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.

ISCHIA: Island of Flowers

I am presently enjoying several weeks in my beloved Italy.  There is so much to write about but I think I have to give first place of honor to the Island of Ischia, which sits just off the coast from Naples.  We arrived in Naples, via Rome, on a Thursday evening and after six days catching up with jet-lag, eating LOTS of mozzarella (among many other good Italian dishes!), and going to Bahia Blanca, a favourite beach on the other side of Gaeta, we took the ferry over to Ischia. This is an island formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago.

The first thing that visitors to Ischia notice as the ferry approaches the island is how green and fresh everything is despite the heat.  Because Ischia is a volcanic island it is quite mountainous and its slopes are a rich green as they come down to meet the various towns and villages.  Almost every garden is rich in flowers which at the moment are in full summer bloom.

All of the streets are lined, usually on both sides, with tall rhododendron trees dripping flowers in every shade of pink imaginable.  Bougainvillea in all its many shades spills over walls, climbs fences, and trails up and down the walls of houses as though an artist had dipped many brushes into different colors on his palette and splashed them here and there in wild abandon. Hibiscus offer up their beautiful shallow open trumpets as though about to create some romantic perfumed symphony, and huge pregnant balls of mauve and blue blooms top the stems among the lush green foliage on large hortensia bushes. Everywhere is a riot of color.

But color does not stop with God’s amazing creation.  The residents of Ischia have added their own artistic touch to their island.  Houses are painted in every pastel tint available.  Shops are decorated with colorfully decorated tiles or painted murals and a wild profusion of products hangs in doorways, spills out onto the sidewalks, or fills windows in such a way as to entice the passerby to stop and peruse and, perhaps, buy. My heart and soul are filled with color since being here in Italy and Ischia has played a principal part in that.   

Spiritual Growth: A Dream Realized

After our stay with friends Greg and Sherry in Minnesota, Rich and I headed west then south through the Dakotas down through Iowa and into Missouri.  We had planned to stay in a small town just outside Kansas City.  This was no random choice.  We were going to spend a couple of days with some very dear friends from our time in Naples, Italy.  I had been a team member on many CREDO Personal Growth Retreats with Rod, and Richard and I had both been involved with the CREDO Marriage Enrichment Retreats with both Rod and his wife Trish. 

Rod and Trish had made a flying visit with us about three years ago here in Jacksonville.  They had been doing some east coast travelling and decided to dip down a little lower than originally planned to spend a day or so with us.  That had been the first time we had seen each other since they had left Naples, Italy back in the mid-nineties.  So we were very excited to be seeing them again.  However, even though they were the primary reason for choosing to make Kansas City a stop on our 4,252 mile retirement ride, I had a secondary motive for wanting to stop there.

During the period 1989-91, Richard was transferred to a ship that was home-ported in Norfolk, VA.  Although it wasn’t my first visit to the USA, it was the first time that I had lived here.  It proved to be a very difficult time for me.  The culture and way of life over here is drastically different from Europe.  Everything over here involves distance and there is very little public transportation.  And the distance factor enters into creating relationships with other people.  In Europe everybody knows everybody.  In Norfolk I found it very difficult to make friends; people seemed to live in their own boxes.

However, through a specific fellowship that I am involved with I did manage eventually to create some meaningful friendships.  One lady in particular, Gert, became a very good and close friend. In the spring of 1991 Gert gifted me with a a subscription to Daily Word, a small daily reflection booklet that is published by UNITY.  That booklet became my lifeline.  It is the most positively uplifting daily meditational book that I have ever read.  Wherever I went, Daily Word travelled with me, and I have continued to renew the subscription every year since then.  I have used their twenty four hour prayer line many times over the years and it is such a comfort and a joy to make a call and get a real person on the other end who truly cares about whatever issue may be bothering me in the moment, and who is willing to pray with me and offer comfort.

Inside the front cover of the Daily Word each month there is a photo of the Silent Unity Chapel.  There is always a light on in the top tower of this building and the photo intrigues me.  Every time I see it I think, wow that’s where the prayer ministers are who receive all the phone calls and pray with all the callers – at any time of the day or the night every single day of every year.  For the last fifteen years I have held a small dream to go there and visit.  And here we were, planning to go to Kansas City and I knew that Unity Village was located somewhere close by.  So when Rod asked if there was anything particular that we wanted to do/see in the area, I jumped right on it.

On Friday 26th August, we set off with Rod and Trish to go visit the Unity campus.  I had no idea what a spiritual treat I was in for; God was in a most generous mood that daySmile.  Upon arrival we parked in the main parking lot right in front of the Book Store and Café.  We decided to go in there because we figured that we could get information as to the layout of the campus and get directions to the Silent Unity building and chapel.  The store was an absolute delight and we perused for a while.  The staff was so helpful and we bought a couple of items and received a map of the campus.  Imagine my joy when I found out that there was a large, handicap accessible labyrinth laid out on the ground immediately opposite the store.  Rich, Rod, and Trish were quite happy to indulge my desire to walk the labyrinth and so with a happy heart I took my walk.  Below is a video that Rich made and towards the end there are some still photos that he also took.


While I was walking the labyrinth, a large red-shouldered hawk came and rested at the very top of a tree on the edge of the labyrinth and watched me as I made the eleven circuits.  His photo is here below.


When I had finished my walk we all went through a walkway and up some stairs to go visit the Silent Unity Chapel.  Nothing quite prepared us for the beauty that lay before us at the top of the stairs.  The campus buildings were laid out in a long oblong design and centered in the middle of them was a beautifully designed formal garden with fountains and pools.  The whole thing made me think immediately of Europe and of St. Augustine, Florida because there was a Spanish flair in the design.  I could have stayed there for hours.  It truly filled my heart and soul with great happiness.


We wandered along and crossed the a small bridge over the central pool then headed toward the chapel.  Trish and I went inside noting that there were two other people already there – a man and a woman. As we entered, the woman turned around toward us and said, “we are just about to do a guided meditation, would you like to join in?”   We both assented, and spent the next fifteen minutes being guided through a beautiful reflection.  This was another highlight of the trip for me. We spent a little more time walking around the campus and taking in the peacefulness and serenity of that place, before heading off to have a lovely lunch together.