“You aren’t going to try and persuade me not to go as well, are you, Mum?” asked Felicity.

I thought for a moment. I didn’t really want Felicity to leave home. But I have always tried to teach my children that we have to do what we feel God is asking of us. What we want to do is of no importance. So I sighed and said, “No, you can go.”

Felicity’s face lit up.

“When will you be leaving?” I asked.

“Mother Prioress wants me to return to the convent as soon as possible, maybe a couple of weeks.”

Two weeks? I would only have my eldest daughter for two more weeks before she entered an enclosed order as a postulant.

Mothers get together and we chat about the possibility of our daughters becoming nuns. We pray that our children will have vocations. Perhaps God might call one of our children. What an honour that would be. Imagine saying, “My daughter’s off to the convent!” I had thought I’d be excited, and filled with joy. What I didn’t expect to feel was grief.

I had many thoughts during that last couple of weeks with Felicity…

“We might never kneel in the same pew as a family, all of us together, ever again.” I cried.

“I might never sit in the kitchen sipping coffee and chatting with my eldest daughter ever again.” I cried.

“Felicity might never kneel down and say her morning prayers with us ever again.” The tears appeared once more.

Our last morning together arrived too soon. We ate breakfast. We chatted. We tried to smile and act as if it were just another normal day. Then it was time to say goodbye. Andy grabbed Felicity’s bag and headed for the car. I hugged my daughter and I tried not to think, “This might be the last time I ever hug her in this house.” I looked at her face and the tears started slipping from my eyes.

“Mum!” she said with concern, and hugged me close once again. And then she was gone. She was gone from our home, gone from our family.

Six months later Felicity became a novice and I had to draw back even further from my daughter. She really was no longer mine. I was no longer her mother.

“What responsibilities does Felicity have towards her parents?” I asked Mother Prioress.

“Felicity will always have an obligation to pray for you. But I am now her mother,” she replied.

I had truly given my daughter away. Someone else was responsible for her. I could no longer express any opinions or concerns, make any suggestions, ask any questions, lavish any care or love upon her... I grieved.

Felicity eventually came home from the convent. She had been willing to give her life to God as a religious but it seemed that is not what He wanted after all.

“Not many girls are willing to withdraw from the world and become nuns,” Felicity cried. “I was willing. I really tried but God didn’t want me.” She just didn’t understand.

In many ways I don’t understand either. All that sacrifice and heartbreak and Felicity ended up coming home. It wasn’t only the two years in the convent. The effects of that experience were far longer lasting and reaching. It just wasn’t possible for Felicity to step back into the world and resume her place in our family, as if she’d never left. I had given up my role as her mother and I didn’t automatically get it back just because Felicity walked back through our front door and into our home again. It took us many years to regain our relationship.

One day when we were visiting Felicity in the convent, Mother Prioress looked at my other four girls and said, “They are all so beautiful! I want them all!”

I imagine them all following in Felicity’s footsteps and I turn cold. Could I lose another child to the convent? Even if they came home eventually, could I risk losing the very special relationship I have with each one? And my heart shouts, “No!”

I do not want any of my other daughters to become nuns. That is the truth of it. I don’t want to hug any of them goodbye, knowing it could be the last act I perform as their true mother. I do not want any of them to be hurt as Felicity was. I want to wrap my arms around them and keep them save with me.

So what would I do if one of the girls came to me and said, “I think God is calling me to the convent, Mum”?

I think back to Felicity’s initial question: “You aren’t going to try and persuade me not to go as well, are you, Mum?” Our children face so much criticism and opposition from those who do not understand:

“She’s only young.”
“Why would she want to give up her life like that?”
“It’s a waste of a life.”
“She’d be better off using her talents in the world.”

How can a mother also oppose a daughter who is only trying to do what she feels God is asking of her? No, I couldn’t have stopped Felicity from entering the convent. And I can’t stop any of my other daughters either.

