Making sacraments and memories

8 Apr

So we’re Catholic, right?  On my side, we’re nothing but Catholic thanks to a strong Irish and Italian heritage.  I grew up in an Irish/Italian/Polish neighborhood, where there was a Catholic church every square mile.  My best friend growing up was Lutheran – which I thought was the most exotic religion ever because it wasn’t Catholic.

Because of all this, so many family gatherings growing up revolved around a sacrament – baptism, First Communion, Confirmation.  They were the Big Deal Moments of a typical Catholic childhood, and were celebrated in style, with herds of family showing up at such events.  And if herds of family couldn’t make it, it was still a Very Big Deal requiring new outfits and being allowed to pick out pink champagne and having a very small glass because you had made your Confirmation.

They were our milestones in life, and when I got married, I knew these would be the milestones I’d live through again through my children.  Babies were baptized, little boys picked out suits for their First Communion, special dinners were arranged for the last minute Confirmation the boys had in Ireland (it happened two months after we moved there)  – because while last minute, it was still a big deal.

And then there was Maura.

Maura who we tried to put in religious ed classes before we moved to Ireland, in hopes that maybe she’d catch on to some concept.  She didn’t.  The class was too late in the day for her.  (The staff were wonderful and did their best.)  Maura who didn’t get any of the basic concepts of religion except learning how to say “Amen!” loudly with everyone else.  She also didn’t understand birthdays well, and forget the idea of Santa until she was probably ten years of age.

I don’t know when I sort of packed up the dream of Maura making her First Communion, but I did.  I tucked it away after she passed the usual age to make your First Communion (which is around eight years).  I moved on.  Just another thing she’d never do. I’d see pretty white dresses and sigh, but told myself it was just part of our lot in life.

Until Maura’s Irish school had a class for Confirmation.  I wondered…were they doing First Communion as well?

It turns out the ONE letter home that got lost was the letter about “If anyone wants to make their First Communion or Confirmation, let us know.”  Maura’s class had already made theirs, so it wasn’t on the teacher’s radar.  I asked the principal about it, feeling a bit sheepish because it was something I should have asked about months earlier.  But I had tucked away that dream, and was ready to be told it was too late.

Instead, the principal got right on it, and suddenly, Maura was going to make her First Communion with the Confirmation class.  She’d go to the preparation classes with the Confirmation class, work along side with them to prepare, and was added to all the lists as a First Communicant.  They modified things down to Maura’s level (“Jesus is love – what is Jesus?  Love!”) and practiced taking communion with her classmates.

But most of all, I was able to allow her to pick out a pretty white dress.  We went to the store, I pulled down all the dresses in her size, lined them up for her, and let her choose.  We picked out accessories –  gold shoes, white ankle socks, a flower wreath for her head that she wasn’t going to wear but who cares?

My husband looked at the price tag and joked “Wow, did you pick out the most expensive dress here?”

We had.

But instead of joking back, I started to cry.  Because I had given up on this dream.  I had chalked it all up to yet another experience Maura wouldn’t be able to have because of her disability.  One more thing her disability had taken from us. To have it suddenly handed to us, be told “We’ll make this work.”, and be given that day?  It was suddenly overwhelming.  I hadn’t realized how much I had wanted this until I was given that moment.

Maura was going to get her Big Day, just like the rest of her siblings had gotten.  She would have her pretty white dress, just like her sister did.  She would have a party, and her picture taken, and all the required fuss.

Though in a way, it was more about me than her.  Maura would have gone along happily, never knowing what she missed.  But it would have eaten away at me, just one more thing her disability robbed from us. One more thing that would separate her from her siblings.  One more memory I wouldn’t be allowed.  One more milestone she would never make.

Maura’s First Communion was a gift to me.  It was on a beautiful spring day, at a beautiful church, filled with beautiful people.  Half her school was there, and Maura’s teacher brought her class so they could be there for her. The priest was so very good, and gave the best shortest homily ever.  Most of all though, it was full of joy and smiles and unpredictability in the best of ways. I look back and still smile over it all…okay, and maybe tear up slightly.

