I watched the movie “Mary and Martha” the other night. I didn’t exactly know what the movie was about before clicking the Amazon “Watch Now” button. The movie description simply said, “Two women forge a unique bond steeped in tragedy in this uplifting, emotional film…”
I don’t know why I clicked on it. The title intrigued me, and I like Hilary Swank’s acting. I had no idea it was a story of child loss. I assumed the tragedy was of another sort.
Nonetheless, I started the movie. Perhaps it was the blizzard we experienced Monday in our area that compelled me to “hunker down.” I don’t know. But start it, I did. It began innocently enough, portraying a beautiful family. Not a perfect or flawless one, but real, with small glimpses into their daily life with authentic struggles. Much like ours, really, before tragedy hit.
But the unexpected happens. Their son dies. And I watch the film as if an outsider, only I’m not. I observe Hilary Swank’s character as she sits next to her son’s lifeless body, identifying all too well the look of shock, the feeling of numbness take over her body as her mind tries to wrap itself around the truth that her child has died. I remember how, before loss, I would be moved to tears in scenes like this. Yet after loss, I now take great pains to restrain myself from “going” there, from recalling those memories of my own son’s death, of mechanically standing at the doorway of the hospital room where his lifeless body lay. I slam the door on memories as I watch the movie, try to push away the recollection of my own numbness and disbelief in those early hours of losing Matt.
I watched the mother’s behavior at the funeral and how she interacts with her friends after it’s over, and the different ways in which a husband and a wife grieve in the immediate weeks that follow, and I identified with it all.
But mostly, I recognized the guilt. The guilt I still live with.
And I recognized the overwhelming desire to find purpose after child loss, to find some sort of significance to your child’s death. I get it. I’m guessing probably almost every bereaved parent suffers from guilt after losing a child. It doesn’t matter if it’s rational, right, or reasonable. Guilt is guilt. Additionally, pain begs purpose. There must be purpose, for without it, we become cynical, bitter, and unhealed.
Guilt remains, but purpose is a salve of sorts. There is nothing I can do to absolve it. Sure, I can forgive myself for not being the perfect parent, but the consequences remain: my son no longer lives an earthly life. He will never come back to me. I will never hear his voice or see his face, watch him walk into a room, or give him away in marriage. I’ll never be a grandmother to his children. The film rightly concludes the same for the main characters, Mary and Martha. They, too, deem purpose to be a ladder, of sorts, out of the pit of grief. Purpose is the bereaved parents anthem, their lifeline to living in this world bereft of their child(ren).
Mary and Martha find their purpose in telling their story, in striving to save just one other child or person from the same fate their child suffered. If they can save just one life, then perhaps, just maybe, their child’s death was not in vain. Perhaps there was meaning. And just maybe, in some tangible way, their child lives on.
My purpose after Matt died remains the same: to glorify God, to speak honestly about my grief and to point others to Christ through it, to show that a relationship with God isn’t perfect, but He is. Because of Christ, I purpose to show that life after child loss is, indeed, possible. Life, good life and joy are, incredibly, unbelievably, possible after losing a child. It doesn’t mean your life will look like it did before. No, that’s not possible. But life must, like a home destroyed by fire, be rebuilt. It will take intention. It will take time. It will take help from others. Like Mary finds friendship and a common bond with Martha (and Martha likewise), the bereaved must forge friendships and accept help to rebuild. They must be patient with the remaking of their lives after loss. They must be intentional in shutting the door on the “what ifs” and “if onlys” and move forward by deliberately choosing to rebuild, to refuse to sit in the ashes for the rest of life. They must determine to take steps, however small, toward healing.
I’m not sure the guilt will ever go away, but I do know this: I can’t change the circumstances. I can’t bring my son back. Moreover, I refuse to live in fear. I will do everything I can to live life well because I know that if I allow my son’s death to destroy me, then death will have won, and Matt would not have wanted that. The voice of guilt is a vicious beast, but the voice of Grace and Mercy is sweet, tender, and forgiving. Death will try to convince you that nothing good remains, but that is a lie. Love remains. God remains. He has never left, never failed, never given up.
The story of Mary and Martha resounds because God has a purpose for our pain, a good purpose. There is an eternal weight of glory that is being prepared for those who grieve, who trust God with their sorrow, who sit at his feet among the ashes of their devastation. It is a weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Far beyond. (2 Cor. 4:17) When we choose to trust him through our grief, he will fashion it into something beautiful, something with purpose.
Watching Mary and Martha reminded me that when the voice of guilt comes calling, I have every right to not answer the door, but instead to stand back and allow Jesus to open it, for when he does, he speaks to guilt and bids it leave. I am forgiven for all my mistakes, all the missed opportunities I didn’t take, all the failures I’ve made as a parent. I can’t bring my son back, but I can move forward with purpose, trusting God to purpose good from grief.