For how can we teach our children they must follow the will of God, if we aren’t also willing to accept God’s will? And how can we say we love God above all, if we aren't willing to give Him everything? Our children belong to Him. They are not really ours at all.

So I will let my children go if that is what God wants.

But I am sitting here wondering if these are only brave words. I know I would cry. I know I would grieve. I know it would be so very painful.

However, I do know that God's plans are always perfect. And God turns sorrow to joy if we are willing to accept what He wants: 

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness.

I hold onto these thoughts and because I am so very weak I pray, as I do each day, "Help me Lord to accept Your will."

Weak... yes, sometimes I feel so very weak.

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  1. Hi Sue,
    I just wanted to let you know that your article has really made me think about my response. Yes, I too would be weak... very weak now reading your responses. I had never thought about how removed enclosed convent life is from one's family unit. To lose the role of 'mother', giving guidance and support. Thank you for sharing your reflections.
    God bless,
    Lisa

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    1. Lisa,

      I knew I would miss Felicity when she left for the convent but I was unprepared for the grief of losing my role as her mother. The hardest part was having no one to share these feelings with, though a couple of priests were very sympathetic and helpful.

      When everyone is congratulating you on the wonderful job you've done raising a child who is willing to go to the convent, it is difficult to turn around and say that it is actually not as good as it sounds. A support group for parents of religious would have been wonderful!

      So saying all of this, I still feel it is an honour for a parent to give a child to God in this way. And God will give His strength to the child and family. I just tremble at the thought sometimes.

      God bless and thank you so much for your comment.

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  2. I honestly couldn't imagine this kind of situation...it sounds heartwrenching for everyone involved. I do NOT, however, think it makes you weak to feel the way you feel. Physically weak in the knees, maybe, at the thought of giving up a relationship with your child. But it's obvious through all your posts that your heart is very, very strong!

    -A.

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    1. Angela,

      Sometimes in this life we are called to do what we don't want to do. And yes, it is heart-wrenching when we face these situations and don't side-step them. Ultimately, I think we are all grow stronger through such trials, but the thought... Yes, I feel so inadequate to the challenge.

      "your heart is very, very strong" I do love a lot! Sometimes I think if I didn't love so much, I wouldn't put myself in so many situations where I could get hurt. Holding back? Loving strongly? I've been musing on this recently. I might write something. I guess love is what life is all about.

      I always appreciate your kind comments. Thank you so much!

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  3. How heart breaking that must have been for you. But, as hard as it was- you did do what was right. You supported your daughter in answering God's call to consider religious life. And you were there for her and helped her through when He called her away from that life. You are a wonderfully supportive mother and a beautiful example of obedience and trust for your children. How blessed they are to have you- even with your weaknesses!

    Thank you for being an example to others as well, by being willing to share such difficult stories.

    God Bless, Kari

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    1. Kari,

      "you did do what was right". I think that is the deciding factor. There are things we don't want to do but we do them because it is the right thing to do. We just couldn't live with ourselves if we chose the other pathway. One of the sad parts of the story is that I do not feel I did help Felicity when she left the convent. Our roles had changed so much I couldn't be the mother she needed. She faced the readjustment very much on her own. The convent doors had closed behind her. Her role of daughter had changed. There was no one to help her. I really think returning to the world is a huge challenge for those that have been enclosed.

      On the upside Felicity met a wonderful man and was married last year. We started sharing through our writings and we made it back to being mother and daughter.

      Willing to share this difficult story? I should be grateful readers are willing to read my stories! I guess the topic has been on my mind recently. Imogen turned 18 a couple of weeks ago. This is the same age Felicity was when she left home. And Imogen is off to the Immaculata Sisters summer school after Christmas for two weeks. I was wondering if I should say, "You can go to the summer school but remember to come home again. Don't get any ideas about becoming an Immaculata Sister!" Of course I can't say that.

      God bless and thank you for your comment!

