The greatest love of all


In my 20s, I thought I knew all there was to know about love.

After all, I was well-acquainted with the love a person has for friends and family members.

What's more, I had found romantic love – "the love of my life" – after having been through a couple of previous "loves" that I realized were crushes once I met my future husband.

I have never understood love at first sight, and remain suspicious of it – despite knowing people who have built long marriages on instantaneous, over-the-top attraction.

"But if you fall in love at first sight," I always ask them, "isn't it all downhill from there?"

I, on the other hand, fell "in like" with my future husband slowly, and only began to realize I loved him after many months of dating. That was how I "knew" he was The One. It was a quiet but sure feeling; it just felt "right."

Nothing changed after we lived together for 18 months; there was still a calmness and a feeling of rightness and belonging. At my wedding, I was serene in the knowledge that I had found the ultimate in love.

Then, a few years later, I had children.

Whoa.

* * *

Before I had even met my daughters, I loved them. And after they were born, the feeling of "falling in love" took on new meaning.

The obsessive, fiercely strong love I felt – then and now – for my children exceeded the power of romantic love a hundred-fold. They were a part of my every waking thought, and even of my dreams, in a way my husband never was.

In a recent interview, actress Kristen Bell recalled that feeling of maternal love kicking in after the birth of her first child, and I think she nailed it dead on.

"I didn't want to let her go," Bell said of her newborn. "Having kids feels like that first seventh-grade crush that overwhelms every molecule in your body.

"But it's permanent."

Of course, scientists will tell us that both maternal love and romantic love have biological roots, and that the "feel-good" hormones and neurons that result in such feelings evolved because they are key to perpetuating the species. When scientists compare brain scans of mothers gazing at their infants to those of lovers looking at their heart's desire, they have even found that – to an MRI machine, at least – the "intense devotion" of mother and lover are virtually indistinguishable.

But parental love has qualities that are undetectable to an MRI. It is unconditional and unchanging, surviving even in the face of a child's most despicable behavior.

Just ask any mom: if your husband committed murder or some other heinous act, wouldn't it change the feelings you had for him? Wouldn't it be natural to lose respect and fall out of love with him?

Now imagine that it was your child who committed a murder. You would be horrified, of course. But would it change your feelings for that child? Cause you to stop loving that child? I think not.

No matter how in love we may be with our spouses or partners, or for how many decades that love lasts, romantic love simply can't compare to that unbreakable bond we have with our children.

* * *
Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts has said that her mother understood this concept, and – meaning no disrespect to Roberts' father – always referred to her children as the "loves of her life."

There simply can be no stronger attachment. Or so I thought until three years ago.

Since losing my youngest daughter, I realize there is a more powerful bond: the love for a child who has left this earth.

I wish I had never known the power of this love; I would much rather have continued to love Lanie in the flesh until the day she buried me, instead of vice versa.

But I can't help marveling at the strength of the bond still between us – a bond that in no way disappeared or died with her, but survived to grow even stronger.

That's something you can't bottle, or isolate in a test tube, or scan in an MRI: a love so powerful that it lives on after death.

A love so powerful that it transcends two worlds.

Now that's eternal.
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Celebrate the end of the HCPL Summer Reading Program with a slime party at 6 p.m. at Fairfield Library. Enjoy treats while making slime. The book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” by Dr. Seuss will be highlighted. Sponsored by Friends of the Fairfield Library. For details, call 501-1930 or visit http://www.henricolibrary.org. Full text

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