The Art of Dying

Peter Pan said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.” On June 25, 2017, my husband began his big adventure. It seems to me that the best way to do a Memorial Service for him, being a nomad, is over the invisible airwaves of the internet. That way it can wander around the planet as Ron so loved to do.

There is much to be learned from the dying process. And Ron, who taught me so much about love and forgiveness, continued to teach me with his dying. He suffered greatly as bone cancer devoured him from within. The courage and grace he endured it with made him a favorite of those who lovingly cared for him at Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, Florida.

We all build invisible walls around ourselves that are supposed to protect us but actually hurt us. Defenses are like that. They do the very thing they are supposed to protect you from. Ron’s wall caused him to sometimes come across uncaring, and say the wrong or hurtful thing. I knew that behind the facade was a sensitive, insecure soul. (As indeed most of us are.)

For Ron, it took a painful dying experience to break down the wall and reveal the pure, gentle soul behind it. During the dying process, all his defenses fell away. He surrendered to the journey. His vanity was stripped away but not his dignity. What many would endure with humiliation, he accepted with humility. Through the long, painful dying process, he expressed only kindness and gratitude. 

Why he had to suffer so, it is not for me to know. And for a while, I prayed that he would go quickly. And then I realized: this is his journey and his departure was between him and God. One person said to him, “You shouldn’t have to go through this.” Ron replied, “There is a reason for everything.”

Maybe it was his way of dissolving his defenses, overcoming pride and prejudice. For those who believe in karma, maybe he was working his out. Maybe it was to deepen our bond and bring us closer than ever. Maybe it was to hear some of the beautiful messages he received and know he was loved. Whatever the purpose, I do not know. But I know he succeeded.

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea –
Past the houses –

Past the headlands –

Into deep eternity.

Emily Dickinson

In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, there was no word for death. When someone passed, they used a word that meant “Not here, somewhere else.” Ron is not here on the physical plane, he is somewhere else.  Somewhere beyond the laws of time and space, somewhere without limits and pain and sorrow, somewhere where the angels sing and the love of God fills him to overflowing.

And God Himself shall wipe away all tears. Where darkness was I look upon the light. All pain is healed; all misery replaced with joy.
A Course in Miracles

The death of a loved one is perhaps the hardest thing we have to face in this life. We think what we see and touch and hear is real but it’s not. We are ethereal beings and death is dropping the heavy garment that keeps us earthbound.

I do believe that there is an art to dying. I don’t agree with the resistance urged by Dylan Thomas…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Rather I would say…

Lay down your weapons, break down your walls.

Look back with gratitude. Reach out with kindness.

Resist not the dying of the day for this is but one dimension of life.

There are many roads yet to travel. Follow the Light and let Love be your guide.

This, I believe, is the art of dying. And I am so proud of Ron for mastering it.

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The End of the Road

As you may know from a previous blog, my husband and I have been traveling extensively for the 22 years of our marriage. During the last 6 and 1/2, we have been nomads – no home, no car. This year I had planned a 5 and 1/2 month trip to and around Europe. Two weeks before we left, we learned that my husband has bone cancer.

Ron looked good and felt good – aside from increasing pain which he attributed to arthritis. We optimistically believed we had many good months ahead and proceeded with our trip. Sadly, our optimism was not warranted. Ron began to decline soon after we boarded the ship for the transatlantic crossing. Upon arriving in Europe, he struggled through a painful, debilitating 3 weeks before conceding that we had to fly back to the U.S. After one week in the hospital, he was admitted to hospice. And now we wait.

Lingering in the shadow of death with a loved one, everything that is unimportant is stripped away. You soon realize that the vast, vast, vast majority of what we think and do and give our attention to is unimportant.

Life as we know it is a fleeting image. As Buddha said, “A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky.” What are you doing with the miniscule amount of time you have on this earth? What are you thinking, worrying or dreaming about? Who are you spending time with? Who are you loving, forgiving, resenting, praising or complaining about? How are you treating your family, your friends, your co-workers, strangers? How are you treating your body? Are the words you speak kind or cutting?

If everything you think and say and do is not an expression of love, then it is unimportant. It a waste of time. It is meaningless. You may be successful, even rich and famous. But if you do not do what you do with love, all the money and success in the world will not bring happiness, fulfillment or peace.

Though we bandy the word love about, Love is actually too big to comprehend. Personal love is often tainted by neediness, expectation, and dependency. Impersonal love is a shower of light that shines on everything and everyone.

If you could see the ugliest leper with the eyes of Love,
His beauty would out-dazzle in your eyes the starlit sea.

