I read an article recently posted by a friend that made reference to the romantic intoxication of letter writing as a form of courtship. This peaked my interest and conjured up feelings of my own nostalgia, as I am still in possession of the enormous stack of love letters my husband wrote to me the entire second year of our courtship. We were only teenagers at the time. He lived three hours away and sent, on average, one letter per week. With no internet access between the two of us back then, and very limited availability for phone contact, these letters were our connection to each other.
He was away training to become a wild land firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. His days were spent on the smoldering mountain tops of Washington State with a Pulaski and chainsaw. Dressed in his government issued green and yellow FR gear, battling the heat of the sun and the tempers of the crew members, as well as the fire itself. I was a senior in high school and just trying to finish up this last year of my childhood, all while dreaming of my life as an adult. My heart was most definitely growing fonder in his absence upon every arrival of his next letter. Every day I expected one to come, I would practically skip to the mailbox in anticipation, as giddy as a school girl, because, that’s exactly what I was. To open the mailbox and find another shining new and private treasure was always accompanied by an elation that nothing else in the rest of my world could compare to. We kept up our letter writing, seeing each other on average, one too-short weekend a month, kissing our good-byes, hand in hand, at the train station and holding on to each other as long as we could.
At the end of that year I graduated high school, he finished his training, and came home. In the next year we were married and began our life together. We moved to the rural town where he would serve the Forest Service and fight fire during the summers. I began working at the local hospital. A year into our marriage I became pregnant with our first daughter. Having experienced, by this point in life the love one has as a child for their own naturally born family, followed by the sultry, all consuming, intoxication of romantic love, I was now beginning a journey that would lead me to know the intimacy of motherly love fist-hand as well.
When our oldest daughter was born it was yet another new high that had no comparison to any of the other experiences in life I had had thus far. The second she was placed on my belly, I knew that for this tiny being, red, scrunched, and crying, I would lay down my life, here and now, and would do anything to make hers as wonderful as it could be throughout the extent of mine. My heart didn’t feel capable to both exist within my own body, yet be large enough to encompass the oceans of the earth, yet that grand form of measurement was the capacity of my love for her. The oceans, the lands, the universes, there was no end. I was an entirely new being myself in her birth. Never again would a single day of my life be lived with myself as my first consideration. I thought my heart may very well beat right out of my chest.
A mother’s love is something that, although one can logically understand, one cannot truly know the feeling and the weight of the emotion unless they have experienced it for themselves. When I was pregnant with our second daughter, four years later, I thought I truly knew all that a mother’s love could encompass.
Possibly the most primal form of love that exists is that of desire of protection of one’s own flesh and blood. What good is a love story if at one point or another that heart, capable of containing all the stars in all the galaxies, isn’t broken into a million tiny pieces? To understand the full circle of what love is, it is necessary to also experience the desolation of the elation the idea of it once brought.
My pregnancies were perfect, easy, ideal. Knowing that we were expanding our family from three to four was a joy all it’s own. The love you have for your child can never be divided amongst another. A new supply is created for that child and the love that springs forth for each of them will never come from the same reservoir. They occupy separate, but equal parts of your heart, with your heart being made fuller in the mere presence of their existence.
With a new child comes a new idea and expectation of life itself. What will that life now look like, sound like, feel like, etcetera. When something in your perfect plan doesn’t unfold the way you’d imagined, it can derail you before you ever saw it coming. Being told that our precious ten month old child was terminally ill with a rare genetic condition for which there is no treatment, and is always fatal, hit me like a freight train, and I hadn’t even known I was standing on the tracks.
I was destitute. I couldn’t even see the pieces of my life to know how to being picking them up. What would I do with them once I had collected them anyway? They couldn’t be glued back together, and even if they could, they would never again resemble the life I had once held. That feeling of the willingness to lay down your life for your child came roaring back at me, only this time with the knowledge that even to do so wouldn’t help. I would only wish I could lay down my life for her. I would have done anything to fix this for her, to save her, to make it not so. No amount of money, or power, or fame held the answer. She was beyond worldly salvation. Despair is a hole filled with quicksand. The more you struggle with it, the deeper immersed in it you become. You cannot know the feelings of desolate helplessness in watching your child die, had you not first known the monumental joy brought about by the love of being that child’s mother.
In the end, the same love your heart conjured in the beginning, is ever present, no matter the current form it takes. It will wax and wan, pulse, and transform over and over again, but it remains with you, nonetheless. Thankfully, for the compassion of my family, friends, my husband, and our daughter, and the focus of our love for one another, we were able to walk through this process and come out hand in hand, on the other side. We will never be who we were before, love has changed us all, and because of each other we still have the capacity to continue to love today.