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Arrival…and Departure

November 17, 2011

Richard LaMartna
Richard LaMartina
8/26/1952 – 11/16/2011

Rick’s all-too-short journey home ended a little before 11pm last night, November 16, 2011, after many hours waging a silent internal battle against the verbal and spiritual encouragement of those around him to release his spirit from the pain and suffering of this world.

Then, after two and a half weeks without food and nearly three days without water, he ceased his battle, and those who were present experienced a joyful sadness in seeing his face soften into a peaceful, gentle visage.

Four hours later, his body had been washed, anointed and dressed by his devoted wife, Peg, and the extraordinarily loving and caring people from Threshold Care Circle.

Throughout this last difficult period, Rick’s friends from the Dancing Waters community, Soldiers Grove, Viroqua and elsewhere held loving vigils so that he was never without someone near to help him on his journey home.

This morning, Rick lies in the home-hewn casket built from a popple tree felled on Dancing Waters land and drawn by workhorses to the barn where it was lovingly crafted by Rick’s fellow Dancers, Rikardo and Lamar.

Amazingly, sometime during the night, Rick acquired his familiar, warm grin.  This may just be his lips stretching slightly over his jaw as the dying process continues.

But for those who knew and loved Rick, we have a sneaking suspicion that his final expression is more than this simple answer.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Special Note: Prudence Tippins of  The Calliope Center  (Viroqua, Wisconsin) will be hosting a vigil for Rick  from Wednesday, November 16 at 11pm  to Saturday, November 19, at 11pm.  For more information see the bottom of The Calliope Center’s home page.


Joy and Sorrow

November 15, 2011

This past Sunday, family and friends of Rick gathered in Viroqua at the Public Market where the Optimo Restaurant hosted a benefit to help defray some of the costs of Rick’s illness.  The number of people who attended and amount of pictures sold was overwhelming and a great tribute to Rick from a community he genuinely loved.  Those who attended enjoyed great food and wonderful entertainment.

I want to sincerely thank all those who helped with this successful fundraiser both in their participation and in their attendance.  My brothers and sisters and I were profoundly touched by all the love, warmth and support shown by everyone there.

Those who know me, know that I am the family cynic and am something of a curmudgeon. But over the past number of years, I’ve watched Rick and Peg become part of a wonderful community near Gays Mills called Dancing Waters; the kind of community many of us have longed for in our lives, but few are fortunate enough to ever find.

And just down valley beyond Dancing Waters, the quaint little town of Viroqua and its environs also became a home to both Rick and Peg.

I now understand why.

There is something special, something ethereal, something perhaps in the water…or the air…that seems to attract the kind of people that Rick always sought in his life. Until he moved to Dancing Waters and the Viroqua area, he felt alien to a society that seemed to exist more for exploitation than for co-existing with the beauty and spirit of the natural world.

But living among the good folks who gravitated to Southwestern Wisconsin’s Driftless Area gave Rick hope again that maybe this old world with its billions of people wasn’t destined to be destroyed by humanity’s seemingly inherent greed and neglect.  I know that the last 15 years of Rick’s life have been the happiest he has known.

Anyone who has been reading this blog has marveled at Rick’s easy acceptance of his death; no one more so than me, who always intended to follow Dylan Thomas oft-quoted lines:

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.

But I believe that Rick saw so much more than I do both in this life–and beyond. Perhaps the succor he found in the gentle hills of Sleepy Hollow and the joy he discovered with his wife and friends was the perfect denouement of a complex life that he considered mostly a gift, as he came very close to dying–and was in fact mostly given up for dead because of an almost always fatal illness–when he was just a young child.

I know Rick would want to thank you all for all the love you have shown to him–but most importantly to Peg, who has born the weight of Rick’s dying with a love and devotion that borders on the saintly. I don’t know if she has had a good night’s sleep for months and I know she doesn’t want me to mention her extraordinary devotion to Rick in this blog.

Nevertheless, I am mentioning you, Peg.  I feel I must.

