I attended a women's retreat at a Franciscan retreat center when my youngest was just a few months old, toting him along with me and sharing a room with a friend of mine who had also just had a baby. I remember those early days with my son, staring at his tiny new face, marveling at his fingers, his toes, his wispy dark hair and feeling an overwhelming sense of mama-bear love. It's the love of fabric softener commercials, Hallmark specials, baby announcements and the first buds of spring. But there are other kinds of love, of devotion, of moments that you find yourself willing to do whatever it takes for another person. A tougher, more raw kind of love. A love that has grown strong, shredded, raspy with time and pain.
That weekend at the women's retreat we listened to a story about a woman caring for her alcoholic husband, and one thing the speaker said really hit me. She said, Sometimes, this is what love looks like. It hit me because I know what it's like to love a family member who is in the pit of despair. I know what it is to feed a loved one, pull down the shades when he wants them pulled down, put away fresh groceries while praying that they are eaten, putting dishes away quietly so as not to disturb troubled sleep. And at the end of the day as I drive the hour back to my own home, to hope that I've made a difference. But the almost impossible challenge? To know when it's time to step back into my own life, to care for myself in the same tender way, to remember that my life is just as important. And the even harder part? To acknowledge the fact that I did not cause this, and I cannot control it's outcome. In the meantime, I'm learning these lessons and doing the best I can to live life with gratitude and the enthusiasm that life deserves.
5 months ago