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Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

March 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Book Club, Cardinal Virtues, Vicki Burbach

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The Four Cardinal Virtues (Week 9 of 12)

…the lack of courage to accept injury and the incapability of self-sacrifice belong to the deepest sources of psychic illness. All neuroses seem to have as a common symptom an egocentric anxiety, a tense and self-centered concern for security, the inability to “let go”; in short, that kind of love for one’s own life that leads straight to the loss of life. – The Four Cardinal Virtues (Fortitude: Chapter 4, Paragraph Four)

Love, Loss and the Liberty of Letting Go

As human beings, we have a tendency to get completely wrapped up in our desire to protect what is ours – whether our families, our lives, our comfort, our rights, our security, or even our plans for the day.  But our desperate attempts to secure ourselves and our happiness in this world often destroy the very relationships, dreams and peace of mind we are trying to protect.  Even worse, such obsession with our own well-being can result in great damage to our souls.

I recently experienced this phenomenon in my own life in a very tangible way.

About six weeks ago we learned we were expecting our seventh child. Well, technically, this would be our eleventh child, as we've suffered four miscarriages – three of them in the past three years.

When I learned I was expecting again, I refused to allow myself to get excited, as I was very aware at every moment that this pregnancy could share the same fate as our last three.

Right away, I found myself creating an emotional barrier between my heart and my baby. The roller coaster of emotion I endured is difficult to put into words; but essentially, as a protective mechanism, I would tell myself, “Don’t get excited – you’re probably not going to have this baby.” I would find myself wondering in an odd moment how we would reconfigure bedrooms, but would stop mid-thought with a reminder that I shouldn’t let my mind get ahead of the game.  I kept this up for two weeks.

My reaction may sound reasonable.  But I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that throughout those two weeks I felt tortured to the very depths of my soul.

I spent two endless weeks hiding in the darkness. Knowing I had a life growing within me but refusing to give my fragile heart to that little baby because I knew it would be torn to pieces if my precious child left me too early.  In such situations, hope is a funny thing.  It's like a scurrying light you just can't catch to extinguish – it interrupts your thoughts at the oddest of times, and it is ceaselessly persistent.  Even when you try to shut it out, even when you tell yourself things will not turn out as you’d like, even when you try to build a fortress of defenses around your heart to protect it from pain, hope sneaks in through the cracks, offering tiny streams of light to shine through the darkness.  But sadly, light becomes torture to someone trying desperately to remain in the dark. And trying to control that little light causes more pain and self-destruction than any form of physical torture ever could.

God must’ve known how I was suffering, for He reached out His hand and pulled me from the abyss I’d created for myself.

By Divine Providence, when I was about eight weeks pregnant, my daughter figured out that I was expecting. She shared the news with my son, and the two of them confronted me with accusing smiles and “Gotcha” grins.

Little did they know that in the very small, dark, lonely world I had created for myself, their revelation threw open shades that I had drawn tight in an effort to keep out the sun. They threw open the door to welcome the fragrant breeze of joy, and our entire family inhaled freely and fell in love with this new little life. I couldn’t help but respond immediately.  I welcomed the sun and eagerly inhaled the fresh air.  The result was radiance and love and a fullness that I had ironically denied myself in a desperate effort to avoid the pain of loss.

We smiled. We laughed. We planned. We celebrated with ice cream. Would it be a boy or a girl? Maybe even, as one daughter desperately wanted – twins?  The girls knitted baby hats.  I purchased maternity clothes so that my very visible nine-week baby bump and I could proudly escort my sophomore son to Mom Prom (Believe me, after six kids, that bump comes early and grows fast!).

My husband and I held hands and smiled.  A lot.

In one fell swoop, my heart had expanded to an unbelievable size.  I loved my baby. And all was good.

For two weeks.

At ten weeks I went in for my first ultrasound.

But there was no heartbeat…my teeny, tiny precious little baby had already died.

Two weeks later, this past Tuesday, I began to miscarry.

We were all very saddened by the news.  But for me, the most painful part of this entire process is not that I allowed my heart to expand in love despite knowing I might be hurt.  Rather, it is knowing that in a desperate attempt to protect myself from pain,  I refused to love for one second.  Let alone, two weeks.

I tried to tell myself that my hesitation was understandable.  And in this world, I suppose it was.  After all, I had been burned four times. Wasn't it only natural to want to protect myself?

But Then I remembered Mary.

Particularly, I remembered her in The Passion of the Christ.

As a convert, in watching The Passion I was most profoundly affected by a new understanding of Mary, as The Mother of Sorrows.  It  recently occurred to me that her Son was only 40 days old – a tiny little Baby – when she was told that through Him “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). And yet, did she hold back? Did she choose to protect herself from pain that was sure to come? No. She never held back her love in an effort to protect herself. She opened wide the doors of Hope. She rested in the joy that this life is not the end. She prepared her soul for the glory of eternal life. And she surrendered her will to the Will of her Heavenly Father, with calm, quiet, peace.

Mary's heart was pierced by a sword and yet she did not wince. She stood, full of Faith. Full of Hope. She sacrificed the one thing that no mother could ever imagine losing – her Son. And because of her ability to surrender all to God’s Will, she was able to let go with a strength and dignity which, as a mother, left me speechless.

In the future, I pray that I can hold fast to Mary's example of courage in the face of self-sacrifice.  And in my grief, I’m reminded that I can turn to her for comfort.  Mary knows my fears. She understands my sorrows. And I can remember that she did not deny herself the experience of sadness. Rather, in her pain, Mary united herself to her Son, remembering that her consolation would be eternal.

Reading Assignment:

Temperance: Chapter 3

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever had a situation where you selfishly tried to hold onto something so tightly that you ended up losing the very thing you were trying to save?  If so, how did you overcome?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week.

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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