I visited Father Michael’s grave again on Sunday. I made a small pot of zinnias- seeing as there is a lot of sun there-they should be ok. Hope the rain keeps coming regularly. I placed the pot on the headstone per cemetery policy. It seems the peachy rose bush is gone, but another large one has been added at the foot of the grave. There are at least four mini roses planted across the middle. And surprise! The little rock on the headstone has been super-glued there!! No comment.
It was a somber visit for me. I think there is something definitive and very final about seeing that headstone-summing up a person’s time on this earth. Definitive and yet so inadequate, true for everyone, yet most meager for some , especially a man like Father Michael. But I know he would say “I’m just a simple priest”.
Praying at the cemetery got me reminiscing about early December in 2012. Father Michael was getting ready for provincial meetings. They would be held in Albuquerque. Father Michael was talking a lot about his upcoming meeting and a ‘regifting party’ for staff that the fathers were going to throw at St Pius . I remembered I’d received a gift of two Tiffany crystal glasses , which I had never used-for two years! They were still in the box; I offered them to Father Michael. He was so happy; said he knew just the lady he wanted to surprise with them.
So I brought the glasses to church one weekday. After he said Mass,Father Michael came out to the parking lot to accept them. He was so amazed that they were all wrapped and still in the blue Tiffany box with its white ribbon. I’d also brought some fancy tea for him. He was very pleased and thanked me over and over. Then I asked when he’d be returning from Albuquerque. He turned very somber and said “I don’t want to go . I really don’t want to go”.
This was so unusual -the way Father said this and the way he looked. I immediately had this chilling thought ( in Spanish ! ): “Córdoba. Lejana y sola.….la muerte me está mirando …”. It’s from García-Lorca’s “Song of the Rider”. A little shaken, I asked Father Michael why he was thinking this way. He said he didn’t know why, but just had this dread of going. I told him I would pray more than usual that all would be well. I was scared for him , because I knew that Father Michael was intuitive about so much, so often. And I’d just had those frightening words come to me also. So we said goodbye and Father Michael left for Albuquerque the next day.
Father Michael received his cancer diagnosis in Albuquerque. The doctors revealed the colon cancer on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.A few days later, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, they told him of the liver cancer. On the Feast of the Annunciation,2014, Father Michael received the news that doctors could do no more for him. He’d always told me “Our Lady has been with me from the beginning with this ‘malady’.” And she stayed with him till the end.
Father M missed the ‘regifting’. He was still in the hospital. Later he had no memory of where he’d gotten the Tiffany glasses. He ended up giving them to a different lady. I mentioned them once in conversation and he was so surprised I knew about them and even more surprised that I’d been their donor! Those were traumatic days for him in Albuquerque.
Our feelings of dread turned out to be on the mark. I thought of them in All Saints Cemetery that morning in the light of Father Michael’s traveling the long road home. What a dignified and holy traveler! He journeyed with suffering, with hope and ultimately-surrender.
Here is a translation of Lorca’s poem:
SONG OF THE RIDER
Far away and alone
Black pony, full moon
and olives in my saddlebag.
Although I know the roads
I’ll never reach Córdoba.
Through the plain, through the wind,
black pony ‚red moon.
Death is looking at me
from the towers of Córdoba.
Ay! How long the road!
Ay! My valiant pony!
Ay! That death should await me
Before I reach Córdoba.
Far away and alone.