in the Baltimore riots, when she publicly and physically lashed out at her son so driven was she by the fear of him becoming another black casualty; and we saw the pain of all those mothers in Nepal – mothers to the thousands buried, mothers to the mountaineers and mothers to their guides.
And let’s not forget the faceless mothers of the ANZACs as well.
We mothers all share the same ferociously protective instinct for our cubs. Human children remain in the nest longer than other animals, and even when they do strike out for independence, we never stop worrying about the safety of our progeny.
I can’t begin to imagine what the mothers of Andrew and Myuran are experiencing right now, or indeed have experienced over the last ten years since their boys made that fatal decision. I have a child who could so easily make a similarly wrong choice as those boys did and screw up his future.
Unfortunately, the best mothering in the world can’t change impulsive, risk-taking behaviour. And there are no certainties in this life, either. No guarantees. No way of knowing how your kids will turn out. The only guarantee is that you won’t stop loving them.
Yet no matter how proud those mothers were of their kids climbing Everest last week, or trying to fight for justice, or trying to make amends for mistakes committed with the naivety of youth, pride becomes a worthless currency in the face of loss.
Which is why we mums try so tirelessly to wrap our babies in the protective armour of knowledge; to helicopter them into making the right choices and understanding the difference between right and wrong and good and bad calls.
But we can only do that for so long. At some point, the cubs develop into adults and are ready to make their own decisions, make their own mark on the world, possibly even take risks. And even we know that it would be wrong to hamper their free spirit with talk of fear, all our instincts tell us to.
And we have to accept that consequences will be part of our kids’ learning process – that is, when they are given the opportunity to learn from their decisions, rather than be indefinitely held responsible for them, without forgiveness, as in the case of Andrew and Myuran.
I felt the stabbing pain of loss for those boys when I heard that they had left this life with so much dignity at their executions.
‘Pride’ in their boys may still be too complex and distant an emotion for those women who lost their children this week to truly embrace yet. There are stages to go through with any healing process – there will be anger, grief and finally acceptance, and all those mothers who lost their children this week will still be angry.
But pride will return.