Life was rolling along right on schedule for Tamara Mack early last year. She and Harvey, her husband, had a nice new house on an acre of land near Leipsic, Delaware. She was pregnant, meeting her personal timeline to have a baby by age 30.
“I thought, ‘Perfect. I’m 29 and I’m going to have a baby,’” she said. “Life was going great, as we had planned.”
Her plan took a nightmarish turn in early April 2009. Mack was full term with her son, already named Harvey III and nicknamed Tré by his parents. During an exam she saw panic on her doctor’s face. He could not detect the baby’s heartbeat.
An ultrasound showed the baby was not moving. At 3:18 a.m. April 9, Mack delivered her stillborn son.
“I was numb,” she recalled. “I think I was in disbelief. Harvey was just heartbroken.”
Her son’s death triggered a series of events that drew Mack to the Catholic faith. The compassion and hospitality of priests and parishioners at Holy Cross Church after his death and a subsequent miscarriage prompted her to join the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to learn more about becoming a Catholic.
“I was someone in need and they were there for me,” she said. “Losing my baby, how sad this is, but it brought me closer to God.”
Mack, 31, a native of Jamaica who moved to the United States at age 16, thought she had found God through the RCIA. “But you know what? I’ve realized that God had never left me; he was always there. I kept pulling away.”
She hopes to be baptized, receive her first Communion, and be confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass next April.
Support amid grief
“A tragedy is what brought Tammy to RCIA; she was seeking answers to life’s questions,” said John Harvey, the RCIA leader at Holy Cross. “RCIA is not always the right forum for such an inquiry but I guess that is what has impressed me about Tammy’s journey. She sought the Lord and he heard her, and I believe RCIA has been the vehicle for this to occur.”
Shortly after Tre’s delivery, a nurse came into Tamara Mack’s room at Kent General Hospital. “Tamara, would you like us to have the father next door baptize your baby?” Mack recalled her asking. “Harvey and I, we said, ‘Yes, yes. Definitely.’”
Within 15 minutes Father John Gayton, then an associate pastor at Holy Cross Church across the street from Kent General, arrived. Nurses circled around Father Gayton, the Macks and Tré’s body. Father Gayton “prayed for us and then he baptized the baby,” Tamara Mack said. “Before he left, he gave me a hug and said everything’s going to be OK.”
The Macks spent the next day, Good Friday, planning their son’s graveside service. When the funeral director learned the baby was baptized Catholic, he called Holy Cross to see if the child could be buried in its cemetery. The parish agreed.
Another priest then serving at Holy Cross, Father John Gabage, presided at the interment. Afterward the Macks walked and walked around the cemetery.
About 30 minutes later, Father Gabage approached them and said, “I just want you to know that Holy Cross is here for you as a community. If you need any help let us know. If you need support, please, I’m here to give you support,” Tamara Mack recalled.
He arranged for Tamara to meet with Diane Dellinger, who heads the parish grief support ministry that promotes spiritual healing. “I always knew about God,” said Mack, whose mother is a Seventh-Day Adventist. “Mom always let us know about God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I took it for granted, did not take life so seriously.”
Soon she began praying every morning. She remembered how her mother sent her sister and her to Catholic schools in Jamaica to learn more about God and about Christianity. There she prayed “five times a day. At that time I felt I had to. It was an obligation.”
Now she chose to pray. She visited Holy Cross cemetery six months after Tré’s death. “I was just broken. I could find no comfort.” She decided to visit Holy Cross Church. As she arrived, she saw Father Gabage walking toward the church. He recognized her and said, “Your baby’s OK; he’s with God.”
“Father Gabage had no idea what I was going through that day,” Mack said. “But I know that God sent him in my path at the right time because I couldn’t find comfort.”
As she thought about Father Gabage’s words, about her son being with God, “I started feeling better, a comfort in my heart.”
‘Why me again?’
That comfort was shattered last April. Three months into a second pregnancy, she miscarried.
“After Tré, I felt like this would never happen again,” she said. “I said, ‘God, why me again?’ It was like my faith had been tested.”
But she kept praying. She decided she would begin her RCIA journey. She told her husband, “I have to go.”
She’s found solace off and on during her journey. Last Sunday, for instance, the first reading from Habakkuk stated: “Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?”
“I’m not alone,” Mack said. “All those prophets back then were going through it,” asking why.
She decided to learn more about the faith and joined RCIA. Fears that the classes might be boring quickly evaporated.
“The questions they were asking were intriguing, like ‘How do you know there is a God?’” Mack said. “I thought, ‘Why did I think that learning about God would be boring?’”
She started to attend daily Mass. One day as she walked out, an older woman struck up a conversation. That woman had lost two children, at ages 10 and 5. Tamara Mack came to realize many others faced situations as bad, and perhaps at times worse as her own.
Mack became an evangelist without realizing it. She would come home from RCIA sessions and tell Harvey what they had discussed. He listened, impressed. One day he told Tamara, “I want to come see what’s going on at your class.”
“He’s been there with me ever since. We’re doing our spiritual journey together as a couple.”
Tamara knows that journey will not end if she and her husband are baptized during the Easter vigil.
“It’s a stepping stone,” she said, noting that cradle Catholics who work on Holy Cross’ RCIA team mention how they continually learn about the faith through the sessions.
“This journey is a lifetime.”
Printed with permission from the Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.