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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: Revival of the Muse

Slowly she is resurfacing, the Muse that feeds my imagination and nudges the words out of my mind and onto the page.  I know the change in weather has something to do with it.  For about a week now the days have been warm and full of sunshine, just the right environment to entice me out into my beloved garden to work the soil, scatter seeds, and plant some flowers. 

Nature has also responded with much burgeoning growth.  Trees are budding out at the speed of light and the St. Augustine grass has gone from hay-colored to fresh spring green in the flash of an eye.  Tiny green shoots are poking through the earth, a promise of beauty and color yet to come.

Another deciding factor has been the time change.  We sprang forward last weekend and the evenings are lighter longer which always brightens my soul.  And even though this afternoon the sunshine slowly disappeared and the sky became leaden grey, I was able to feel very grateful and even lighthearted when the rains came to soak the parched ground. 

We have had a very mild winter and we really need some rain.  I am especially grateful that it has rained today because this means that I do not have to expend time and energy to water the garden tomorrow.  We do not have an automatic system and it is quite time and energy consuming to move the sprinklers all around the garden to their allotted spots to make sure everything gets a good soaking.

So here I sit, in my wonderful lanai, outside yet sheltered from the rain, allowing the thoughts to flow and the fingers to run across the keyboard.  The sky is still mostly grey and I think we will probably get some more rain this evening.  Everything is a fresh lush green and, even though it is already 7.15pm, it is still quite light.  I love moving through spring into longer days.  For whatever reason it makes me feel more alive.

I think the change in weather and the change in time have happened just perfectly for me right now because both of these events have helped me to move outside and beyond the prevailing sadness that surrounded me and weighed down my heart.  This was due to five deaths that have happened among my friends and family since the end of October last year.  Dealing with death, even as I accept it as part of life’s cycle, takes its toll in a physical and emotional way.  I am just so grateful that I have strong support systems and the right tools to help me deal with it.

Just as nature cycles through her seasons, so too do we humans.  And to appreciate and enjoy the new life we also need to accept and appreciate the dying to the old life.  I am grateful to have a faith, a belief in God and in a life hereafter.  So once I move past the sorrow of loss I can rejoice and celebrate at the soul’s onward journey.  Who knows what joys and what adventures await us in the Big Beyond!!

Spiritual Growth: The Two Sides Of Life

It is Sunday morning and I am sitting in my lanai.  I relished a short lie-in this morning after our trip home yesterday afternoon, unpacking and sorting out clothes and getting them washed and put away. It is good to be home in familiar surroundings.  We had a great week in Orlando and it was good to be away from the usual routines.  But it’s always lovely to come home.

It is a gorgeous day.  Another one of those sparkling “Princess Di” days.  The sun is shining brilliantly from a clear blue sky and there is a slight breeze sighing through the pine trees out back.  Everything is gently moving and I can see all the individual needles on the pine trees fluttering in the breeze and shimmering in the sunlight.

I sit back in my chair and breathe in the soft, warm air.  Yes, it’s warm here in sunny Florida at the end of NovemberSmile, although I hear that temperatures are going to dip down later on this week.  In the meantime, I am enjoying this “Indian summer” and feel very happy and content.  In fact my heart is full joy right now as I look at the beauty that God has placed right here in my back yard.

I notice that the small brown birds, I believe they are sparrows, are back again as they pass through on their way to who-knows-where and they are clustering on the feeders.  There’s a flash of red as a colorful cardinal claims his place and the sparrows flutter away until he is done.  I can hear the squirrels barking in the trees as they playfully, or maybe not, fuss at each other. Mokka, our cat, sits in the sun, her tail slowly swishing as she thinks her cat-thoughts about the birds.

But even as I am aware of the joy that I feel I am also aware that there is sadness punching and poking at my heart.  It feels as though one ventricle is full of joy and the other is full of sadness.  My life is blessed in so many ways and I am truly grateful for that.  Yet I have a longing for a healed relationship with my sister who I miss so very much, and another longing for a happy, satisfying relationship with my daughter who I also miss very much.

And I am reminded of one of my favorite authors, Kahlil Gibran, who, when asked in his book The Prophet to speak about Joy and Sorrow, responds with these wise and wonderful words of wisdom:

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.”…………..

“Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”……………

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”………..

”Together they come [Joy and Sorrow], and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”


And so hangs the balance of all life.  One moment we are in joy, and the next we are in sorrow.  And sometimes we carry them together.  And I can only learn to surrender to what is, to accept the gift of my emotions no matter what they are.  As a character in the movie Shirley Valentine said, “If I can feel it means I am alive.”