Last February I went to my church to arrange to have a Mass said for Thomas on his first birthday. At my old church this was never a problem. Pick a date, pay and it's yours. But the rules are a little different at the church I attend now, possibly because it's a different diocese. Or because the priest has his own set of rules. Or because shitty luck follows me wherever I go. You see, after checking her book, the secretary politely told me that someone had already paid to have a Mass on March 9th, and I couldn't add Thomas to the list. "Only one per Mass", she told me, even though I quietly mumbled that I was having it said for my baby's first birthday, and that he'd died.
I was upset, but calm. I'm a "rules are rules" kind of girl and I'm no more special than any of the other congregants, so I just asked to have the next available Mass date instead.
As a result, Thomas' first birthday Mass was said in July, more than four months after his actual birthday.
Understanding my disappointment, the secretary asked if I wanted to schedule a Mass for this year, 2007, since they were already booking that far ahead. I jumped at the chance, certain that I would have to be the only person requesting a March '07 Mass in February '06.
Naturally I wasn't. March 9th was already taken. But this time instead of waiting until four months after his birthday I was able to get the day before. I left the church a little upset, but satisfied that I'd done all I could and that at least Thomas would get his 2nd birthday Mass a little closer to his actual birthday.
So yesterday on the way into Mass I picked up the Sunday bulletin with stupid excitement because I knew I'd see his name in it, and seeing his name always fills me with a rush of love and pride. I knelt down to pray, thinking about the unread bulletin beside me and how I'd tuck it safely in Thomas' drawer as soon as I got home.
I'm sure you must know where this is going. It is, after all, me. Me with the world's worst possible luck.
I finished my distracted prayer, sat down, undid my coat, got comfortable, opened up the bulletin - and saw someone else's name listed for the March 8th Mass.
I was stunned. Nearly stunned into a torrent of tears. I couldn't believe what I wasn't reading. I scanned all the other weekday Masses and didn't see his beautiful name listed under any of them.
They'd made a mistake. After all my careful planning, someone had made a clerical error. A simple error that threw me into a tailspin.
All I could think of was that I just wanted this one little comfort. All I'd asked was to see my boy's name in the bulletin and know that a Mass was being offered in his memory the day before his birthday.
I'll never have birthday pictures to put in an album and I won't get to hug and kiss my little man on the day he turns two. But I knew that, and so I figured that at least the gods would give me the tiny comfort of a Mass and a name to read.
It took me all the mental energy I had not to get up, walk out and never look back. In fact, it took me a full half an hour to get myself beyond the brink of tears and settled enough to stay put. And the only reason I did was because I like my priest and didn't want him to see me leave early. I didn't want the shame of that on top of all the other ugly things I was thinking and feeling.
So I stayed. Numb and quiet, refusing to sing and just barely mumbling the responses. 'Cause that'll show God.
At the end of the Mass as I stood buttoning up my coat, I felt a presence beside me and turned to see the lady who played the organ at Thomas' funeral standing beside me smiling. She's an old family friend - I've known her since I was a teenager - and we almost always go to the same Mass, but I haven't spoken to her in more than a year.
That's the way it goes sometimes.
But for some reason she sought me out yesterday. And she somehow managed to erase the ugliness I felt with the kindness of her spirit. I opened my mouth and everything fell out - the fact that this was a hard week for me because of Thomas' birthday, the fact that we were dealing with secondary infertility, the fact that I was scared about the impending (though as yet unscheduled) surgery. She hugged me (several times), she shared her sorrows with me, she encouraged me and she made me laugh.
And then we said goodbye, the now empty church echoing with the sound of our parting words.
And I felt happy. And at peace.
I still have to sort out the Mass situation and I'm still upset that for some reason God didn't see fit to give me that one little comfort without the added bonus of a monkey wrench. But as I've learned all too well, life never quite goes the way you plan, and it takes more hard work than not to coerce it into something that doesn't make you want to cry.
But I'm just stubborn enough to keep working hard.
And as soon as the office opens, the church will be hearing from me.