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.