I've never been so happy to end a church year and start off a new one! Today, the Feast of Christ the King marked the end of the Year of Faith and boy, it really has been a year of testing my faith.
I was glad to take a moment this November--the month of giving thanks and the month of remembrance--to attend a memorial for the little girl who looks out for me in the heavenlies. It wasn't quite what I was expecting however.
Two flutists were playing a sad, slow song in a corner. Tables were stacked with grieving literature: How to grieve. How not to grieve. When, where, why, and how to get help with your grieving. How to grieve better. How to help children grieve. Holiday grieving. How to help your goldfish grieve.
"Registration" was the first table. You had to say and spell the name of your lost little one. I wondered if there was a prize if you didn't break down, cuz good golly...
The woman in front of me wouldn't have gotten the prize. "Lily Grace Comptan." Tears streaming down her face as she corrected her last name. I hesitated in the moment of decision: do I put my hand on her shoulder? Or do I pretend to offer her the privacy she doesn't have?
The moment was over. She'd gone to find tissues. My turn. I'm... okay.
"Perpetua Grace. Yes, Perpetua. P-E-R-" The flutes played on.
Next hurdle was a table full of delicate glass angel figurines. "You can choose one with praying hands, or a heart, or a star!" the usher chirped with a bit too much enthusiasm.
I chose one of the hundreds of faceless glass angels, one holding a heart. And one with a star, for Gabriel. I selected a square of colored cloth to make a memorial quilt piece for next year. I got a "goody bag" with a worry stone in it: a small, cool, round thing with tiny pink footprint impressions. I wondered how much anxious rubbing it would take to wear the footprints away forever to plain, smooth stone again.
Handed a program, we entered the main conference room, walls lined with memorial quilts. Every folding chair had a small packet of Kleenex on it. Couples sat holding hands, leaning on shoulders, some crying quietly, some laughing distractedly, some staring blankly at the two instrumental guitarists tuning up.
I grinned. It looked like a charismatic prayer meeting was about to start. "Will the flutists join them for a dirge?" Dan whispered with muted glee. But they didn't. Instead, a Beatles song began. "There are places I remember..."
Really?? I sighed inwardly. Stop toying with my frayed emotions and get to the speaker already...
Fortunately, Marianne Leone was pretty good. She quoted from her book "Knowing Jesse," reading of the 17 years she had with her son with cerebral palsy, recounting the tremendous value she found in serving a person who could neither speak nor walk. When he died in his sleep in 2005, Marianne traveled to Italy for Easter, to see the "Running Madonna": the centuries old tradition where the mourning Mother of Sorrows sees her resurrected Son for the first time.
In Leone's case, she said she finds her own son, again, when she can serve others without expecting anything back. That this was her son's gift to her.
Then the floor was opened up for bereaved parents to share their memories. I just listened and got to use my new Kleenex pack as stories were told, and poems like "An Ugly Pair of Shoes" was read. Despite its unpromising title, it hit the mark well.
Moms whose babies died of SIDS. Moms with perinatal losses like mine, who had that awful, silent ultrasound. Moms whose babies were sick, and died in the NICU. Moms whose babies were born still. Moms who had been coming to this service for years, and still carried great guilt about eating that underdone meat at the Portuguese festival in 1998 and the tragic e-coli infection . that followed. And one drunk dad who added a bit of comic relief by sharing about the trouble his ex-wife had caused him.
The babies' names were called, with parents hanging up the little angel ornaments. That was my favorite moment of the whole service: to be recognized as parents of kids we'll never be seen with in the grocery store, the ones who can't be in the Christmas family pictures at the portrait studio. That was nice. Healing, even.
With all the little angels in place, the trees were lit with white Christmas lights. This called for yet another sad song from the guitarists:
And finally, the sad songs were over. Couples retrieved their ornaments from the trees, and filtered away towards the cookies and coffee.
But a few moms lingered behind at a side table. Using what was left from their tissues packs, with a quiet intensity, they were wrapping their ornaments so they wouldn't break. Slowly, gently, delicately, with great love: they were swaddling their little angels to take them home.
I'll see you at Home, little one. Someday. Finally. It was always meant to be.