The word soulmate has been used and abused to the point where it has lost much of its meaning, but as I’ve seen many, many relationships in my time, I don’t know one that defines the word better than the deep and spiritual love affair between Rick and Peg LaMartina during their all-too-short life together.  Peg, you shine brighter than most stars because of your selfless dedication to my brother in his hours of need.  You are greatly, greatly loved by your LaMartina family.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Thanks to all who have contributed such wonderful comments during these months as well as for your participation at the benefit.   We are indeed humbled by your love and compassion.


“All my trials, Lord, soon be over”

November 11, 2011

This is Rick’s brother, Mike, with this update. I know that all of you have been wondering how Rick is doing these days since his posts have gotten less and less frequent. I open this post with a beautiful video and incredible voice of Joan Baez because of the ability of music and art to touch us in ways most human endeavors can’t.

Joan’s angelic voice elicits in most of us powerful and tender emotions as she sings this lovely folk song, based on a Bahamian lullaby that tells the story of a mother on her death bed as she comforts her children. The words also express a time we knew was coming for Rick, but we hoped somehow it would be delayed for much longer. Still, that time has now arrived.

Rick stopped eating about two weeks ago due to the severe pain he experienced when food made its way to his stomach.

These days, Rick spends most of his time sleeping. The pain medication he is taking relieves most of the pain, but leaves him very tired. And while the medication causes some mental confusion, he is generally comfortable and still interacts with his wife and visitors with the same humor and concern that has always defined his relationships.

Since both Rick and his wife, Peg, both come from large families, there has been a steady stream of visitors wanting to show Rick what he means to them.

As the days of Rick’s life become fewer and fewer, however, Rick and Peg’s desire is that the number of people visiting at any one time be limited to just a very few. This is understandable as Rick still wants to listen to and be part of conversations that are taking place around him, but his medication doesn’t give him the capacity to comprehend multiple conversations. At one point last weekend, a discussion I was a part of with a few others became so intense that Rick needed to leave the room and go to bed. The discussion was one that Rick would formerly have loved to be involved in. This was a poignant indication of how mentally difficult it is for him now.

This illness has proceeded incredibly quickly. It has been just four months since he was first diagnosed. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of his illness is that he has harbored the seeds of his demise for over four decades, yet once those seeds sprouted, their destructive power ravaged Rick’s body in a very short time.

Yet, even in this short time, Rick has had the opportunity to express some of his deepest and most profound ideas about life and death.

I, for one, feel greatly privileged to have been able to read and comment on his writings here. But, more importantly, I feel greatly privileged to have been the brother of Richard Thomas LaMartina, who–as anyone who knows him his discovered–is a truly extraordinary human being.

I will continue to update his condition here and want to thank all of you who have followed Rick’s journey home. I know that your friendship and support has been extraordinary and a great solace to Rick during the final months of his life.

October 25, 2011

I am beginning to feel more despondent lately because of my sporadic blog posts. I have many legitimate reasons for this, but none of them should really keep me from communicating with you all. I made a commitment to myself and to you to share my journey and this means to find ways of doing this even when it’s difficult to do so. I just have to get creative about it.

One of my good friends suggested I make my posts smaller when I reach difficult times, and this makes sense to me. I admit that I tend to be wordy, (I am more an e-mailer than a face-booker). But I can learn to mix it up … especially when I realize that avoiding the short posts might be a lack of honesty on my part … not wishing to share the frowns along with the smiles. But if this is to be a true journey, then the experience is as much within the cold rainy days as it is within the crisp, sunny one’s.

Pain management continues to be one of my biggest challenges thus far. By feeding me enough pain meds, I can -in fact- be relatively pain free, but at a cost: my alertness and clarity are much diminished, and I can fall asleep on a dime, anytime … not exactly favorable social attributes when I want to be with people, but then neither is a lot of pain. So what I tend to do is try and live in a world between these two extremes: a little pain for a little social cognizance. We are getting there, but are finding this a difficult balance to maintain.

And then there is my diminished stamina … a moving target that I don’t always want to take aim at. I love people, and I love being with my friends … more  now than ever, so I often ignore the signs of fatigue. The results of this are not always pleasant, but sometimes worth it because it gives me a chance to be with people I otherwise might not have a chance to be with. Still, I can probably be better about this.

