The Soulful Catholic has been silent for a while now. There’s a reason for that and some of it is because of joy. The deep kind. The kind that swells your heart and fills your brain and carries you over the days and nights.
Our son, an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, is serving at Okinawa and was finally home for a brief visit after two and a half years.
We did at least a month worth of living during those halcyon 10 days of leave. Hiking, bowling, poker, barbecues, belly laughs and heart-to-heart talks. It felt like a dream having him beside us at Mass two Sunday mornings in a row.
Okinawa is sixteen hours ahead of us here in the Arizona desert, so while we attend Saturday evening Mass here, Johnny and his wife are attending Mass on Sunday morning on the other side of the world. Adoring the Eucharistic Lord as we gather to worship, we are together again, if only briefly, through the miracle of the Real Presence.
When we said farewell back in November of 2019, we never could have guessed that a long separation, a pandemic, and an economic meltdown were just ahead. Birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, Easters and all the other holidays went by without our son.
Surely, he’d be back home in time for Christmas 2020, I thought to myself. He’d have leave.
But it wasn’t to be. Not only that, visitors were not permitted to travel to his base.
Then came the wonderful news: Johnny would be travelling stateside for six weeks of training on the East Coast and would have a 10-day break afterward to visit us.
We celebrated every single moment. Even the mundane things seemed to take on extra significance. After that happy interlude, there was the heartache to be overcome. The blog beckoned, but feelings were so raw, blogging seemed insurmountable. The Soulful Catholic has always dreaded goodbyes.
After his seabag was packed and his aunties and cousins left, our family gathered in a huddle in the garage for the farewell. It cut me to the core to see our five big, strong sons choke back tears as they embraced. They whispered in each other’s ears, some brotherly counsel, some last words, some final bit of wisdom. Then it was time to leave.
Three weeks later, I still get a lump in my throat envisioning the scene.
That sharp contrast of joy and pain will be something I’ll need time to digest. Certainly, there were insights gained during this chapter of life.
I think of all the mamas (like my brave older sister) who have sent sons off to war, fearing for their safety. My son was not headed into a conflict zone, but with world war threatening, there are tiny alarm bells in the back of my brain that I try to ignore. We pray for peace and trust in God.
Then there was the huge realization that landed in the midst of all the family fun: My mother-in-law and father-in-law’s incredibly selfless gift. Little did they know that when they sent their beloved son to the U.S. for studies back in 1983 that he would never again call Venezuela his home. They saw him only a handful of times after our marriage in 1986; years later, as I miss my own son, I can appreciate the intense pain that must have caused. They had eight other children, a non-parent might say. Yet every child is precious, and when one is missing, there’s an ache in your heart that simply cannot be soothed. I see that now and I am awed by their generous spirits, by their sacrifice without complaint.
I thought, too, of my ancestors who left Ireland in the mid-19th century and who never again laid eyes on their parents or their homeland. How difficult that parting must have been, and what courageous hearts they had to flee across the ocean for a better life. No FaceTime calls. No text messages. No connecting other than through the shared longing of hearts.
People don’t leave hearth and home on a whim. They do it for love: to marry the love of their life, to save their children from starvation, to make a home where there’s freedom and opportunity and safety. To serve their country, though it pains them to be apart from loved ones.
So as my mother’s heart feels the wound of separation from a beloved son of my own, it also fills with gratitude for the mother who gave me her son to have and to hold, for better or worse. The times together are always the better. The times of goodbye seem the worst, and yet I know in the depth of my soul that come Sunday, we’ll be together again at the heavenly banquet, sharing the Bread of Life. My long-since-passed in-laws and parents will be there, too, in spirit.
Another Mother’s Day will come and go. This year, one fifth of my heart will be in Okinawa again. I pray for God’s grace to bridge the distance as we adore the One who gave His life to save us all.