Trees pass by in a blur as I hold the shoebox tightly. The car was thick with silence and sad anticipation. A tiny pink nose appears between the box and its lid, followed by another. I gently pressed the lid closed.
“Do you think they’re getting enough air?”
At nine years old, I was learning if I kept my eyes wide open and blinked as fast as I could, tears dried up more quickly.
“They’re f-fine. You made lots of holes.”
I noticed mom kept her face straight ahead as she answered. Were her eyes wide open too? As heaviness settled over me at what was to come, I adjusted my grip on the box. Liquid immediately pooled in the corner of my eyes.
Wiggly bodies shook the cardboard in my hands and I couldn’t help myself. Lifting the lid, I drank in six sets of beady brown eyes, copious whiskers arching out from pointed noses and fur ranging from white to black with splashes of tan and caramel.
Six hamsters, barely two months old. We were headed to a pet store in a nearby town because we simply couldn’t keep ten hamsters. I understood the logic of what we were doing even as my sensitive heart throbbed at having to give them up.
Our parents allowed us to keep two of the baby hamsters, as well as their parents. We were giving the remaining six to a pet store to be sold to someone else.
Someone who might not love them as much as I did. Might not take care of them as well as we did.
I lifted my wide-eyed gaze, taking in the green and brown New England woods as I blinked rapidly.
I thought back to Christmas, nearly six months ago. The frozen Connecticut morning had been warmed by the sight of two large cages with cedar shavings and silver hamster wheels next to hanging plastic water bottles.
Mindy and I each received a hamster that Christmas morning. We thought they’d be happiest together, so they began sharing a cage.
Uh oh. To our childish eyes the hamsters looked very similar, but they had one major difference.
“Mom, the hamsters are fighting!”
I’m sure visions of wiggly pink baby hamsters danced through my mom’s mind when she came in my bedroom and saw the hamsters “fighting.”
“We need to keep them separate. Now.”
A few short weeks later eight tiny, bald, pink hamster babies squeaked and squalled from under a fluffy nest of tissue and cedar. We loved them immediately, and enjoyed watching them grow.
Mom pulled into the pet store parking lot, jarring me back to sad reality. I gripped the box tightly. Understanding why didn’t erase the pain of letting go of something–things–I loved.
“Can’t we just keep them?”
“We don’t have room, Kerry. I wish we could keep them all, too. I’m sorry.” Mom’s words caught and she hiccupped on a soft sob.
Mom was crying?
I took in my mom’s tears and felt the comfort of our shared sadness envelope me. It didn’t make giving our young hamsters away any easier, but it created an emotional bond with my mom that exists in my heart today.
Shared tears eased the pain.
Throughout my childhood I shared many tears with my mom…tears from the deaths of our beloved animals, from childhood hurts, from the upheaval of moving, from the pain of high school break-ups, from losing loved ones, and from the pain of others’ suffering. These memories are vibrant experiences seared in my soul because our grief was mutual and the tears shared.
There is inexpressible joy in laughing together, and there is unforgettable poignancy in crying together.
As mothers, we watch tears trace down our children’s faces so many times we’ve lost count. And when we cry with them their pain becomes our own. Burdens are shared. We offer solace with a tender touch, our listening ear, fervent prayers for healing and through words of love and encouragement.
On earth we have the daunting privilege of being first responders to our children’s pain through all of life’s trials. We wipe tears and soothe the hurt away. Although we can’t be Jesus to our children, mothers can live out His perfect love through our imperfect lives.
Sometimes, that love comes in the form of grief and pain shared through tears.
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13