A Good Friday 

By Anna Monardo

That year, Good Friday was on April 2, birthday of my beloved deceased grandmother and also feast day of San Francesco di Paola, patron saint of our family’s Calabrian village. The day before had been the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. That morning, meditating on Gramma, Dad, and our saint, I was trying to create solace for myself. I’d woken up unsettled by grief—“sideswiped,” my ex-husband would have said. That’s how he had described the disequilibrium after each our three miscarriages. I was now forty-three, newly divorced, not sure how I’d ever become a mother, and not sure what my life would mean to me if I never became a mother.

I had tried working in my home office that morning, but could not, so I went to Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral at noon for Stations of the Cross. I hadn’t done the Stations in years, yet I knew the cathedral would be a good place to meditate. Large and high-ceilinged, Saint Cecilia’s is as grand as a cathedral in Italy. The bishop was leading the walk through the Stations. Listening to the narrative of Christ’s procession toward his Crucifixion, I felt the mounting dread. There were so many points when this narrative could have gone differently. What if, at the Second Station, Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus? What if, at the Fourth Station, Peter did not deny Christ, as predicted, before the cock crowed? In the Fifth Station, Pilate could have released Jesus, if only Jesus had defended himself.

From Station to Station, my body registered how much I wished the story would rewrite itself, but this year as always, Christ’s Passion was unfolding toward the inevitable, and I became aware that I was talking to my father, saying things like “I need your help. Dad. We loved each other so much, but I need to be released from this overwhelming loss. I can’t figure out how to do that.” I told him how much I missed him. I appealed to him as a parent, telling him that I wanted to know the kind of love he had for my brother and me. Within me, it was like a chant—Dad, please help—and then I understood why I’d turned to him. As an OB-GYN, he had not only been my father, but he’d also been a healer and a midwife. Please?

At the conclusion of the Stations, I noticed people lining up for Confession, which was something I’d stopped doing when I was fairly young. I’d become a smorgasbord Catholic, taking what I liked, leaving the rest. There was comfort in the scent of incense, in the sound of Latin incantations, in the moment when the translucent host was lifted and shared during Communion. Those were deeply embedded sensory memories. But there was more to the Catholic Church than that, and if I sat with that bishop—or with most bishops, most priests—to discuss “the Church,” there’d be so much we couldn’t agree on: the Church’s position on gays, priests’ celibacy, women’s role in the hierarchy. We’d really disagree on what I saw as every woman’s right to privacy when making intimate choices concerning her body and reproduction. The Church’s sanctioned cover-up of pedophile priests made it practically impossible to claim allegiance to the Catholic Church. And yet, there I was and there was the bishop, and he had begun hearing Confessions in the baptistery. My last Confession had been decades earlier. But on this day, something led me to the line outside the Confessional. Standing in front of me was a young woman with long hair who turned and whispered, “What are we supposed to call him? Bishop? Your eminence?”

I shrugged and suggested, “Your worship?”

We agreed on “Your Holiness.”

When it was my turn, I entered the small, dark space, kneeled, and, as at my first therapy session so many years ago, I immediately started to cry. I told the Bishop that yesterday had been the anniversary of my father’s death and I still wasn’t at peace. “I don’t know how to grieve,” I said.

“But, my child, you are grieving.”

I told him about my miscarriages. I don’t think I mentioned my divorce. He said, “Your father and Rachel, protector of woman, are weeping for you, for your losses.” He said, “Your father wants you to have a child. He is helping you. He is helping you on this anniversary of death by bringing you here to relieve yourself of this burden.” The Bishop told me to walk into the light of day and live God’s gifts. He was invisible on the other side of the screen. I had only his words and none of it sounded clichéd or like the patriarchal reprimand I’d heard from too many priests as I was growing up. I thought about how his voice—the sound of it, as well as the words he was saying—might have soothed me after each of the miscarriages, especially after a young doctor told me, “Well, you can’t be that upset. At your age, you don’t have that many good eggs left.”

In the Confessional, there was still one question I had to ask. “Is it okay to let go of the dead?”

“You never let go of them,” the bishop said. “They are in the hands of the Father. You will be re-united someday. During your time on Earth, God wants you to enjoy His gifts to you.”

“It feels important that I’m talking to you in a baptistery,” I said. I told him what I believed: that the spirit of my child was out there and that I would be a mother.

He said, You will be a mother, and for Penance he told me to kneel before the Cross and think about the gifts God had given me.


Walking into the afternoon sun, down the cathedral’s wide steps, both amazed and self-conscious about what I’d just done, I did feel some relief, enough to go about my day. In the silence once I got inside my car, I told my father, “You were magnificent, Dad. You really were magnificent.”

Three years later, I adopted my son.




Anna Monardo’s memoir, After Italy: A Family Memoir of Arranged Marriage, is forthcoming with Bordighera Press in May 2024. Her novels, The Courtyard of Dreams and Falling In Love with Natassia, were published by Doubleday. She teaches in the Writer’s Workshop of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.