So here are some suggestions you can help me with.

1) It’s getting harder for me to move around a lot to see everyone, so a call or an e-mail and an appointment to come here would be very helpful. I will try and let you know if my day is already “overbooked”. Hah … I’m so popular!!!???

2) when we are together, I don’t mind talking about myself and my illness, but I also want to hear about your life, what you are doing, and what you are learning. I even want to know how I can help you if that’s appropriate. As long as I am able, this experience is not going to be simply about me … you are all integral parts of this journey, and your problems are at least as legitimate as my own. This gives me purpose and energizes this part of my journey.

3) Don’t be afraid to express your love for me. I will certainly not be afraid to tell you. So far this has been one of the nicest of the many fringe benefits of having a terminal illness: there is no longer a reason to hide the love we have for each other because of  cultural strictures, social misunderstandings, or any other reasons we have developed to keep our true feelings from one another. For the most part, people have not felt inhibited in expressing this bit of lovely information with me. Once we express a pure and sincere statement of love, we automatically become family to one another. In the best sense, family means an everlasting love that comes as close to unconditional love as anything we will experience in this life. Sadly, this has not been the case for many; but the beauty of this life is that we can create our own extended family. Each day brings us new opportunities, and what do we have to lose  -really- by pushing the envelope of this objective in our lives? We are all worthy of love and of being loved, so it has lately become a marvel to me how so many people don’t yet realize this. Rejection has more to do with another’s ignorance than it has with anyones worthiness. This is something I am proud to say I finally believe in my life.

4) I will try to be honest with you when I am getting fatigued, so long as you don’t take this personally. I have little control over what my body needs and when it needs it these days, and as frustrating as this is, it is my reality.

So I think that’s about it for now. I love you all … and I thank all of you who have been working in the background to support Peg and I in so many ways. We truly feel cared for.

We are all one family


October 14, 2011

Earlier in my posts I talked a little bit about my belief in love; I am going to continue this subject now and share with you something that I found very profound in my life. This has only come to me fairly recently, so I am still in awe of the possibilities.

I think I mentioned earlier that I believe truth, beauty, and energy are given to us by the Universe. This is free. We need only enjoy it. But to be fully human we can take those qualities and add intellect, heart, will, courage, and creativity in balance and harmony to form wisdom. Wisdom, along with trust finds true, unconditional love.

So we take what the Universe gives us, and through effort transform this into love, which we give back to the Universe, completing it. We are essential components to the perfection of the Universe, and it’s a shame that we are seldom aware of this honor and this power. But this is the nature of delusion … something that we must move beyond if we are to know our true potential.

And what keeps us in delusion? We do! We are kept there by our own notions of who we are, which have been formed by the notions of what others say we are as we grow up. We are told we are weak, or stupid, or bad, or lazy, or simply not what someone else thinks we should be … in essence, we are told that we are flawed in some way, and we believe it … identify with it. Somewhere inside us all, we become it. And with this belief we subconsciously struggle through our whole lives to prove this isn’t so, or to confirm that it is. Both of these things distract us from being who we really are, and therefore keep us from being able to truly love.

But there is a way out. By being present to life and to our inner selves … our essential selves … we can begin to walk our journey home and discover our Divinity; the part of ourselves that is beyond reproach allowing our sense of oneness with all things to infuse our separate soul’s to create unity.

I created a personal Mandala of these ideas to help give me a picture and to symbolize what it is that I am reaching for; and following this is a personal affirmation to help fuel my determination.

Maybe these will be useful to you too.

October 4, 2011

Hello everyone. I’ve been out of touch for a bit. Last Tuesday I had one and a half liters of fluid taken off my right lung … which was not an enjoyable experience by the way. I thought it would be a piece of cake, since I had about 700 ml taken off soon after my diagnosis, which did go quite easily. But for some reason this was different. I suppose things in there had become accustomed over time to the new places in their fleshy universe and the sudden shift was not appreciated. I don’t know the details because I have no visual aids … I can only feel; and I wasn’t feeling good. Which I guess brings me to the point of this post. Transcendence!

Yep, that old 13 letter word we mull over every waking hour of our day … right?

