Country music singer Joey Feek died recently after a long, hard battle with cancer. She left behind her husband Rory and their little daughter Indiana, “Indy.” Rory wrote on his blog about his first Easter without his wife. He shared that last fall, soon after Joey realized she probably wasn’t going to make it, she began encouraging her daughter to turn to her father instead of her, for little and big needs throughout the day.
…when Joey started to realize that there was a good chance that she might not beat her battle with cancer, she made a decision…”he must become greater and I must become less.” And she started going against everything in her being that told her “time was short” so hold her baby even tighter… and longer… and more… and instead – she handed the baby to me, and sat alone in a bed and watched and listened as my relationship with Indy grew…and hers lessoned…
…Who has that kind of strength and character? Not me, that’s for sure. I would’ve taken the low, easy road… the one that served me more. I would’ve tried to make the ties with our baby stronger and her love for me deeper so that she wouldn’t forget me… and in the end, probably left our baby wrecked with grief over the loss of the one person she loved and needed most. But not Joey. She let Indy fall more in love with me…and less in love with her. She carried the pain on her own shoulders, to try to keep it off of mine. And even more so, off of Indy’s…”
Rory went on to say that Indy has not asked for her mother once since she passed away, and shared that while it is sad, it is also “wonderful.” Joey’s selfless gift to her daughter was to pull back, even when likely every molecule of her being wanted to cling tightly to her little girl. Joey put the needs of her husband and child above her own.
I couldn’t get this beautiful image of self-sacrifice out of my head yesterday, and it occurred to me that this, in a smaller way, is something parents must do even when they are not facing an abruptly short time on this earth. You see, as our children grow older we must help them rely on themselves and their relationships with their siblings and others more. We bring them to God. We encourage them to develop their own relationship with Him. Then, we must fade into the background, even though we are physically present. My grandmother used to say “we work ourselves out of a job.” Yes.
This Easter my adult sons who live in California did not make it back home to Indiana. The weekend was too short to justify the long (and expensive) flight. Two of them who live in the same city celebrated together. The other one attended Mass with friends then joined others for brunch. While I definitely missed them all at the family table, and I do admit a twinge of sadness watching my daughters coloring Easter eggs without their brothers’ laughter and playful suggestions, I was okay. The boys are alive and well and celebrating with loved ones. It wouldn’t help them one bit to let them know how much I was missing them in a teary, drawn-out phone call. We’ve had a good share of wonderful memories, hopefully with more to come. But I can’t dwell on what was. I must focus on the good things that are, and the blessings that we all have.
I’m grateful that my sons have each other, and that they go to and lean on one another. I’m grateful they have friends to celebrate occasions of life with, and their faith with, and this religious holiday with, especially when I can’t be with them. I am thankful my children are growing in independence and wisdom. I’m grateful to see them growing in their faith, that they are each independently making it their own. They are learning how to turn to God in their own ways. “He increases as I decrease.” This is good.
Finally, I am grateful to be alive to witness this maturity process. Many years ago I, like Joey Feek, also had cancer. Unlike her, however, I survived. Some day I will be gone, though, and the relationships my children develop now and in the future, will sustain them and bring joy to them for a long time.
Our sacrifice as parents includes the sacrifice of pulling back. We encourage our young adult children to select friends that have character and virtue, and to find the joy of friendship in their siblings too. We watch them grow their wings and we embolden them to fly because they need to, they want to, and they should.
This week, after reading the story about Joey Feek’s untimely death and her self sacrifice, I am grateful to this mother. If Joey is in heaven, I hope she smiles knowing that her sacrifice was a blessing to me as well as to her own family. You see, she helped me remember it is greater to give than receive and how to put my children’s needs above my own. She helped me pull back so my own loved ones can move forward. What a gift. What a perspective.
Thank you, Joey.
“Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18)