One of the real experiences of being a mother is that fear can grip us when we imagine handing over our children to God. We think our worries can somehow save our children and yet they have no control, except to keep us from sleeping. The reality of mothering adults is that we can no longer hold their hands and keep them from danger.
Not only are our children out of reach as they grow up, but we see their lives sometimes broadcast on social media too far from our advice.
I feel the need to share a short story of my son, only because millions of people have viewed on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram what a rash decision and almost dying looks like.
If it was not for social media, I would be more concerned about my son’s broken back than about why he jumped.
My two oldest sons departed in the late summer of 2018 to walk to Canada through Glacier National Park, an adventure that any man would come out of stronger and closer to God from the blisters, exhaustion, breathtaking photos, and tales to tell. I wasn’t hesitant to let them go; I was proud, especially in comparison to the average teenager’s summer antics.
The hike was successful and the following week I would hear the good news that they were safe from being eaten by a bear, or getting lost, sick, or attacked by a mountain lion. When my son told me he was in pain from jumping off a cliff I wasn’t worried; I was annoyed because he jumps off everything, throws back flips like cartwheels, and is often trying to ignore the minor injuries as a result.
When he ended up in the hospital getting an MRI and I learned he had a broken back, I was upset that he wasn’t more careful. When I learned the fracture was frighteningly close to his spine, I cried imagining my strong, agile son in a wheelchair. When I heard that his injury was the result of the height of the cliff and the shallow water landing I was more than concerned.
Driving home from Canada and through Glacier National Park, the boys stopped to check out St. Mary’s Lake and do some cliff jumping. Aiden looked down, gauged his guts and jumped.
Aiden told me it was just like the other jumps; he makes a decision and commits. He didn’t feel the danger until he felt the wind push him toward the cliff and he thought, “I could die.” What else could it have been but an angel that placed him roughly — yet alive — in shallow water?
A 175-foot jump into 10 feet of water is not what he anticipated. I wasn’t there to warn him, to tell him to walk away. I wasn’t there to help him out, bandage his wounds, or drive him to the hospital. This is mothering an adult: praying from a distance and giving them to God. It is painful.
He climbed back up the cliff, scaling the wall he almost hit. His back was gashed, his toes broken and cut to the bones.
My son jumped off a cliff, and I questioned why God gave us free will. Or maybe I was asking God why he let my son have free will. I tried to relive the last 20 years and where I had gone wrong as a mother. Did I encourage the daredevil-ness or provoke it? Do you ever feel like if you hand over your children to God you are going to lose control, that you will lose them because He will take them? I felt that. I felt like I had involuntarily surrendered my child to God. I know it’s all irrational. As if all the years I have kept my children out of the street, away from the edge, and safely confined in walls, cribs, and car seats was all my doing.
And here is where I see all my children’s mistakes as a reflection of my mothering, where I have failed. I see undisciplined manners, behaviors, and bad habits — and I see my faults.
If I only instilled in them sooner the tenets of our faith, the pillars of truth and conviction, if I had only juiced up in them Christ’s powerful grace and eternal promises, then they would be walking saints and not rule-breakers, boundary-pushing teenagers and adults.
What I envision is that saints fall in line, follow the rules, speak softly, walk blindly toward heaven in modest clothes, and gracefully carry their burdens.
What I see when I study the subjects, other Catholic moms and their children, I see tidy. I imagine they can ramble off the Fruits of the Spirit, that they always genuflect reverently, that they are convicted and un-rebellious.
I judge the mothers whose children are unruly, refusing to mind, a little messy, and confrontational, as mothers who pray less, mothers who are too busy to sit down and set their children straight. I judge them like I judge myself: harshly. And you know what’s worse? When “their” children mess up I’m glad I am not “that” mom or I feel like less of a failure because I am not the only one and I slightly sink, becoming unnecessarily slack for a bit with my discipline.
Yet here I find myself as “that” mom, the mother whose son risked his life. I am that mom because my son’s friend filmed the jump and the world around us saw him brush death.
I am that mom who other moms feel for. At the grocery store, at Costco, and 2500 miles from home, other mothers surprise me by knowing me: “Are you the mother of the boy?”, “He is lucky to be alive!”, “I couldn’t believe it.”, “It just made me sick to my stomach.” And then there were those who know me who called gasping, commiserating the pain they felt as they imagined if it had been their son.
I am uncomfortable with my response smiling, “Yes, I am so grateful he’s alive” and “No, I didn’t watch the video!” I throw this at them, with a little less of a smile, so that they understand a piece of my heart – that it was almost a video of my son’s dying or to make them feel remorseful that they joined the millions of thrill-seeking frat boys types who also watched the jump. It’s not a charitable response, it’s my irritation, I suppose, because I am not the mom known for something deserving a pat on the back, rather deserving of a strange sympathy.
I don’t have a word to describe my son; crazy, wild, not thinking, careless, fearless, brave? … Suicidal sits with me.
I wrestle with the thought of him caring so little he didn’t mind risking his life.
I talked to our priest, he calmed my spirit that was aching for an answer, “How much do I question and prod my son? How do I get to the bottom of this, is he suicidal?” Was this when I bring in the therapists and experts to talk the extreme adrenaline-junkie-ness out of my son? Fr. Sean relieved me by hearing what Aiden had said, that Aiden’s response wouldn’t have been, “Oh my goodness, I could die” if he had intended that. If that was true, he observed, he would have said, “Oh my goodness, I want to live!”
I came to realize that God has always been with my son, He didn’t just show up at that moment to save him. I cannot allow the fear of letting go grip me. After spinning the thoughts of his recklessness for too many days, I found peace that God knows Aiden’s heart and God is holding him.
I have to trust that I am raising my children with God. I have to trust God. I rest in knowing that Aiden jumped not for wanting to die, but rather for wanting to fly!
Copyright 2019 Maggie Eisenbarth