Are you where you want to be?


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.

Shared Wisdom: Words of Love and Friendship

I love finding quotations that speak of love and friendship.  Whenever I read them they remind of the great blessings I have in my many friends and the gift that I receive when someone loves me.  I believe that these are human manifestations of what God feels toward us.  So here are a few quotations that caught my attention and my heart’.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”      (Martin Luther King)

“Too many of us stay walled because we are afraid of being hurt.  We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.”     (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction of being loved for yourself, or more correctly, of being loved in spite of yourself.”   (Victor Hugo)

“For whoever knows how to return a kindness he has received, must be a friend above all price.”    (Sophocles)

“Like everyone else I feel the need of relations and friendship, of affection, and I am not made of stone or iron, so I cannot miss these things without feeling, as does any other intelligent man, a void and deep need.  I tell you this to let you know how much good your visit has done me.”     (Vincent Van Gogh)

“Today a new sun rises for me; everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak to me of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it.”    (Anne De Lenclos)

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.”     (Aristotle)

And this last one I treasure most of all.

“Human love and the delights of friendship, out of which are built the memories that endure, are also to be treasured up as hints of what shall be hereafter.”    (Bede Jarrett)

So as we approach Thanksgiving Day, I will offer a gratitude for all the people who love me and for the friendships that bring me so much joy.

Musings: Life’s Curve Balls

Just recently life has thrown a few curve balls into my personal space.  Nothing drastic, but enough to throw me off balance.  And then, of course, there’s the dratted weather, which has thrown enough curve balls into everyone’s territory to create disruptions galore.

My last posting (yes, I know, it’s been two long weeks!), was on 7 March Musings-  Freedom, and I shared how sick I had been and how much I was enjoying the freedom of wellness.  We had a short interlude of a few days of good weather as I regained my strength, and the first call of order was the garden.  So much needed to be done in the way of general tidying and clearing before beginning on the major project which would completely remodel my front yard.

I have to admit that even as I experienced the joy of gardening, I struggled with a certain level of frustration.  As much as I wanted/needed to be out doing the garden, especially as I had lost so much time due to bad weather and we didn’t know how long the warm weather was going to last, I also really wanted to be writing.  Having two passions is sometimes difficult to manage and the garden passion and the writing passion each carry about equal weight in my heart.

Well, I chose the garden and managed to get a few days good work in as well as immersing myself into the the general mainstream of my daily life.  I was on about day five of this readjustment back to normal when the next curve ball arrived and truly took the wind out of my sails.

I had just arrived in St. Augustine for a Body Talk appointment.  I pulled into the parking lot, took my phone out of my bag to put it on silent mode, and it rang in my hand.  It was my husband calling to let me know that he was in the ER with chest pains “but please don’t get alarmed”!

In hindsight I have learned that my reaction to crisis/alarming news is to back off, disconnect if you will.  In that moment I said to my husband, “I’ve just arrived at my appointment in St. Augustine, do you need me there?”  He kind of muttered around for a few moments as I cautiously allowed my mind and my heart to re-approach the reality of the situation, then he said, “Yes, I think I’d like you here.”

As I ran in to cancel my appointment before turning the car around and racing back to Jacksonville, I realized what my comment must have sounded like to my husband as he lay on a gurney in the ER.  I called him immediately and left a message (they had made him turn his phone off).  I told him that even as I had asked that ridiculous question, there had been no doubt that I would go right to the hospital to be with him.  I had just needed a moment to allow my fear to subside so that I could get on and do what I needed to do.

I guess for me it is a defense mechanism.  Stepping back so that I can allow my head and my heart to kind of sync up together and work in harmony.  It’s the kind of mechanism that has us go to numbness or disbelief in the face of personal tragedy.  We need that small space of time so that God can step in and hold our heart and our hand, or even pick us right up into His arms, and walk us through the pain and the difficulty of any given tough situation.

I spent the whole of the drive back to Jacksonville in prayer mode.  I asked God to protect my husband and surround him with His healing grace.  I made a couple of phone calls: one to my daughter to put her in the picture, and two more to dear friends so that I would have my support group in place no matter what. 

By the time I got to the hospital I was calm.  They had done a bunch of tests on Richard and were beginning to administer some different medications.  His EKG’s, chest X-ray, and blood work were OK, but he was still experiencing tightness and pressure in his chest as well as shortness of breath when speaking. They kept him in for observation for a couple of days before sending him home with more medication and instructions for follow-up, including an appointment with the Cardiologist.

It is amazing how a couple of days and a crisis can affect the human system.  It was only after getting Richard home and seeing him slowly return to normal that I realized how exhausted my body was.  As I went through the process of letting go of the anxiety all I wanted to do was sleep.  I also noted how I felt generally irritable, and irritated toward Richard.  (Like how dare he put me through that!!).

Stress is a very hard task-master that produces strong emotions and reactions.  I am grateful that I know how to recognize stress fairly quickly and can take positive steps to reduce and eliminate it from my life.  I booked a massage in the next few days and also returned to my beloved garden, two of the best therapies for stress that I know work for me.