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  4. You are so honest Sue. I love that about you. x

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    1. Lisa,

      I have to be honest and confess my weaknesses, because living up to a false I-have-it-altogether image is such hard work! I feel enough of a fraud when people leave kind comments. I really don't think there is much of a difference between any of us. We are all heading in the same direction and facing similar challenges. I just write about it, whereas others don't. And people read and I am grateful they understand!

      Thank you for your comment. God bless!

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  5. This is the first time I've ever argued with a blogger, but I have to say that I see so much STRENGTH in you that I've been in literal tears about it.. twice (for I've read this post twice). You felt the ripping away of your beloved daughter, and yet you let her go. To me, that took more strength than if you hadn't felt the sadness and the grief.

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    1. Nancy,

      I held my breath as I read your first words. I thought I'd offended you! But then I read further and understood.

      "You felt the ripping away of your beloved daughter, and yet you let her go." It was easier for me to do that than for some people. I'd already lost Thomas. I had no choice about his death but I did come to accept it. Again with Felicity, I recognised I had no choice. With everything in life, we can fight what we don't like or we can try and accept it because that seems to be what God wants. I am very sure you understand. It took me a long time to learn that though! And God is always there to give us strength. So why do we worry?

      Nancy, thank you so much for reading my story twice! I do appreciate it. And I appreciate your comment.

      God bless you!

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    2. I am popping back in to say that I'd never thought before of how enclosed life would affect the mother (and family) of the nun or monk. Maybe because the cloistered nuns I've personally known have continued in loving relationships with their own families. In one enclosed community of nuns I know, there is a little apartment wing built onto their building, and families are encouraged to come visit from time to time. It's not the same as a nun going back home, of course, but families are honored and loved and invited to all important events in their "child's" life. But even at that, what a sacrifice parents make!! I frankly shudder when I think of it. Thank you for a perspective I really needed for a more rounded look at the call to cloistered life!

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    3. Nancy,

      Thank you for returning!

      I am sure there are differences between orders, and it is lovely to hear of the cloistered nuns you know who are in close contact with their families.

      We were encouraged to visit Felicity regularly at first. She was only young and I guess Mother Prioress thought it would help her settle into life in the convent. As time went on, our visits were less frequent but still we were fortunate. We were never told we weren't welcome at the convent. Mother Prioress was very kind. Even the nuns who had been enclosed for years had yearly visits from their family. And yes, there was accommodation for such times.

      But even though we could visit, the nuns were taught to be very detached from their families. We couldn't talk about anything but the superficial and everyday. This is what I found most difficult. To spend two hours chatting and not really talking...

      I was told by many people that we have to let our children go anyway, whether they marry or enter the convent. There is no difference. But having experienced both, there is a huge difference. These days Felicity rings me up for a chat, and we share. She even asks my advice sometimes! I treasure those times. She lives her own life and I have no right to interfere but still we share.

      I don't want to sound like I am complaining and warning people away from vocations. I really do believe that families can adjust and be joyful about their daughters' entry into a convent. I feel it is a bit like the grief of losing a child. The sorrow eventually subsides, to be replaced with a conviction that God's plans are the best, and joy and peace fill the heart. Yes, there would still be times when a longing for a lost relationship would emerge, just as I long for Thomas sometimes. But we wouldn't want to change anything. A sister from a different order once said to me that if a vocation is God's will then joy will follow. But just like child loss, a journey through grief has to come first.

      Nancy, my story is only our family's experience. I am sure not everyone goes through the same emotions. Maybe others are stronger than me. And it is so encouraging for me to read of your friends' experiences. We sometimes talk about the excitement of our children answering God's call. We rarely talk about the sacrifices involved. But ultimately it doesn't matter how difficult something is, we must accept what God wills. But what does He want? The heart leaps a little in fear at the possibilities!!

      God bless you!

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  6. Sue,

    Great article. I cannot imagine how hard that was for you. A girl from our parish is with Mother Teresa's nuns - Missionaries of Charity. I just know she is called to that life. She just glows! But she gets very little time with her family. I will say an extra prayer for her now and for her mother now that I have read your story and know a little about what it feels to be the mother.
    God bless!

