My mother was a faithful woman, but she was not a pious woman. In the weeks before her death on Dec. 22, her speech became increasingly infrequent. When she did speak, she was hard to understand. Repeated strokes had left her mouth slack, her tongue seemingly too large for its space. Usually crisp sounds sagged and stretched beyond recognition.
My Table Is Spread
In my memory, the Arnett aunts, my grandmother's sisters, are all dressed in pastels -- suits with jeweled pins on the collars -- and wearing hats and kid gloves. A patent leather handbag hangs over each aunt's arm.
There was a rhythm to the attire (suits, hats, gloves, nylons, heels for Sundays and family gatherings) and to the conversation. My father would always inquire after their health.
The Phoenix diocese announced plans to restrict the distribution of Communion under both species. The cup will be offered to the laity on feast days “and other special moments.” The first reason the diocese offers is this: to protect the sacred species from profanation.
“The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.” -- Thomas More
Dictators run some countries, and dictators run some families. Dictators can even be found running some churches. What the tyrants have in common is a hatred of the sound of laughter. Rather than indulge in laughter, they indulge in what G.K. Chesterton calls “the anger of the idle kings.”
Music is the lit dynamite of liturgical debates. It is the struck match in a parched field; the gasoline-soaked rag stuffed in a bottle and tossed, flaming, into the crowd. Music is a marker: “Thee’s to the right; You’s to the left. Please, no talking.”
I once walked into the Bishop DeFalco Retreat Center in Amarillo, Texas, and paused at the sign prohibiting firearms. I looked around for the other sign directing me to the hymnody conference.
On the day people in Joplin, Mo., were searching the ruins for survivors of the tornado, we got a call from a survivor in Haiti. It was Claude Winddcheley Saturne, calling to say, “My long Lent is over.” He had started college classes that morning in Port-au-Prince.
Sometime in the last two months, my mother stopped sleeping at night. The hospice nurses called it “sundowning.” My sister-in-law, who had just moved her father into a locked memory care unit, called it “dementia’s 36-hour day.”
Imagine a 100-pound newborn, her days and nights mixed up. Now imagine that the newborn has osteoarthritis and the faint beginnings of pressure sores along her protruding spine and skin the thickness and strength of moistened tissue paper. This is a baby who can neither be swaddled nor soothed.
Some years ago, my husband and I visited a Norbertine Abbey in Belgium. The abbot's chair looked like a throne. But just across from the chair, on a wall the abbot faced every day, was a carved skull. Underneath the skull the name of each former abbot was carved into the stone, with space left for the current abbot's name and for the names of those yet to be appointed abbot. Memento mori. (That's Latin for "Don't take this seat personally.")
On Dec. 27, my mother was diagnosed with pneumonia. We kept her home, Foley catheter and all. A visiting nurse came each day to give her a shot of the antibiotic Rocephin.
He’s retired now, our bishop emeritus, but for over 20 years, Richard Hanifen presided at midnight Mass at the cathedral. As Christmas Eve moved into Christmas Day, Hanifen would stand to greet us.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And then, smiling, “I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in the El Paso County jail.”