Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mother of Sorrows

One Bible verse disturbs me more than any other.

It’s not the one telling me to sell my laptop computer and king-size bed because “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

It’s the words the prophet Simeon used–as he took the baby Jesus into his arms on the day the Catholic Church celebrates as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord–to foretell Mary’s sorrow: “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too” (Luke 2:35).

Psychologists have noted that there is no pain worse than Mary’s–grieving the death of a child. Surely a runner up is seeing a son or daughter suffer, and being incapable of stopping or lessening it in some way.


My son David inherited my genes that predispose him to all sorts of fun stuff like mood, sensory-integration, and anxiety disorders. Even before he emerged from my womb in a scary emergency C-section–where I heard a roomful of doctors and nurses yell through their green masks, “Come on, baby, don’t do this! Hang in there, Sweetheart!”–I knew I was in for a ride.

I just didn’t realize how much it would hurt.

When he was two I took David to see a behavioral specialist because I knew his tantrums weren’t normal.

“Describe them,” the doctor said.

“For well over an hour he will scream, writhe and thrash his entire body, yelling with so much intensity that I check to see if he has broken a bone. A few times, I paged his pediatrician because I feared that he swallowed coins or something else on the floor and was suffering from bowel obstruction. The books I read say to ignore it. But I’m worried he’s going to get a concussion the way he pounds his head against the wall or the kitchen tile floor.”


“If he is banging his head that hard, then the best thing to do is to hold him tightly until he calms down,” she said.

A few days later, during his next anxiety attack, I went to hold my son. He tried to squirm out of my arms, thrashing and writhing, but I held each of his limbs tightly so he couldn’t escape. Controlling the wild 30 pounds was more difficult than swimming 25 meters of a pool with a panicked football player under my right arm (part of the test I passed to get my lifeguard license back in high school).

As I hugged him, tucking his little hands into mine, not only did I feel his anxiety, I experienced my own childhood anxiety more acutely than had I been on a couch next to an expert hypnotist. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I became the scared eight-year-old shrieking with terror in the middle of the night, sitting up in my twin bed with beads of sweat dripping from my forehead as I held a plastic rosary in my hand.


You would think the Hail Marys and Our Fathers I uttered while trying to fall asleep would protect me from the anxiety induced by my recurring dream, but it didn’t. As soon as my head hit the pillow, the image was always the same: a line–of rope or thread or yarn–moving from side to side in a slow, methodical tempo like the needle of a metronome, gradually becoming entangled as the rhythm evaporated and a chaotic mess ensued. All order was lost, and the rushed madness resulted in a ball of crinkled trash.

“It was only a dream,” my mom would tell me, as I trembled and sobbed in her arms. “Dreams can’t hurt you,” she said, as she combed my thick hair with her fingers and wiped the tears from my eyes.


But I knew better. My dreams were Simeon’s prophecies…of fears that would become reality, of order that would end in chaos, of my future.

As one scared kid trying to comfort another, I rocked David in my arms.

“It’s okay,” I said, trying to calm him and control his flailing limbs. “Breathe in,” I whispered. “Breathe out.”

How badly I wanted to take away his anxiety, to throw it into my own collection of issues, to feel the fear for him so he wouldn’t have to.

But that would mean no resurrection. Because Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead–restoring us to peace and serenity–without the crucifixion: that Good Friday, where Mary stood underneath his cross bleeding from her heart, feeling as if a sword had pierced her soul.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a77a4) Briana Wodoslawsky

    You are a wonderful mother, much like my own, wanting to take away the pain even if it means more suffering for you. My mom says to me that it would hurt her less if it were her dealing with it because she wouldn’t have to see me go through it. There need to be more mothers like you and my own in the world. Like you said the restoring of our own world makes us who we are and stronger as a person. However, it is so important for us kids to know that our mothers want to do something that huge because of how much they love and support us. It gives us the strength to fight.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a84dc) Brian R

    As I sit here in tears I understand all too well your pain. I didn’t want to have children for a long time for fear of passing on the darkness and pain. When we had out first daughter the combination of abject joy and fear was overwhelming. Seven years later as I begin to see some signs from my youth I am paralyzed with fear. I can understand Mary’s foreknowledge of the things to come. At least she wasn’t directly responsible for Jesus’ pain. It is only through God’s grace that I go on.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a8800) melinda

    I am not trying to hurt your feelings but your religion doesn’t seem to help much. How will you teach your son the power of God’s Word when you don’t know it. You know what set Mary apart? Her faith in God’s Word (Luke 1:38,45) So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 (This is the Truth. If Mary was sitting across the table from you she would tell you to believe her Son. The Lord bless you and your family.

  • http://HASH(0xd0a9b70) Gloria

    Sorry. I disagree with the last poster. Your religion helps you a lot. I see and hear your love for your child and others. That is a result of your religion. Your display of the love of God is surely a result of your religion. You know that love oversomes everything. Your child will be all right. I do not know what the other poster meant, but I believe religion is about love. You may know all the scripture in the world, but if you do not have love, it is nothing. (I Corinthians 13)

  • http://HASH(0xd0aa390) Katie

    I agree with Gloria — the poster that says that your faith doesn’t help is clueless. It seems to me that your faith is what keeps you holding your son and looking past the pain and suffering to the hoped-for resurrection. I also have a “special needs” child who required time and love in excess of what “the experts” say is “normal” but with a great deal of love and a lot of communication, we have made our way through the Valley of Darkness and come out the other side. It is a long and hard journey but it was unbelievably worth it — my daughter at 22 is one of my best friends and a source of immense pride to me and her father. We look back on the times that she acted out because she didn’t have enough transistion time, she wasn’t given clear enough information about changes or any of the other things that led to tantrums, sulks, anxiety and nightmares as trials that have been survived and hurdles that were conquered. She would not be the caring, passionate, fierce woman that she is without having gone through those experiences. My prayers are with you and David as you navigate your personal mine fields – always remember that there is, with the Grace of God, a light at the other end. The destination may not be what you planned, but if you keep your eyes and heart open, it will be awe-filled.

  • http://HASH(0xd0ab264) Iris Alantiel

    Therese, that was beautiful. I hesitate to say that I completely understand your pain, because some people find that presumptuous, but I do understand to some degree. I also have a bunch of genetic predispositions that, once I have children (likely within the next five years), will open them up to all kinds of nasty things – mental illness, retardation, heart defects, brain damage. I’ve been anxious about it for almost a decade now, ever since I learned that the consequences of my genetic disorder for my babies. It’s the only thing about it that I really mind. It’s been a struggle for me throughout my entire spiritual life, but I’ve always found Mary to be a very comforting example. Incidentally, I think what Melinda (the poster who said your faith didn’t seem to help) may have been trying to say was related to the Protestant belief that Catholics put too much emphasis on Mary. Likely she was trying to encourage you to shift your focus more to Jesus; Protestants believe that’s the only way to go. I say, take your peace however you can get it. I really believe Jesus would rather have us come to peace through his mother than be unable to have any peace at all.

  • http://HASH(0xd0ac6fc) Peg

    Therese, thank you for your post. It was quite consoling for me, a 65 year old, who has suffered from nervousness and anxiety most of my life. I, too, have fingered rosary beads during hard times, whether a migraine or relationship issues. Your reminder about the Resurrection at the end makes the picture complete for Christians.Peg

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