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    1. Colleen,

      It is so lovely to see you here on my blog!

      "I just know she is called to that life. She just glows!" I love that! Isn't that what we all want for our children? We just want them to be happy, to be where they are supposed to be, doing what God wants them to do. I am sure your friend's mother feels joyful when she sees that glow. But also, she will appreciate some extra prayers, I'm sure. Being a mother is very difficult at times, and I think mothers feel the sacrifice more than fathers.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      God bless!

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  7. Sue, I am so touched by your openness and honesty. As a mother of seven daughters, I can but imagine how difficult it must have been to say goodbye to your girl, and then be told that your time as a mother is over, and to hear someone else say 'I am now her mother'. Yes, I imagine you went through the full grieving process, and no doubt for a long time. And it can be extra painful when you go through that process, but all the time, that wee small voice is saying, 'what's wrong with you? It's not like she's dead'. I had a very similar experience recently, not with a daughter, but with someone I was very close to, and saying goodbye was so, so hard. To have to say goodbye to a daughter in that way is something I, too, hope never happens! I know it's supposed to be a blessing, but wow, I never really thought about how difficult it could be. Thankyou for sharing, may God bless you and your relationships with all your precious children.

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    1. Linda,

      Mother Prioress' eyes lit up when she saw my 5 girls. I can imagine her looking at your 7 daughters. She would love them and want them all!

      You have understood what I was trying to say so well: "that wee small voice is saying, 'what's wrong with you? It's not like she's dead'." How can we complain when a vocation is supposed to be a great blessing? We still have our children but in a way, we don't.

      Perhaps because not so many girls are entering convents these days, we don't talk about such things very often. It's not a common experience in many circles. Like grieving for a child, it can be a lonely experience for a mother. Or is it just me? I am still not sure that the problem lies in my weakness, and that other mothers take the experience more in their stride.

      Thank you so much for your comment, Linda. I am very happy for you as you start life in your new home. May God bless you and your family too!

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  8. Sue,

    I think that given time, mothers who have given up their daughters to the convent / religious life, will be finding your post...and will feel an immense swell of love for you, for explaining what they've felt.

    Because not so many girls are entering convents these days...I think even when they were "back in the day", mothers probably didn't TALK about it...but still, they knew there were kindred spirits amongst their acquaintance, and gained comfort from that.

    A friend of mine's oldest daughter has been a Carmelite for about 12 years. She refers to her daughter as "Sister". Theirs is an affectionate large family, and I can only imagine how incredibly painful it must have been to give her up.

    Thank you so much for writing!

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    1. Amy,

      I haven't read any other posts about the hardships of giving up daughters to religious life. All the posts written by mothers who have daughters in convents that I have read are full of joy and pride and thankfulness. And so I wonder... Am I the only mother that feels this way? It's a lonely feeling. Maybe it's like grieving for a baby: not many people talk about their true feelings and so that can be very lonely too.

      I think it is good to be open and talk about our feelings regardless of how we think others might react. There just might be someone out there who is suffering just like me. We never know. You are so right: we need kindred spirits.

      I never called Felicity by her religious name. Maybe I was being contrary. Her name was all I had and I was keeping it! Not very gracious, I know! Your friend's mother must be a woman full of faith. But faith and pain can still exist side by side. What a beautiful mother!

      Thank you so much for your comment. May God bless you!

