The March new moon has come and gone. My intention to write these blog posts while keeping time with the moon took a detour with news that Wayne’s father had died on March 4th. It was not really a surprise; Joe had heart challenges. Awareness of the inevitable, however, doesn’t lessen the shock when death occurs suddenly. Taking some time to process what one friend called the “rupture” was important, not just for me, but for the many people who were touched by Joe’s generosity. And that includes absolutely everyone who has been a part of the Further Shore network: clients, volunteers, students, patrons, contractors, donors, and friends. Without Joe’s assistance, my sacred work could not have had the reach it has had. If you are reading this now, I invite you to take a moment in your own way to offer a little “thank you” or to light a candle for Joe before reading on.
I have called him Daddy Joe for decades because he embraced me as family. As Robert put it, “Daddy Joe had a big tent.” What a gift it was to be included in his big tent. He was fearless, funny, and strong. Daddy Joe made me laugh and he had fortitude. Wayne shared both those traits with his dad. Laughter came easy and often when we were all together. As for fortitude, the Latin root is “fortis” meaning strong; often referring to strength of mind. Merriam-Webster’s definition is: “strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage”. Synonyms for fortitude include: backbone, fiber, grit, guts, spunk, mettle, stamina, perseverance, boldness. These words all describe Joe. They describe Wayne too. I learned about fortitude from them. It is a wellness practice that can be useful when caregiving, when life changes are happening, and when grieving. On the day I heard that Joe had passed, I called on fortitude. I am still calling on this quality today as my mind slowly settles into being in the world without Joe’s iconic presence.
The most memorable lesson in fortitude was given in the fall of 2004 when it was clear that Wayne needed to discontinue his cancer treatments and enter hospice at home. We were all gathered in Wayne’s hospital room while a compassionate physician delivered the news. It was a shock wave that we were unprepared for. I think we all knew on some level that Wayne was in decline, but we were not consciously aware or prepared for that news. Daddy Joe, a lifelong Catholic, stood up, said “I’m going for a walk,” and left the room. He was gone for a while. When he returned, he was steadfast and calm, sharing palpable strength and composure with Wayne and all of us. He later told Robert that he had gone for a walk and had a talk with God and deceased loved ones. He did not say what they all talked about, but he was clear-eyed, loving, and supportive for Wayne’s every last wish. He remained at the bedside through laughter and tears, through what felt like an endless stream of visitors, through long hours, strained conversations, and Buddhist chanting. Everyone knows that the loss of a child, even an adult child, is an impossibly challenging event. Joe had fortitude.
When Wayne received the news that hospice would be his best option, he appeared to move through all five stages of grief within a couple of hours; expressing his “acceptance” and his desire to go home as soon as possible. His father’s calm strength of mind and presence giving him the permission he needed to let go of the life he was living with grace and authenticity. The demonstration of fortitude from Joe was a gift to his son. Wayne picked up that thread and wove it into a dignified and gentle transition that humbles me to this day. Their good humor, pluck, and mettle were gifts to those of us who were privileged to witness their banter as well as their grief in the farewell process. We did our best to follow their lead when we were at the bedside. This was our induction to fortitude as a practice; to bring forth strength of mind to endure the pain of this farewell with courage. Without their example, we would have been lost.
Through the years, fortitude has become easier to access and exemplify while caregiving. Like all conscious actions, it takes attention and practice. I have not perfected it because development of fortitude, for me, is a life-long pursuit. To practice fortitude AND good humor is trickier. There are tools I use to reign in my distracted or disturbed mind: reiki, meditation, spending time with the Runes or my journal. I am grateful for those tools and even more so for Wayne and Daddy Joe. After learning from the best, I feel that authentic practice of both qualities is something I can do to sort of “pay forward” the gift they gave to me in allowing me to be there at such an intimate time. I miss Wayne in this world, yet he will always be a clear and present source of strength for me. The same is now true for Daddy Joe.
I think the rupture would have always been felt deeply upon Joe’s passing. It is compounded by a full year of collective humanity dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all been affected, each in ways unique to our own lifestyles and psychological perspectives. Collectively we have been dealing with danger, pain, and adversity for an entire year. I think that for many of us this is accompanied by an abiding sense of loss that is both chronic and obtuse. Joe’s passing sharpened that sense of loss for me. I had to put the brakes on my self-imposed writing deadlines to tend to the acute nature of the rupture. It is good to be writing again now. He would want me to continue following my heart and writing accomplishes that for now.
Some things to consider for your own wellness as we reach this milestone moment: Have you experienced a deep loss during the pandemic? How are you coping and staying well in these unprecedented times? How are you doing with the thunderous and subtle changes in daily life? Have you had, or do you now have, someone in your life to inspire strength of mind and/or to share laughter amid these challenging times? Has fortitude ever been a useful practice for you? What are your tools for reigning in a distracted mind when facing danger, pain, or adversity? What inspires you to lighten up and laugh? Please feel free to share in the comment section below. Wishing you peace, strength of mind, and laughter today.