When a baby or a child dies, a parent expects to feel grief, and so it was when Thomas died. But I have also experienced deep grief involving one of my other children. It was unexpected. I thought that I should have been rejoicing, my heart overflowing with happiness and thanksgiving, but instead I sorrowed.

Six years ago my eldest daughter, at the age of eighteen, announced she was leaving home to enter an enclosed order of nuns. All our friends congratulated us. I smiled in reply but inside my heart was heavy. Could I face the possibility that my daughter would never again enter our home, never again sit and chat and drink coffee and laugh with us, never again be a real part of our lives, never again look on me as her mother to guide and take care of her?

Felicity left home, prepared to be a contemplative nun. She left with the intention of never returning for how can you make a commitment that is not whole hearted? The words, “I might be back,” couldn’t be spoken because that is not the way to offer yourself without reservation. And so I couldn’t allow myself to think, “She might return”. And so I grieved.

I didn’t know any other parents who’d given up their children to religious life. There was no one in the same situation to talk to about the feelings of loss. I even questioned whether I should be feeling sorrow. Was there something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I have been full of joy?

Felicity did return home after two years. She’d been willing to offer her life but it was not meant to be. So my daughter came back but nothing can take away the memory of the grief I felt when she left.

I wrote A Mother’s Heart the day Felicity announced her decision to leave us. This story has been sitting in my file ever since that day. Perhaps it is time to share it. Perhaps there are other parents who have feelings of grief mingled in with the joy as they say goodbye to their children. To grieve for children who are still alive, but no longer part of the family, is so very difficult. I pray for anyone in this situation.




Felicity’s eyes were shining and the words burst from her,” How do you feel about me becoming a contemplative nun, Mum?”

Wouldn’t any Catholic parent be delighted to hear this from a daughter? A feeling of joy flooded my heart.

“I knew you’d want to join the enclosed order”, I replied without surprise. I had been talking to my husband, Andy, about this possibility a few days earlier.

Felicity’s choice of vocation is not a surprise. She has been talking and praying about it for the last year. She had a tentative plan set out: a week with the enclosed nuns and then she’d return home before leaving again for a six week aspirancy with the nuns of a teaching order. If all went well, she’d be home for Christmas before entering this order as a postulant in the new year. But like I’d anticipated, God sometimes has different plans to those we make for ourselves. I’d already been turning over in my mind, the thought that Felicity might feel called to become a contemplative nun instead of a teaching one. I know it will be much more difficult to give her to an enclosed order than to one  whose nuns work in the world. For some reason I knew God was going to ask us to make the greater sacrifice.

“So you are returning to do an aspirancy?”

“No, a six month postulancy and then I can become a novice.”

“You’d leave after Christmas?”

“I want to go back to the priory. I’m working next week. I need some time to sort out my room. Maybe a few weeks. Mother Prioress said to return as soon as possible.”

Suddenly, a new feeling was making itself evident in my heart: an intense sadness at the thought of my daughter leaving home. Not only would she be leaving us but she would probably never return. And it would be happening within a few weeks. She probably won’t be here for Thomas’ and Imogen’s birthdays and certainly not Christmas.

“It’s OK, Mum. You can see me once a month and I’d write every week.”

Yes, these are great consolations but there are still many sacrifices to be made. Felicity and I are great friends. I enjoy her company and love spending time with her. I will miss her. She will no longer be part of our every day lives. She will leave behind her clothes, her possessions, her place in the family and her old life. It will not be easy.

I have been crying off and on since Felicity made her announcement. The tears come unbidden, deep from inside me, and my mother’s heart is breaking. The last time I felt like this was when our son Thomas died. Even though I accepted his death with all my heart, the pain of losing our child was almost unbearable. Thomas was baptised; we know he is in Heaven; he did not have to undergo a life full of suffering here on earth. Why should a parent feel so sad? Even though we say with our lips, “You can have what you want, God”, our hearts protest. The bonds between parent and child are so strong. Whether a child is a day old or eighteen years old, a mother’s love is intense.

I have always tried to teach our children that you do what God wants, regardless of the sacrifices. What we want is unimportant. There is no question about trying to change Felicity’s mind about her vocation. We are very blessed to have a child who is answering God’s call. We have much to be thankful for. But I just did not expect to feel so much sadness intermingled with the joy.

I am a bit hesitant about sharing my feelings of loss: Shouldn’t the overwhelming sense of thankfulness for the graces God has bestowed upon our family eliminate the pain? In some ways I do not understand my feelings myself. What I do know is that whenever we follow God’s will, real peace and joy follow. We gladly offer our daughter to do God’s work. Felicity’s heart is already bursting with joy. I know my own heart will follow suit in due course. 

This is not meant to be a negative story. I truly believe that if it had been God's will for Felicity to remain in the convent, my heart would have filled with that peace and joy I wrote about.


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  1. Oh Sue{{}}
    What a grief and I DO understand, at least mentally. Like many a Catholic parent I pray that my children do God's will, and maybe that means to the priesthood or religious, but a small wee part of me thinks, "Oh a priest's life is so lonely, oh is that what 'my' boy will be called to?"
    An enclosed order, I get that would be a grief, really not the same as an 'outside' order.

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  2. Erin,

    I think that this is one of the subjects we rarely, if ever, talk about in terms of grief. Whenever vocations are mentioned, we discuss the joy, the thanksgiving, the privilege... We pray for more vocations, and hope our children will be chosen. But we don't talk about the sacrifice, the sorrow. And so when a child enters the religious life no one is prepared for the pain, and outsiders might not even realise it is very difficult for parents and families.

    But as you say, we have to do God's will and it is exciting being part of His plan.

    I think a priest's life would be very hard. But I think joy does result from doing what God wants us to do. There would be many blessings for those children and their families that were willing to answer the call for vocations.

    Thank you for your comment, Erin!

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  3. There is no greater honour to a family than when a child wishes to enter religious life; for it is a testament of how good you and your husband are at raising a family.

    Yes ... you grieve at their loss, especially if it is an enclosed order. It is right to grieve, because once again you show the intensity of your love for your child. God knows this and is grateful for the sacrifice that you make in giving your child to Him.

    We often say "Thy will be done" yet deep in our hearts perhaps we don't fully mean it. Like when you accepted your daughter's decision yet, naturally, you grieved and wished her decision were not so. God knows this too. He knows that it was your human nature reacting as it should. He did create us after all, and He knows how our human nature behaves.

    You are a great example of a Christian mother and with your husband an example of a Christian family. It is so sad that there are not more families like yours.

    God bless you all.

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  4. Victor,

    Thank you for stopping and writing such a thoughtful and helpful comment. I was anticipating no comments on this post. One of those stories about which it's hard to think of anything appropriate to say, maybe.

    Victor, I don't feel like a great example of a Christian mother. I have lots of knots in my life just like you. There are a few knots still tied tightly from the time of my daughter's entry into the convent. Maybe this is one of the reasons I pulled the story out of my file. Generally, there are lots of things I wish I could have done better and lots of things I know I am not going to do well. Great joy at the same time though! God is so generous and we have been truly blessed.

    Victor, your words are very encouraging. Thank you for taking the time to write them.

    God bless!

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