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  9. Hi Sue. I'm doing what you suggested in your most recent post, and going through your old posts. I've already read several that I wanted to comment on, but I must try and restrict myself or you'll be trying to reply to 300 or so comments. :P This one has touched me deeply. It has opened my eyes to see how very difficult it must be and makes sense of what a friend of mine said a few months ago. This friend, Wendy, is the mother of my husband's best friend. She lived round the corner from me in Wellington, welcomed me with open arms when I came to NZ, and was always there to pray for me, support me in my various ideas, help me with housework and my first baby, and give me excellent advice. Anyway, she has six beautiful children but one of them passed away when he was 11, tragically killed when hit by a van while riding his bike. This happened 16 years ago. When she shared the story of the day he died with me, we cried together. I think when you cry with someone, a special bond is formed. Anyway, her second eldest daughter just recently made her vows as a Missionary of Charity. When I talked to Wendy about it, I said "you must be so happy! What a special thing for your family!" She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said "Well, I should be happy, but I'm not really. I feel almost the same way I felt when I lost Ross." At the time I simply could not understand. But reading this has opened up my eyes. Through reading your description of your feelings, and why you felt them, I can now see what Wendy was going through. I just want to call her and talk to her about it, telling her I can finally empathise.

    Thank you for sharing this story, and being so honest about the pain you went through. What a brave and strong mother you are- so very strong to be able to let go and not try and convince Felicity not to go. Thank you for being an example of faith and love to us younger mothers! :) God Bless you.

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    1. Jacinta,

      You are so kind visiting my archive! Thank you. And I am grateful for your comment too. I always love chatting to you.

      I have written several times about vocations, and each time I have hesitated before pressing 'publish'. Isn't having a child who decides to try the religious life the dream of every Catholic parent? I have felt alone in the grief I experienced with Felicity. I am so glad you shared Wendy's story. It sounds like my post helped you a little in understanding your friend, and your comment helped me too. I now know I am not the only mother who has felt this way. I don't have to feel guilty about these feelings. They are normal and acceptable.

      I will pray for Wendy. I think she is the strong mother!

      Jacinta, thank you for your kind words. I will also pray for your family.

      God bless!

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    2. Well, I am thoroughly enjoying reading through your old posts so the thanks should all be coming from me. :)

      I'm so touched that you appreciated Wendy's story... I will tell her that. She will be pleased. I'm sure she would be happy to hear that she is not the only one to have felt that way. I think that perhaps, for both of you, the giving up process was harder than it might be for others because you have both experienced the loss of your sons. But that's just a thought...

      I think that not only are the feeling normal and acceptable but (as I have learned over the last few years) feelings can't be helped. What can be helped is how we act on them. I realise this particularly with feelings of anger... the feelings of anger in themselves are not wrong, but if I act in a harmful way on these feelings, than I am doing wrong. Feeling sad that Felicity was leaving for the convent was a perfectly understandable reaction (and reflects your deep love for your daughter) and the only wrong would have been to intentionally try to hold her back because of these feelings. It is clear you did exactly the opposite, striving to let her go with courage.

      I realise you probably have already figured all this out- but I just like to think out loud as I learn about the complexities of love, life and the emotions these bring us. I think that is why I love your blog, because when I read your posts I feel myself learning a little more about what it is to be human- and in our cases, a Catholic mother and housewife.

      Thank you for your prayers!!! God Bless you always

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    3. Jacinta,

      I think you are so right about the grief being compounded by the previous experience of grief. It really did feel like I was losing a second child. I felt like I was going through the whole process again. Not quite as overwhelming second time around, but still difficult!

      And I agree with you about not being able to help our feelings. "You shouldn't feel that way," "Cheer up and don't feel so bad." So unhelpful! We feel what we feel. But yes, we can choose what to do with those feelings. With Thomas I had no choice and had to face the fear and sorrow. I suppose I could have tried to avoid the grief with Felicity by asking her to stay at home. But I have found when we don't do the right thing we are never happy anyway. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy having her with us, knowing she was only at home because I had insisted. Courage? I am just grateful we have our faith. God is so good!

      Blogging, and the internet in general, have opened up so many opportunities for us to share and support each other. It can be a real blessing. I wouldn't have been able to chat with you and share thoughts and get to know you if we both weren't online.

      "when I read your posts I feel myself learning a little more about what it is to be human- and in our cases, a Catholic mother and housewife." Jacinta these are such beautiful words which I will treasure. Thank you for taking the time to write them for me.

      Please share my story with Wendy and tell her I am praying for her.

      God bless!


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