Are you where you want to be?


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Musings: Our Mortality

Yet another friend has returned to the great eternity.  Just over a year ago I dealt with the passing of five people who were close to me, some more than others.  Four of them died within a seven-week span, and the fifth, my dear church sister Susan, just two months after that.  At the time I remember feeling a sense of dis-ease, and although I have many spiritual tools and good friends to help me deal with this kind of thing, I was aware of “descending into greyness” and came to the conclusion that I was in a mild depression, which is not abnormal or alarming given the circumstances.

Last Thanksgiving, as Rich and I spent our now traditional week down in Orlando, I was on the computer and needed to make a rare (for me) foray into Facebook.  While there I found an entry by Rosa, the daughter of a dear old friend, Santiago.  Santiago was an engineer who I came to know very well, along with his wife Josefina, when I lived on the island of La Maddalena in Sardinia, Italy in the 70’s.  But more than an engineer, Santiago was an artist.  He painted using many mediums, he created exquisite mosaics, and he was a talented guitar player and writer.  Santiago was also my unofficial mentor, and he re-awoke my dormant Muse and I began writing and painting again.

Rosa’s posting was a photo of Josefina, and the caption read: “Here’s Mummy putting roses on Pappy’s tomb for his birthday.”  My hands froze over the computer keyboard as the significance of those words sank in.  I contacted Rosa immediately and she confirmed the sad news that Santiago had had a very serious stroke from which he had never recovered, and that he had passed last April.  Once the initial feelings of deep grief subsided, I was able to feel so grateful for his presence in my life and also for the fact that just two years ago my husband had gifted me with a week-long trip to Puerto Rico so that I could visit Santiago and Josefina and spend some wonderful time with them after about twenty five years of absence.

On our way home from that stay in Orlando, Rich and I stopped to visit with old friends from our time in Italy.  PA had been Richard’s Department Head on his first ship, U.S.S. Belknap (since decommissioned) in Gaeta, Italy in the mid-80’s, and then in the 90’s he had been his CO on another tour in Naples, Italy.  PA retired in the early 2000’s and on New Year’s Day 2006 he had a massive brain aneurism which robbed him of motor coordination and most speech.  He and Deb, his devoted wife, returned to live in DeBary, FL in 2007.  PA was wheelchair bound and had very little communication capability but when we visited them, which coincided with our Orlando trips each year, we could see that PA was “still there”.  Recognition and interest would flare in his eyes and we somehow knew that he appreciated our visit.

During the evening of 3 January 2013, we heard from Deb that PA was not long for this world and, in fact, he died in the early hours of the next day.  Yesterday we attended his funeral Mass and my husband was asked to speak about PA on behalf of the family.  As I heard Rich’s words of appreciation for this man, I was also drawn to my own place of gratitude – gratitude not only for PA and all he represented both as a a Naval officer and as a family man, and for the opportunity we had to know the whole family and be enriched by their presence in our lives, but also for life in general, the precious gift that it is, and for friendship and the gift that that is. I was also grateful that God had given us the opportunity to be present and supportive to our friends at their time of loss and deep personal grief.

As I remembered our last visit with Deb and PA, I then thought about the passing of my beloved soul-sister Cawne the week following Thanksgiving.  I will be writing a separated posting about Cawne because of the important place she held in my heart and in my life.  All that I will say here is that she was one of three people near and dear to me that I have lost recently all in the space of seven weeks.  That makes a grand total of eight losses in just over fourteen months.  I cannot help but wonder what is the “message” or the lesson behind all that loss, and I have been resting in the Creator’s loving arms about that.

There are three themes that have surfaced.  The first is that I have been prepared to carry this weight and, in dealing with my own grief, I have been able to support many people as they have journeyed through their grief. The second is related to my preparation as a spiritual director.  I firmly believe that I am being groomed to help others as they deal with their grief, to be a spiritual companion in this particular stage of peoples’ lives.  And the third is that I believe Creator is also teaching me about and gently bringing me closer to full acceptance of my own mortality.

And so as I close this blog I am also acutely aware that I want to write another blog dedicated to this particular topic.  So many people, in the Western world are scared to think about death and dying and live in a state of complete fear and denial of death, especially their own or that of their loved ones.  And yet death is the one thing that we are guaranteed to have to face in life.  Because of personal denial of the possibility of death and the general culture surrounding death in the Western world, many people are completely unprepared for the moment. Without being morbid,  I want to write about the subject so that whoever reads about it can choose to be somewhat prepared.

Musings: A Big Lemon!