It was a gift.  We got to have our day.  We got to have that milestone.  We got to have those memories, and the picture of her on her First Communion Day to add to all the other pictures of family on their First Communion Day.

A friend asked me recently if I’d ever written about a child with limited understanding making their First Communion – and I couldn’t remember if I had.  So I’m writing about it now.  For those of you who are in a similar boat, who have tucked away the dream of First Communion or any other major milestone in your faith like this, I am here to say – it can be done.  Look into it, make inquiries, find ways to make this happen.  Though Maura may not even begin to scrape at the idea of Catholicism, the way I see it, this is how God made her, and if anyone will understand that she may not grasp all of the right concepts, it’s Him. My brother-in-law, who has his doctoral degree in theology, has already told us there is no reason Maura shouldn’t be able to make her Confirmation as well.  Having already seen the older school mates of Maura’s make their Confirmation, I know this is now a possibility for her too.

Besides, we as parents have to give up so many dreams when our child is diagnosed with disabilities, why should we give up on this dream?  We shouldn’t have to, and I’m so glad I asked that sheepish question two years ago, and so thankful that Maura’s principal was so accommodating, and so grateful still to have that day.

Maura on her First Communion

Maura on her First Communion


7 Responses to “Making sacraments and memories”

  1. Kate April 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    I completely understand! My 12 year old daughter will be making her First Communion in 2 weeks, alongside children who are 4 years younger. Because Grace has Down syndrome we waited, hoping she would someday be ready. And she is!! Congratulations to Maura!

  2. mtsteeber April 8, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    I read all of your posts, but this story especially moved me. My husband is a Lutheran Pastor, and we are in the beginning stages of forming a special needs ministry at our church. I run a support group for parents of kids with special needs, and I am constantly saddened to hear that these families have left churches because they don’t feel there is a place for their child. We have already begun an adaptive Confirmation program for one of our members who has Autism, and we hope to have adaptive First Communion, Vacation Bible School and Sunday School programs going soon that include aids and a sensory room. Right now it’s slow and done on a case by case basis….determining the needs of the child and adapting it to meet his/her needs. We, and many other church leaders, really hope to help parents realize that we are all God’s children and everyone is worthy and capable of the rites of passage in the church, no exceptions. Thank you for openly and honestly sharing your experience.

  3. franhunne4u April 8, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    I have had a First Communion, back then, then afterwards changed religion to Lutherian and had an Confirmation in the protestant sense – and I am glad your daughter got that experience, too. When I was 8 and stood there with all the other children having my First Communion I did not grasp the Theology. So what if Maura did not? No child at 8 can. They learn about religion more in the mythological, the secretive, the miracle way. A set of rules they have to explore like all the other rules in this world, a set of rituals as alien as any ritual they witness for the first time. And for Maura it just stays this way longer.

  4. ahdavey April 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

    Bless her, she’s beautiful. We had my son baptised last weekend, something we’d put off because it didn’t seem relevant to him, it’s not likely he’ll ever understand the concept of God. But then we moved to a new town and a new church and they were so welcoming, and we decided to do it anyway, as a way of acknowledging how grateful we are to have him, and marking our entry into this loving new community. It was a joyous occasion and I’m so glad we did it. Who knows whether he will ever make confirmation or even live that long, but one step at a time I think! Congratulations to you and to Maura xx

  5. Joy M Newcom April 8, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    Beautiful. Yes.

  6. Lori-Anne April 9, 2015 at 1:40 am #

    This made me cry! In a good way! I’m not a Catholic (right now I’m a member of a Mennonite Brethern church, but I’ve been to many evangelical denominations) but this touched me. Knowing that my children are picking up on the concepts of God and Jesus are so important to me, so integral to my living that it means a lot. Not knowing how much my child grasps is hard. Good for you for doing this for yourself…and for Maura! (((hugs))) God has created her with a purpose, and He holds her in His mighty hand.

    Thanks for sharing this story!

  7. teresamcnally April 11, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    Wonderful memories. Wonderful photos. Regards to all and your mother in law. X


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