If one drop of the Wine of Vision could rinse your eyes,

Wherever you looked, you would weep with wonder.
Rumi

Impersonal love recognizes the unity of life. It has no boundaries, no conditions. Perhaps the closest we come to love in this world is forgiveness, gratitude, patience, kindness, compassion. Oh, that those characteristics would be our goals. Not the perfect body or the ideal mate or the rich bank account. All that is impermanent, meaningless in the end…

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:14

My husband says he loves me now more than ever. In the end, everything else dissolves. Only love remains. The love we have been showered with at this time is overwhelming; far beyond what I could have imagined. I am humbled. My ego says, “I cannot possibly be worthy of this.” But I realize that is the ego’s way of making us shut down and reject love. And so I pray to keep my heart open that the love flowing to me flows through me. I pray to remember and live my life by the knowledge that…

At the end of the road, nothing matters but love. SaveSave

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ITALY – a Land to Love and Linger In

Who doesn’t love Italy? It is among the top 5 most visited countries in the world. Even those who haven’t been there love Italian food, Italian wine, Italian cars, authors, designers and opera singers. 

I just felt so happy, it was like the sun came out of the clouds for me.
I love Italy. 
Bruce Sterling

We have been fortunate to spend a great deal of time in Italy and are happy to be back again this May 2017. This is the 3rd year we have leased a car to spend months traveling around Europe. If you are to be there for any length of time, leasing is much more economical and practical. You get a brand new car, fully insured with GPS, standard or automatic. Check it out at europebycar.com.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

In the past, we have sailed along the Italian coast on various cruise ships, and taken excellent land tours of both northern and southern Italy. Consequently, we have visited most of the great cities in Italy – Rome, Florence, Venice, Sienna, Assisi, Naples, Perugia – and many of the historical sites. Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country.

Now we seek places off the beaten path. We cruise to Europe in the spring and return to Florida via cruise ship in the fall on repositioning voyages. It is the equivalent of flying business class but includes 2 weeks of room, food and entertainment. I choose the ship based on the dates and ports of departure. This year we sailed Celebrity Reflection out of Miami to Civitavecchia, Italy. Cruise lines now charge $75 per person from Civitavecchia to Rome city or airport and vice versa. There are other options: A train if you are not overburdened with luggage, a taxi or a shuttle. I arranged a shuttle with NCC Plus for $70 for the two of us. They were fantastic. 

I will write about our time in Italy in my next blog.  In the meantime, some things you may not know about this beautiful country…

Rome was founded in 753 B.C. and gave birth to the Roman Empire. At its height in 117 A.D. the Empire was 2/3 the size of the United States. It reached from Portugal in the east to Syria in the west, from Britain in the north to the northern deserts of Africa.

Today the Italian Republic (Repubblica Italiana) is slightly larger than the state of Arizona. It has 7,600 km or 4,720 miles of coastline. 

Two countries – Vatican City and San Marino – are nestled within its borders. 

Famous authors include Dante, Petracrch and Boccaccio. Pinocchio (meaning pine nut) was also penned by an Italian.

Famous designers: Valentino, Armani, Versace, Gucci, and Prada.

Famous car makers: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. 

Italy produced the first operas and claims Rossini, Puccini, Verdi, and Pavarotti as native sons.

You may have the universe if I may have Italy. Giuseppe Verdi

As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Italy proudly boasts of achievements in poetry, painting and architecture by many famous artists: Raphael, Michelangelo,  Donatello, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Famous scientists and mathematicians: Da Vinci, Galilei, Volta, and Fibonacci.

As of 2016, Italy was the world’s top wine producing country.

It is the largest exporter of olive oil. (While Spain is the la
rgest producer, Italy blends olive oil imported from other countries making it the largest importer and exporter.)

The home of pizza, pasta, risotto gelato and espresso.

Italians created many delicious cheeses including parmigiano-reggiano, gorgonzola, fontina, mozzarella, asiago and provolone.

There is in the DNA of the Italians a bit of madness, which in the overwhelming majority of cases is positive. It is genius. It is talent. It’s the masterpieces of art. It’s the food, fashion, everything that makes Italy great in the world. Matteo Renzi

Italy has some problems

Italy lives with the threat of three active volcanoes – Etna, Vesuvius, and Stromboli – and devastating earthquakes. They suffered several this past year.

High unemployment, high aging population and low birth rate (lowest in Europe).

Nevertheless, there is so much to love about Italy and the warm-hearted Italian people. It’s good to be back.

I was offered a free villa in Hollywood, but I said no thank you, I prefer to live in Italy. Ennio Morricone