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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.

Vignette: Prayers in a Parking Lot

On the second day of our retirement ride, Rich and I had a very unique experience.  We were some where in Tennessee having left Marietta, GA on the Tuesday morning and we were headed toward Paducah, KY.  Our norm each day was to ride for about one hundred and twenty miles, then take a rest stop and gas up if necessary.  On that Tuesday morning we had taken a break at a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee.  I had headed into the building to use the facilities while Rich took a stretch.

I was inside for a while because a bus had made a pit stop just minutes before we had arrived and there was quite a line for the ladies room.  When I came out Rich was standing beside the bike deep in conversation with an older gentleman.  I hung back a little giving them room for their discussion.  Then Rich looked around and saw me there, motioned me forward and introduced me.  I very much regret that I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but I can tell you some things about him.

I learned he was a retired Navy man, a Veteran from World War II.  He, too, had owned a bike back in the day and had met and married his wife shortly after joining the service.  He said that they really enjoyed riding together back then.  His wife came out of the building at this point and joined us and we learned that they were from Knoxville, TN.  They were very committed to their church back in Knoxville and they told us they were in fact on a day trip with fellow church-goers.  We asked where they were going and the gentleman, with a chuckle, said that they didn’t know.  They were on a “mystery trip” and had no idea what their destination was!

At this point, reaching out his hand, Rich thanked him for his service to country and said we needed to get going as we had quite a few miles to cover that day. The gentleman grasped Rich’s hand and thanked him in return for his service to country too.  Then, to our great surprise, he extended his left hand toward my right hand and asked permission to pray over us. With joy in my heart I reached out to take his hand and he connected with his wife on his other side, and she in turn clasped hands with Rich.

And right there, the middle of a rest stop parking lot somewhere in Tennessee we were blessed to receive prayers of gratitude and prayers for protection from two strangers. He asked the good Lord, our Father, to watch over us, to keep us safe from all harm.  He asked for blessings upon us as we continued our trip and prayed that we would have a wonderful and enjoyable ride.  With full hearts we said our goodbyes, mounted the bike, and rode off leaving our parking lot friends to enjoy their mystery tour.

Although I do not remember their names, I can picture them in my minds eye.  I can see the four of us standing beside the bike, the big tour bus in the background, holding hands and praying together. It was beautiful and was most definitely a highlight of the ride for me. That memory will be with me in years to come, and I hope that Rich and I will be able to do the same for someone else one day as we ride our Harley around God’s creation.         

Shared Wisdom: Words On The Road

We have arrived in Kentucky and are spending time with family in Louisville.  So far we have travelled through 14 States, a couple of them twice over.  Even as I travel, I am aware of words that float up from memory, or that I encounter as I journey from place to place, or that I find scribbled on pieces of paper tucked into my meditation books or my gratitude journal.  So here are some words of wisdom from the road.


“Life is curly, don’t even try to straighten it out.”                                                                                (Rebecca – age 11 years)

“What God gives us in answer to our prayers will always be the thing we most urgently need, and it will always be sufficient.”  (Elisabeth Elliot)

“What matters supremely is not the fact that I know God, but the larger fact ……… that He knows me …….. I am never out of His mind.  All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me.”                                                                               (J.I. Packer)

“Light does not resist or avoid darkness.  It merely includes it, welcomes it, loves it.  Light is not afraid of the shadow for it knows the appearance of the shadow is the first sign of illumination.”                                                                                                           (Paul Ferini)

“We are  not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us {His} only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that God walks with us.”                                                      (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

“I’m a girlfriend-kind-of-girl.  I love having women in my life.  In fact, I think women who claim they don’t need a girlfriend just haven’t found a good one yet.  I don’t have that problem.  I am surrounded by an abundance of the most remarkable women God ever created to be my sister, mother, daughters, and friends.  It’s a blessing I don’t take lightly.  Quite simply, having such dear women in my life makes my heart tingle.”      (Suzy Toronto)

“When you take the first step to embrace God in your circumstances, He will go the distance to embrace you.”   (Stormie O’Martian)

“When the reed is empty, blowing through it makes a beautiful sound, a sound that returns effortlessly to silence.  When mind is still, thoughts arise spontaneously, offer themselves, and die in the wind.  There is no complexity here.  The goal is not to make thinking go away, but to slow it down so that it comes to rest in its natural container.  Once you rest in that place, you no longer desire to be anywhere else.”      (Paul Ferini)

“Faith is meant to be lived moment by moment.  It isn’t some broad, general outline – it’s a long walk with a real Person.”    (Joni Eareckson Tada)


Blessings to you all. 

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