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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.

ISCHIA: Island of Flowers

I am presently enjoying several weeks in my beloved Italy.  There is so much to write about but I think I have to give first place of honor to the Island of Ischia, which sits just off the coast from Naples.  We arrived in Naples, via Rome, on a Thursday evening and after six days catching up with jet-lag, eating LOTS of mozzarella (among many other good Italian dishes!), and going to Bahia Blanca, a favourite beach on the other side of Gaeta, we took the ferry over to Ischia. This is an island formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago.

The first thing that visitors to Ischia notice as the ferry approaches the island is how green and fresh everything is despite the heat.  Because Ischia is a volcanic island it is quite mountainous and its slopes are a rich green as they come down to meet the various towns and villages.  Almost every garden is rich in flowers which at the moment are in full summer bloom.

All of the streets are lined, usually on both sides, with tall rhododendron trees dripping flowers in every shade of pink imaginable.  Bougainvillea in all its many shades spills over walls, climbs fences, and trails up and down the walls of houses as though an artist had dipped many brushes into different colors on his palette and splashed them here and there in wild abandon. Hibiscus offer up their beautiful shallow open trumpets as though about to create some romantic perfumed symphony, and huge pregnant balls of mauve and blue blooms top the stems among the lush green foliage on large hortensia bushes. Everywhere is a riot of color.

But color does not stop with God’s amazing creation.  The residents of Ischia have added their own artistic touch to their island.  Houses are painted in every pastel tint available.  Shops are decorated with colorfully decorated tiles or painted murals and a wild profusion of products hangs in doorways, spills out onto the sidewalks, or fills windows in such a way as to entice the passerby to stop and peruse and, perhaps, buy. My heart and soul are filled with color since being here in Italy and Ischia has played a principal part in that.   

Shared Wisdom: The Last of the Batch

So these are the last group of wise words that came to me as we were doing our retirement ride.  I know there will be many more words of wisdom to share with you, there are so many wise people past and present!  But these particular words just seemed to jump out of the woodwork wherever I found myself in those twenty days traveling this continent.


“Life is a mirror – if you frown at it, it frowns back; if you smile at it, it returns the greeting.”                                                                                                                               (Chinese proverb)

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.”                                                                                                                    (Jim Rohn)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”                                                                                                                           (Marcel Proust)

Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, in as much as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   (John Keats)

“Take time every day to do something ridiculous.”                                                                                                                                                                                          (Philipa Walker)

“Insist on yourself.  Never imitate.”                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”                                                                                                                                     (Thomas Merton)

“You’re the strongest person I ever met, she said, I said, you too and we decided we’d know each other a long time.”                                                                                                (Brian Andreas)

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”                                                                                                                                                        (Helen Keller)

“Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life.”                                                                     (Anonymous)

“Your outer world reflects your inner world; peaceful thoughts produce peace.”                                                                                                                                                    (Joan Gattuso)

“Every artist was first an amateur.”                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


I have already accumulated more quotations to share with you, so it won’t be long before another “Shared Wisdom” posting reaches you.  I think my secondary mission in life may be to spread these words to as many people as possible.