This is the latest in a series of “Family” posts. For the previous, click here
“Birth, School, Work, Death.” This song by The Godfathers is in my head a lot. I’ve always found it delightfully depressing—all my existence summed up in four nouns. It was especially appealing during my college years, back when it was a new song (not “classic alternative.”) At that stage, work had meant part-time jobs. How I would actually make a living was a huge, looming question mark. What would I do, to take up the majority of the time I spend on Earth? Hopefully, something meaningful.
Fast forward to now. No, this isn’t going to be another one of my ramblings about an unsatisfactory work life and how I find writing fulfilling. I hope to make it about my own godfather (not the band, nor the movie), and what it means to live a meaningful life.
It’s been pretty awesome to have a good, caring godfather who’s been a part of my whole life. Birth, school, work, and death (not my own death, thankfully). I have been very fortunate in my godparentage. My godmother, Carmel, is a truly remarkable woman, who definitely deserves her own post. So she’ll appear in this space later this summer. But timing-wise, today is appropriate for my godfather, because it’s his birthday.
Like Carmel, Flower is also remarkable. He’s not a hippie, and his name isn’t really Flower, but it’s what I’ve always called him. From my earliest memory, he would visit our house, and everyone called him Father Brougher. He is an archdiocesan priest, who my parents met through the Family Life Apostolate of New Orleans (I think). I would hear Father Brougher, and I would say Flower Brower (I was very small). Thus, the name Flower stuck.
It took a while for me to realize that not everyone has a priest for a godfather, and that it really is a special kind of thing. It also took me a while to realize how special Flower was to each of my parents. Luckily, I had an inkling of it before they both passed away.
I assume my parents and Flower were all in their thirties when they became friends. Flower might have even been in his twenties. In autumn of the year 2000, they were all in their sixties. At least a thirty-year history of friendship between them.
Dad had his third and final recurrence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma during that season, sixteen years ago. And that was when I came to understand that Flower was not just a friend, but more like a brother to each of my parents. I was living in Los Angeles, but returning to New Orleans every three weeks or so. Dad was declining rapidly.
I saw Flower quite a bit during that time. And something he said to me, about the sanctity, or sacredness, of that time—the time of someone “shedding their mortal coil” (my words, not his)—really stuck with me. And it more than just stuck, it opened my eyes. I had been so stressed out about keeping up obligations two thousand miles away. When I was at work, I was worried about family, and when I was with family, I was worried about work.
It was a good lesson in being present. It was a sacred time; what was going on with my job was not. I resolved to really be there when I was in New Orleans. And even after Dad died, that resolve kind of stuck. I believe it factored into my decision to leave Los Angeles and return to New Orleans for good, three years later.
That theme of sanctity and presence came up again just a few years ago, when Flower celebrated his Golden Jubilee (the 50th anniversary of his ordination). He has been the Catholic chaplain at a New Orleans hospital for several decades now, and I think it’s work that really suits him. He said something during that Mass about how blessed he has been to be in a situation where he could be there for people during traumatic times.
He has certainly been there for my family during difficult times. Flower said the Funeral Mass for both my parents. And I can only imagine how personally painful it must have been for him.
June 1 has a lot of significance. It’s the start of hurricane season. It was Mom’s birthday. It’s also the birthday of the friend I’ve had the longest (you know who you are). But June 1 is Flower’s birthday, too.
So Happy Birthday, Flower. I am so glad you have been such a big part of not just my life, but the whole family. It may be an offer you can’t refuse, but like it or not, you are tied in with the Mialarets.