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.

Musings: Sharing Our Gifts And Talents

It has taken me a long time to”go public” with my writing.  About two weeks ago in my posting Poetry- Words Painting Pictures, I shared how I have always been fascinated and influenced by the written word.  Even as a child I would write poetry and, as I progressed into my teens, I wrote funny “ditties” for friend’s birthdays.  I even wrote a skit or two that we used in high School.

Diving into the “dark period” of my life I isolated from the creative Muse.  But as I approached the end of those troubled years and was close to breaking out into the sunshine of true living, it does not surprise me that the first sign of her return was in poetry – even though it was somewhat depressive.  I think the expressing of my feelings as I came through that difficult period helped me to walk out of the darkness and into the light.

Shortly after the poetry came the painting.  (Art classes were second favorite to gymnastics and outdoor sports when I attended the Ursuline High School for girls.)  I lived in Sardinia at the time and I was blessed to have a wonderful artist in my life at that time.  His name was Santiago (still is, he lives in Puerto Rico with his wife Josefina), and he was an engineer who worked in the same set of offices as I.

Santiago was one of those many mentors in my life that I will write a posting about soon.  He was a quiet, slightly built man with a round face who looked more like a studious professor than an engineer; not that I know what an engineer should specifically look like!  But one thing he was passionate about was the creative and artistic process.  And I am happy to say that he enjoyed sharing that with others as much as he indulged in it for his own delight and personal satisfaction.

To go to Santiago’s house on the island of La Maddalena, Sardinia was like going to an art gallery and attending a concert at the same time.  Every wall in every room was covered with his art work.  He produced paintings prolifically and painted every corner of the island from every angle possible.  He used oil paints as well as water colors and his work was magnificent.

He also played the guitar, and many glasses of wine were consumed as he shared his passion for painting and music.  Josefina was a very patient hostess who probably did not fully understand this strange English woman who kept appearing at their doorstep.  But I wanted, needed, to be steeped in the creativity that permeated their household (Josefina was very artistic in her own way too), although I’m afraid she may have thought sometimes that I just wanted to be steeped in wine!!

It was exposure to Santiago and his love of painting that influenced me to go into town one day and buy all the basics to start painting again.  Of course, being somewhat obsessive, I then began to paint in every free moment possible, sometimes working until two or three o’clock in the morning even though I had to be in the office by 8am.  But it was wonderful to be in the grip of the creative Muse, and to watch a painting unfold and develop was an incredible experience.

This all happened in the early to mid seventies.  I married my husband Richard about ten years later and although I stopped painting I continued to be involved in some form of creative art.  We met in a little theater group and our relationship developed amid the smell of grease paint and the magic of the spotlights.  Over the years I recouped my love of calligraphy (the art of beautiful writing) and created and printed many pieces for sale. 

Today I create cards with the help of Stampin’ Up products and my teacher Mary Gillette.  For me it is so exciting to see a piece of creative work develop and then hold the finished product in my hands.  To share that with someone as a Birthday card, a Thank You card, or a Christmas card adds another layer of pleasure and satisfaction to the process.  It also gives me great pleasure and joy to share my writing with others in the hope that someone, somewhere, will find their own pleasure and perhaps a little enlightenment in the words that I write.

Over the years I have discovered that God has blessed me with many gifts and talents other than a sense of the artistic. As my life unfolds and I continue to be open to whatever path He leads me on, it seems that part of my life’s mission is to be in the right place at the right time with the right words for specific people.  To this end God has blessed me with the gift of compassion for others, especially those who are travelling their own dark path or are struggling with hardship and tragedy. 

I think this is why I am able to do the work that I do as a volunteer with Community Hospice of North East Florida.  It also helps me as I volunteer at my own church in the Ministry of Consolation.  And then there are all those individuals who seem to cross my path “by chance”, but when we say goodbye and continue on our individual journeys, I understand that I have ministered to them in His name.

As I read back over this article, I realize that it is not at all what I thought I was going to write.  But that is often the way it is for me.  I start off in one direction and end up going totally in another.  I think it has something to do with that “meandering” quality that God instilled in me.  But I also think it has more to do with inviting Him on the journey with me as my fingers start their journey across the keyboard.