Ten years ago when I was in Assisi, Italy, I went into one of the many churches and encountered a statue of the Virgin Mary I had never seen before. She was made of painted wood, probably, and tall—tall, at least, in my memory—dressed in the traditional blue robes, arms outstretched, face tilting upwards in entreaty. What was so striking about this statue, though, was not Mary herself but the bright silver swords that pierced her breast. A gleaming, metallic cluster extending out into the air around her. Hundreds of them, my memory tells me, though I know this must be exaggeration. Photos I have found of similar statues show only six swords.
I stood beneath the statue, transfixed. This, I thought, was surely the most accurate representation of the loss of a child I had ever seen. Not the sad, demure face Mary usually wears. Not the single tear at the corner of her eye, or running down her cheek. But this: pure, violent agony.
When Joseph died, I thought of this Mary. María de los Dolores, I remember her being called. Mary of Sorrows. Not a passive, pious Mary calmly facing the death of her son, but a raw, grieving mother, mouth open, crying out to God in pain.
I made this Mother of Sorrows icon only a week after Joseph’s death and birth, and still I feel the heavy weight of the swords in my heart. Eight of them, one for every month of his life in my womb. This pain is like a broken rib, a bright piercing when I inhale. Sometimes, if I lie very still, the pain disappears, and I can fool myself into thinking these wounds are healed.
© Burning Eye