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.

Self Nurturing: Holistic Health

I am a firm believer in taking care of myself using everything available to do so.  I also confess to not using all those tools to the best of my ability.  I am a self-confessed stubborn, obstinate, procrastinating, pride-filled human being.  There are times when I take the “I can fix it in my time and in my way” mantra to the edge of insanity!

However, I do not live like that most of the time – thank God.  With a great deal of help and support from too many people to be able to name individually (although some of them were mentioned in my posting Mentors-  Along the Path of Life) , I have found many ways and many tools to help myself.  I have also come to understand that my schedule does not always align with God’s schedule, or the universe’s schedule, or friend’s or doctor’s schedules!  And along the way I have acquired a little patience and a little humility and learned to live in joy.

I know that I have mentioned in previous postings that I use massage and Reiki as part of my preventive health measures.  Although some massage some of the time specifically helps any physical challenges that I may be facing, massage can always help, as long as I am completely open to it, my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being too.  Reiki, I believe, works in the opposite way.  I find that Reiki always brings me comfort, healing, and alignment on the emotional, spiritual, and mental levels and can also help on the physical plain.  In my personal opinion Reiki is “God medicine”.

There are many other forms of alternative therapy and also different lifestyles that can be used to better our general health and well-being.  Here I mention just a couple because they are also my own “weak areas” (read: areas in which I procrastinate or am pridefully stubborn!).  We read frequently that we are what we eat, which means that in some way I eat too much fat/wrong carbohydrate content because I am about fifty pounds overweight:-(.

Please understand (and here come a lot of excuses masquerading as reasons, I’m sure!) that I do not “overeat” in the generally recognized fashion.  I do not attack all-you-can-eat buffet lines going back as many times as possible because it’s a “good deal” – although I have done that in the past.  I do not eat “junk” food: I may have one or two hamburgers a year and perhaps one hotdog a year at the church picnic. 

I do not eat chips frequently; I’ll have a handful with salsa if we happen to eat out at a Mexican restaurant.  My pantry is not full of Twinkies, or Ho-Ho’s, or chocolate chip cookies, or Oreos.  However, I do enjoy a good dessert when we go to a restaurant that offers them, and I will have a chocolate binge once in a while that usually lasts for about a week to ten days.  All my meals are made from scratch using fresh products – no frozen or canned or packaged stuff.

But what I have to admit to is that sometimes I could eat less than I do.  I could put half of what I eat on my plate and still be feeding my body enough.  I just don’t want to if it’s something that I really like.  I should stop eating bread and pasta and rice – but I love it too much, and so for right now I’m not willing to give those items up.

Along with the food lifestyle, and hand-in-hand with it really, is the exercise thing.  Do you know what my biggest excuse is in this area?  I don’t want to give up a whole hour exercising(even if it is broken down into small bite-size ten minute segments during the day!) when I have so much else to do.  And right now, this very minute as I’m writing that, I am feeling just the teenziest, weenziest bit guilty because didn’t I just write a posting (Reading Or Writing- It’s Still About Words) in which I confessed to spending all my time reading for about ten days straight?

So here I am, this imperfect human being making my best effort along life’s path.  But what brought this whole subject up in the first place is that right now I have an irritating tickle cough.  It came on some time over the weekend and was preceded by a couple of days of not feeling quite right.  I immediately started treating myself with Silver Shield, double dosing my Vitamin C, and taking Oscillococcinum (don’t feel bad – I can’t pronounce it either!), a homeopathic product made by Boiron.  The thing is it hasn’t blossomed into flu nor have I had fever or feel sick.

I do not like putting chemical medications in my body unless I absolutely, life-or-death have to.  I choose to take many different supplements and a whole food grain to support my health system.  I haven’t had flu or a really bad throat in a few years and I’m sure that’s because I preventatively take care of my health.  In fact, any real health issues that exist in me today (high blood pressure, cholesterol, reflux) could all be taken care of if I ate differently and exercised more!!

I also go to a  Board Certified Holistic doctor once every three months because I know that she takes into consideration my whole being (mental, emotional and spiritual as well as the physical) when she treats me.  There is also a level of compassion in my sessions with her that I do not experience with a “traditional” doctor.  If I could afford it I would go once a month but unfortunately insurance doesn’t cover my visits with her so that’s out-of-pocket expense for me.  But I care enough about myself to sacrifice in other areas to afford her.

