Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving at My Mother's Passing with Cheer from Father Guido Sarducci

Father Guido Sarducci explains the meaning of life and the forgiveness of sins while I recall my mother and mourn her absence this holiday. We each have our own way with grief.

I'm not sure why Father Guido Sarducci is hot on the web suddenly. When I first saw him pop up in Google trends, I thought perhaps Don Novello, the actor who plays Sarducci, had died, but he's alive. And it can't be this IReporter linking Gov. Sarah Palin's geopolitical skills to Fr. Sarducci's school of thought because the reference is obscure and Palin's moved on to pardoning turkeys.

So, I was tempted to say, "Never mind" as Emily Litela, played by the late Gilda Radner, did frequently on vintage Saturday Night Live, sometimes even in the presence of Fr. Sarducci himself, but I can't. Even his name, Father Guido Sarducci, makes me smile.

I associate the dear father with not only my youth as a 1970s Saturday Night Live viewer, but also with my mother, Fannie Naomi Adams, who died on Nov. 12 of this year at age 81. Surviving stomach cancer, which had been in remission for more than five years, she lived past life expectancy, and our lives were enriched to have her longer. However, in her later years, she was not the mother I knew. She suffered from Alzheimer's and possibly dementia due to a series of mini strokes. In the last two years of her life, she did not recognize me as often as I hoped she would, but she knew me in her last days.

As she lay in the Intensive Care Unit, I held her hand and she looked at me with what I feared was the farewell gaze, that startling, intense stare through which the dying impart a gift to the eyes of the living, and she said, "I love you."

I knew she knew me as she had known me a few days before transfer to ICU and asked, "Where's your daddy?"

If she saw me and recognized me as her daughter, then she had a husband who was also my father. Otherwise, I was a friend, perhaps, or a "nice lady," and she'd ask her husband's whereabouts using his first name or wonder aloud, "Where's my husband?" At other times I was some stranger's "pretty child," and he was "that man" she didn't want in her room.

This last visit to the hospital was about my mother's fourth since I moved back to Louisiana in the summer of '07. In the winter of '08, my parents moved in with me and my two older children. So strange, it seems now, to write of her passing and know she will not be with us for Thanksgiving or Christmas. You know your mother must die yet think she is eternal.

Neither did she linger to celebrate her and my father's 60th wedding anniversary, which would have been later this month. A few days ago my dad began to grasp her absence. He stopped putting out two plates for breakfast and two plates for lunch and dinner. Yesterday we dragged him to a family dinner at my aunt's house, the home of one of my mother's sisters. He surprised himself and enjoyed the visit, and some of us told amusing tales about his wife, their aunt, a sister, their grandmother, my mom.

At the funeral Saturday before last, I watched him. He weeped briefly. Today he left the house on his own for the first time since her death, a short distance to the dollar store in search of cookies and to stretch his legs. When he returned, he told me that he's sleeping through the nights better, not waking to check on Mom or making sure she's not up and wandering.

I have weeped in short fits, mostly unseen by others. Mourning's been my loss of years with her when she lost memory of me. I don't know that wild fit of sorrow, but moments of sober reflection and the dry heaviness when waking. During the funeral, I almost released that gush of grief for which church ushers stand on guard, a daughter's sobbing or collapse as the coffin shuts, but my heart was disinterested.

The congregation sang "Blessed Assurance." I saw my mother and I riding in our family's old white Plymouth Fury down Jefferson Davis Parkway in New Orleans, as we often did, returning home from my grandmother's house, and she was singing that hymn. I heard her singing like I was with her on the road again and recalled how calm she looked driving and speaking to God. Then I remembered that I'd sang that same hymn to her in the hospital while she battled death in ICU. I almost cried then, but started smiling at both memories, grateful for our time, happy I'd moved back home.

My mother was the daughter and grand-daughter of United Methodist ministers, a spiritual woman who required that we attend Sunday School and church services each Sunday and if we claimed we were too ill to go, then we were too ill to go anywhere else that day. She was the kind of Christian who'd chide us if we set any object on top of our personal or family Bibles. "You must have reverence for God and His word," she would say. To this day, her words poke me if I spot a Bible in my house with another book on top of it.

