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.
I have to write about this because it just seems to keep coming up in one way or another in my daily readings. Patience is a virtue that I have had to work hard on acquiring. Left to my own devices I’m a “I want what I want, when I want it” type of gal. (Partners well with that “fly by the seat of my pants” personality that I have!) I love immediate results – yesterday!!
So when I opened my copy of the Daily Word yesterday and saw the topic was “patience” a small inner part of me groaned. That seems to be my first response to anything that smacks of a personal lesson that I need to learn, or relearn, or reinforce! Fortunately that response is usually short-lived and I am willing to dive in and look at the lesson. I am grateful today that I am willing to be teachable.
The title immediately under the topic read: “I patiently await answered prayer.” And I recognized instantly that I needed to go back in my other meditation books because I knew that I had received this message several times over the last couple of weeks. Someone was definitely trying to get my attention!!
In the posting that I wrote yesterday, Return To My Spiritual Sanctuary, I quoted from the book The Power of Prayer by E.M. Bounds, (July 8). Over a period of three or four days in the same book I found the following messages: “Persistent prayer has patience to wait and strength to continue.” (July 4) And, “Even if God does not answer our prayers right away, we must keep on praying.” (July 6)
Imagine my dismay when I turned the page on July 10 and found the title, “Delays and Denials” and read, “We need to give thought to the mysterious fact of prayer – the certainty that there will be delays and denials. We must prepare for and permit these delays and denials.” So does this mean that I have to wait for God to answer my prayer in His time? He’s not going to respond to my requests immediately? I am going to have to wait!!
I returned to yet another of my daily books, Moments of Peace in the Presence of God published by Bethany House, where I remembered a title from about ten days ago. And there it was: “Waiting For God’s Timing”. I took the time to reread this and I would like to share some of it with you.
“ ‘Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation.’ Psalm 62:1
No amount of worrying can make things happen, let alone make them happen the way you want. Still, your human nature, bent on trying, rises to the challenge. What’s the remedy for this all-too-common malady? Oswald Chambers in his classic My Utmost For His Highest, wrote, ‘When God brings a time of waiting, and appears to be unresponsive, don’t fill it with busyness, just wait ….. If you have the slightest doubt, then he is not guiding.’
The story of Abraham and Sarah illustrates the futility of trying to make a divine promise come about in your own timing. Tired of waiting for a son, Sarah took matters into her own hands. The result was disastrous. God’s timetable always delivers an Isaac when the time is right.”
This reflection finished with the following prayer:
Slow me down, God, when I am in a hurry and you are not.
Help me to walk with you, not ahead of you.
Teach me to plant the seed and leave the harvest to you.
What a concept. I need to make this prayer part of my daily prayers. I need to remember to walk with God and not try to walk ahead of Him. Imagine that, trying to guide God! Only someone with the underlying egotistical traits of character that I have would attempt to do that. So for the foreseeable future my lesson needs to be one of patience laced with generous dollops of humility.