Maybe one day we will be offered the freedom, under whatever health care we have, to choose holistic health care along side traditional health care.  Actually traditional health care through the ages used to be more holistically based until the last century or so.  And of course today, fuelled by greed and power, most of the big pharmaceutical companies will probably fight tooth and nail against that.   

Mentors: Along the Path of Life

Where do I start?  As I look back along the path of my life there have been dozens of moments when the sets of footprints have been many.  I know that God has been with me all the way, even when I have chosen to ignore Him.  So I know that there has been at least one set along the sands of time when He was carrying me and, when I was “in a state of grace”, then we walked side by side leaving two sets of prints.

But those other times when more feet left their mark are when some very special people walked with me.  People who loved me or at the very least cared about me enough to accompany me through difficult times.  Sometimes these people were professionals whom I sought out for specific help.  Other times they were special friends, the kind that leave footprints not only on the path of life but also across my heart.

If I were to be honest, even though I did not recognize it at the time, I would have to say that my mother was my first mentor.  It would probably be even more honest to say that I was not capable of recognizing her in the mentor role.  But with the wisdom that age eventually gives us and with the passage of time, I am able to understand and admit that she did indeed give me many of the values that I hold dear today.

My Aunty Polly was another mentor in my young life.  She was not a blood relative but someone my parents knew from before they were married.  She had an amazing ability to make me feel loved and cherished no matter what I may have done.  She always had a compliment for me and she always smelled of some divine French perfume, and when she hugged me I wanted to stay inside her arms forever.  As I struggled through my teen years her love and support never wavered.  She was always ready to be my champion.

Sad to say I remember no particular mentors in my life during my upper school years or college years, although Aunty Polly was ever available if I bothered to approach her.  This barren period of my life stretched into my marriage to my first husband.  But the barrenness was of my own creation as I slid further and further into isolation.

It was not until a few years after I separated from my him that I began to seek help and became aware that there were some very compassionate people available if I but looked.  Dear Fr. Hill, the Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Navy in La Maddalena, Sardinia was the first of those.  His laughter filled the corridors of the Navy base and filled my battered heart with hope.  In turn he introduced me to a young woman called Lou Ann who was to mentor me through the first few months of struggling out of my “dark period”. 

As I took my place among my fellow citizens on this path of life I slowly understood that there was no stigma in seeking help from professionals.  Since then I have been blessed with help from many psychologists and spiritual advisors: Dr. Lockart, Dr. Fernandez, Dr. Werbel, Dr. Boger, Chaplain Gerry Smith, Chaplain Steve Jensen, Chaplain Wendy Bausman, Chaplain Rod Kelley, Chaplain Terry Robertson, Chaplain Paul Witt, Chaplain Robert Church, Chaplain Mark Logid, Chaplain Greg Gillette, Chaplain Larry Smith.  I know there were others.  I can see their faces but my memory is being unkind and not allowing me to remember their names.

My dear friend Herm del Prato in Naples, Italy was another soul with whom I shared many personal stories and struggles.  His ear was always willing and he was never judgmental.  And how can I forget my “soul sister” Cawne who came into my life in 1987 and, in her own woundedness, opened up a whole new path of spiritual possibilities to me.  Despite a large geographical separation we are deep friends to this day.

As I think of my life today I realize it is full of mentors in the unique friends who I choose to surround myself with.  Men and women who are all questing on their own paths and yet willing to share and give of themselves to me. My beloved Mavis, who is also a substitute mother-aunty-sister-friend and who teaches me to remain teachable.  Cathy and Lorelei in St. Augustine who help me stay true to myself. 

Kathi, Paige, Tish and Robin who all help to keep me “right size” and show me how to live by going out there and living life themselves.  Michael, who massages my body and through his skills, talents, knowledge, and experience helps me to get nearer to myself. Linda who helps me care for my garden and teaches me lessons of genuineness like no other.

And there are many more, too numerous to name, who through their actions and the way they live their lives, fill me with gratitude for their presence, for their friendship.  They enrich my life with love, with compassion, with humility, with joy.  They nurture me along my path.  I am truly blessed.