Almost three years ago I wrote a posting titled Musings- Life And Lemons.  About a month ago, life served me a big lemon.  I should be used to lemons by now, you’d think.  I mean life is a big  mixture of lemons and strawberries – or bananas, or mangos, or whatever other fruit is your current sweet-flavored favorite.  But somehow, I guess, there’s a subconscious part of me that thinks I should be exempt from lemons, despite the fact that they keep appearing on my plate, and so they tend to side-swipe me when they happen.

So what’s the latest and greatest in the lemon orchard you’re wondering. It may or may not help to understand why I think this latest event on the road that is my life is a lemon, a big lemon.  I’m sixty-eight years old.  So, OK, technically I was only sixty-seven when this lemon appeared on my radar.  But that’s another reason it was a big lemon – it messed up my birthday!!

On Friday 27 April, I headed down to Winter Park to participate in the last-but-one class of the second year of my Audire course. Ruth, my friend who has just completed her third and final year of Audire, drove us down in her truck/van/SUV (not sure which label fits her vehicle; suffice to say it’s big enough and strong enough to haul a good sized trailer).  We always go down on the Friday night before class so we can get a good night’s sleep and avoid having to get on the road at o’dark thirty to be at San Pedro retreat center by 8.30am on Saturday morning.

As always, I met up with my dear friend Bickley to enjoy a superb dinner.  The dinners with Bickley are always wonderful because we choose a different ethnic restaurant each month so that we can delight our palates.  She and I are food aficionados and most of her other local friends are “plain-American-fare” eaters, so she doesn’t get to indulge her more exotic taste buds very often.  We had a great Cuban meal that Friday evening and enjoyed even more wonderful friendship time as we caught up with each other since the previous month – which had actually been two months because of the strange class schedule we had this year. 

After dinner, Bickley dropped me back to San Pedro and I settled in for the night.  Before getting ready for bed, I called my husband, Richard, to tell him about my enjoyable evening with Bickley and to say goodnight.  Everything normal so far; not even the hint of a lemon.  I prepared myself for the night and got into bed and, out of nowhere, I started experiencing some serious abdominal pains.  My immediate thought was “oh no, food poisoning!”.  I got out of bed and made a mint tea (good for digestion) and made sure I had a large container of water beside the bed.  The pains continued and I resigned myself to “waiting it out”, flushing my system with the tea and lots of water.

By midnight I was worried.  The pain hadn’t eased up so I called Ruth who was in the room next to mine.  I could tell that she had been deep in sleep.  What I couldn’t know was this was the first night she had been able to get to sleep fairly early after two very stress-filled weeks and lots of disturbed nights.  I explained what was going on and asked her if she thought I should “call someone”.  Ruth sleepily agreed that it sounded like food poisoning and said that there wouldn’t be anything anyone could do and that I would just have to wait for it to “go through my system”.  She did however suggest that I lie down quietly and gently massage my tummy and think happy thoughtsSmile.

At 3am I was a little mentally hysterical.  It occurred to me that the pain hadn’t diminished and it had not even begun to “move through my system”.  It was a steady low-burning pain in both my upper and lower abdomen and there wasn’t a single sign of a rumble, a gurgle, a grumble anywhere in my intestines.  It was at this point that I made a decision to call 911 and get help.  I called Ruth and let her know and she said to open my door so she and the paramedics could get in.

At this point I will make a long story short.  A shot of morphine, a 4-mile ambulance drive, a three-hour ER stay, and one cat scan later, the ER doctor informed me that I had an acutely inflamed appendix.  Now I ask you, isn’t appendicitis a “kid thing”?  Or at very least, a “teen thing”?  When was the last time you heard of a sixty-seven year old having acute appendicitis?  So what was I to do?  “That can’t be”, I firmly told the ER doctor.  (Fortunately my husband hadn’t quite arrived at the hospital by then so was spared the embarrassment of that moment.)  Hopefully the ER doctor made allowances for the fact that I was under the influence of morphine.

So at about 2pm on Saturday 28 April 2012, I was surgically separated from my appendix. As I waited for surgery, I remember feeling irritated that I was missing class, especially as it was a class that I had been particularly looking forward to.  I also remember being frustrated because our next class was in just two weeks and I had to prepare an end-of-year integration paper as well as other homework and I wasn’t going to be in the best of shape for the next few weeks.  I found myself thinking that it was my birthday in a few days and how was I supposed to celebrate if my head was still full of anesthetic and narcotic pain-killers, and my body was still weak from the whole surgery thing.  This was a very bitter lemon indeed.

Thank God I got out of that kind of thinking pretty quickly!  I cannot remember if I got there myself or if it was Richard who spoke it into reality, but I do remember at some point being grateful that the acute appendectomy was happening now and not closer to our trip to Italy at the end of June; even more grateful that it didn’t happen during that trip!  I remember suddenly being grateful that I was being taken care of and receiving good medical attention (the staff at Memorial Hospital, Winter Park, FL were all wonderful!).  And I remember also feeling grateful that I had decent medical insurance that covered this care. I got to making lemonade fairly quickly, especially once I got my pain meds!