My mother was also a former social worker who had visited the darkest caves of human nature in Memphis, Tenn., and following that career she'd become a certified school teacher for more than 30 years in New Orleans public schools. Consequently, she corrected my brother, my cousins, and I regularly in our use of the "King's English," and had stern warnings against the mess we could make of our lives if we didn't straighten up, act right, and be our "best noble selves."

She was a woman who'd come of age in the 1940s south and raised a daughter who came of age in the 1970s south. That was the decade finding itself after the free love 60s, after Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Connor had revealed that white southerners could be loons, and the Civil Rights movement snatched away the cloak of respectable injustice. But my mother, while in full support of revolution, wanted her daughter to be god-loving and chaste, and I was not blind to her wishes. When I was 18, she spotted a "hickey" on my neck, evidence of making out, and perhaps a badge in my mind of a rite of passage I'd read about in books or heard about in school. Not so by my mother. Spotting the redness she announced that men who sucked necks were perverts and by extension so were the girls who let them. I dared not laugh, but my mother was a funny woman.

That night in the late 1970s when she stopped to watch a few minutes of Saturday Night Live with me, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States of America, and he seemed monthly to have heaped on him embarrassments delivered through his brother Billy Carter, who died in 1988:

Billy Carter was neither the first nor the last brother to embarrass a president, but he was surely the most colorful. From the time Jimmy Carter started running for president to the end of his term in office, his younger brother was never far from the spotlight. In 1976 he provided humor and a charming contrast to his straight-laced candidate sibling. But by 1980, Billy's act had worn thin, ... (PBS)
Billy stayed in the news, supplying exceptional material for comedians, taking his brother down a notch, hoped Carter's opponents, reminding the nation that our president, who my mother loved, was only a Georgia farmer.

So, on SNL that night, Father Sarducci gave a sermon about Jesus and his obscured brother Billy that no one would follow because he was, well, just "Billy Christ," which brought Sarducci to Jesus's miracle of walking on water. Possibly it was this mention of Jesus that caused my mother to stop her trek through our den to watch the television. That name always caught her.

Unfortunately, I can't find a transcript or video clip of Novello's monologue as Sarducci that evening, but after his set-up of Billy getting no respect, he explained Billy's value to Jesus's work. In truth, Fr. Sarducci elaborated, that while Jesus wowed the crowds on shore by walking on water, his brother, Billy Christ, trudged the lake floor holding the Savior's feet.

That was the punchline and I'm sure it would be funnier if I could recall Sarducci's set-up or if you could see the clip, but for me, my mom made the evening. She burst into uncontrollable laughter until tears streamed down her face, and in the midst of her laughter she squeaked, "Oh, God, forgive me! That is ... that is so-Wa-hahahahaha--sacrilegious."

She belonged in hell for sure, she intimated. Its fires gleamed in her glistening eyes. But thank God for his mercy. I believe her eyes shine today with heaven's light.

So, I selected the above clip, Vita est Lavorum from 1980, a YouTube video featuring Fr. Sarducci that has the same spirit of his monologue that made my mother laugh. Appropriately, it's about the afterlife and possibly funnier to people who came up through church, even the Protestant church as did my mother and I, and I suspect those under rabbis and other spiritual leaders may chuckle as well.

Oh, the guilt! Laughter is a blessing.

Blogger Note: This post possibly should have been about coping with grief during the holidays, but it turned out to be more personal. However, Mata H. has a great post on surviving grief and the holidays.

Cross-posted at


lilalia said...

Please accept all my condolences. May your mother's spirit be at peace. I'm sure she was left standing at the end of the tunnel with so much money she convinced God that she could give over the surplus to those standing beside her, hands empty.

I loved reading your tribute to your mother. I just hope that when the tides of grief do over take you, there will be loved ones around to gather you in their arms. Take dear care.

Blue State Cowgirl said...

I always thought the best Christians were those who could maintain their sense of humor about it all. Your mother sounds like a great woman. My condolences. But what wonderful memories.