I went home just a little over twenty four hours after being taken to OR, thanks to the wonders of laparoscopic surgery, and I experienced gratitude on a whole other level.  I was truly grateful that Richard is retired now and is always at home (didn’t think I would be saying that so very sincerely!), and for the very intimate and personal care that he gave me as I made my recovery from this whole event.  I was grateful for all the prayers and cards that friends sent my way and the telephone calls that showed how much they cared. 

Another lesson in gratitude learned.  Another lesson in being flexible and to expect the unexpected.  I got my integration paper done in time despite having a befuddled brain for a few weeks (anesthetic can really mess you up mentally as well as take your knees out from under you physically), and I was well enough to attend my class two weeks later.  My birthday celebration was low-key and a little delayed but it was still a celebration.  In fact it was more of a celebration (internally at least) because I was still around to celebrate.  So, even though I’m a slow learner, I am still teachable and I am learning to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.

Musings: Love–Our Wedding Anniversary

A few weeks ago Richard and I celebrated twenty eight years of marriage.  I began the day in my usual fashion, out on the lanai having my quiet time with God.  My husband was inside having his quiet time too, and through the open door I could feel the connection as we each experienced our own unique relationship with God.  As I read my various daily reflections, the meaning of that day slowly sank in. 

We had known each other for almost twenty nine years.  I met Richard towards the end of July 1983, and we married on 24 March 1984.  It was a bit of a scary time for me.  I had been married once before for almost ten very unhappy years and it had been ten years since I had separated and consequently divorced that man.  I had lived much of that previous marriage emotionally alone, and had become very independent and self-sufficient in the ensuing ten years.  Oh, and did I mention that Richard is almost twenty years my junior??

I thought back to that time after Richard asked me to marry him and remembered how much praying and self-questioning I went through.  I had also insisted that we speak with the priest and go through counseling, and then I went on a retreat to distance myself from the relationship for forty eight hours, just to have some clarity and see if I had any different thoughts and feelings about the situation.  After doing everything I thought I should do to be sure of how I felt, we went ahead and married.

I sat there on the twenty fourth of March this year with a very full heart as I traveled back in time, and the prevailing thought was “where had all those twenty eight years gone?”.  The words from a well-known Christian song came to mind: “in the blink of an eye”.  As I said goodbye to Richard that morning (he had a day-long class he had to attend), I remembered our first real kiss. It had me blushing for a moment because it was a very incredible and passionate kiss and I remember thinking that I could just have floated off in that kiss all those years ago.  But it was also a very tender kiss, and I think that’s what sold me on Richard from the very first – he was such a tender person.  Tender-hearted as a person as well as tender towards me, and others.

If I needed any other evidence of the years we have been together, we have a twenty seven-year old daughter, Melissa, who is proof-positive that all those “blink-of-an-eye” years really existed. I remember very well appearing in a play, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when I was about six months pregnant with her, and my eldest son, Marco, from my first marriage, break dancing day in and day out during the pregnancy.  Melissa was born to the rhythm of break dance.

While Richard was in class, I got on with my day and couldn’t help but notice in great detail the contents of our home, which is something between an art gallery and a curio shop.  There are paintings and photos all over the walls.  The paintings come from many different places that either Richard has travelled to during his years in the Navy or that we both have travelled to together.  Then there are the statues and figurines that cover every shelf and available surface throughout the house.  Many people are quite taken aback when they visit our home for the first time because of all “the stuff”.  But everything is a joyful representation of the years that we have been together and the memories that we have created.

When Rich came home from class, we got ready to go out and celebrate our anniversary.  First we went to the El Apache restaurant to enjoy a delicious Mexican meal.  With tummies pleasantly full we then headed over to the Thrasher-Horne Center for Arts to see a show.  A few weeks earlier, at a silent auction fund-raiser at our church, we had won the bid on two tickets for The Peking Acrobats which were dated twenty four March.  I think the only reason we bid on them was because the date was the same as our anniversary.  The show was quite breathtaking and very exciting and it was a great way to celebrate the day.

However, we didn’t quite finish the celebrations at that point.  Instead of heading home, Richard pointed the car in the other direction.  You see, he has an absolute weakness for Shakes, a small drive up cubicle that sells shakes and sundaes made with frozen custard.   And so we completed our evening enjoying our favorites: for Rich this was a strawberry milkshake, extra thickSmile; for me it was a kiddy-cup with one small scoop of vanilla frozen custard topped with a healthy drizzle of caramel – yumSmile.  A perfect finish to a perfect evening, and here’s to number twenty nine!!

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