There is a parable I heard once years ago that I will try and create the gist of here (any of you who are familiar with this morality tale, please bear with me … I have no memory for details). A very enlightened man was being chased through the woods by a large and hungry lion. Suddenly the man came upon a cliff but before he could stop himself, he fell over. An instant later the man found himself hanging onto a tree root that was growing out of the side of the cliff, and thought he was saved; the shallow pond below would probably cushion his fall just enough for him to survive. However, looking down he noticed a large crocodile staring up at him with hungry eyes and gaping mouth. Looking up he saw the snarling lion just biding his time. In the same moment he felt the snap of the root beginning to break from the strain. The man pondered his hopeless predicament for a moment and then noticed a strawberry plant growing on the cliff wall, with a single, little ripe strawberry attached. The man picked the strawberry and put it into his mouth and tasted the thousands of organic chemicals and hormones developed over millions of years working together in perfect harmony to produce the sweet/sour ambrosia that is the strawberry; and the man felt only joy.

Now that’s transcendence!

Now, I want to make it clear that I have not attained anything near this level of presence. In fact, I am still rather handicapped in that area. When I feel pain or discomfort, for example, I find myself fairly anchored to my complaining body and it is difficult to rise above it. So explains my little absence from this blog. In any event I doubt the accuracy of this tale is as important as the message, one which has been important in my life: being in the moment. I know I have mentioned this numerous times in my posts, but it has been such an important part of my spiritual life that I just can’t avoid it.

So, I’m a big baby when it comes to suffering and, while not proud of it, I am happy to be a part of most of the rest of humanity.  We feel pain and suffering, but we also feel joy, and compassion. Without our own pain, where would we find empathy? Without suffering how would we know joy?

So the last few days I felt joy because for a few hours I transcended my pain. I was cheating to attain this, I admit, because a new pain med finally gave me some relief and I could comfortably sit out in the yard and soak up the glorious sun and listen to the myriad of sounds of life all around me, and notice for the first time (with the sun as a backlight) that every square foot of grassy ground is criss-crossed with thin translucent spider bridges … some of them being whisked upon the fall breezes to shine luminous wisps in the clear blue sky.

I was in the moment again … but not with my pain, only with that beauty. I realize it’s there all the time, but I get preoccupied … these days by pain and discomfort, but before this by something … always something. Bummer!

But the good news is that I’m still here. The education of Rick LaMartina is not yet over. I may not be able to transcend my pain and suffering yet, but I’m working on it … or at least working on more presence. And it probably only means I haven’t yet learned to feel enough compassion and empathy for others’ pain and suffering … so I guess this opportunity is a positive one overall. I may be an idiot to believe this, but I do think that this may -in fact- be true!

So, no worries, I still have time … there is always time … I’ll try and use it wisely.


Happy Birthday Pegala

September 27, 2011

Today, September 27th, is Peg’s birthday, so it seems appropriate to honor her in my life by devoting a post just to her. I can’t tell her I am doing this or (in spite of her being a self described techno-phobe) she would surely find a way to disconnect my web access. She is going to hate this, so everyone make sure you give her a hard time about it! Hah … ain’t I a stinker?

To Peg

You were never deceived by my inadequacies. You always saw me for who I am and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. You love telling the story that at 13 years of age you knew you would marry me some day. It took another 19 years, but you held true to your word. You have been a wonderful partner … the love of my life … and I have never felt lonely in the 24 years I have been with you. This doesn’t mean we haven’t had our differences.

Huh, Peg!

Yet, no matter how much we wrestled with each other (and we wrestled a lot), we still knew we were meant to be together. We taught each other much about life, ourselves, and each other, and continue to do so. Our basic foundation is and always has been: our undying love and respect for each other, meaning that we always know and trust that we never mean to hurt one another, even when it hurts.

More than anyone else in my life, Peg, you have brought me through the journey from self-preoccupation toward learning what it really means to give to others. You helped model for me the reality that my well being is dependent on the well being of others; and that, as isolated and independent as I managed to become at times, you reminded me that no man is an island and that true prosperity develops from the joy and happiness we get from our connections. You knew this long before I met you, and you lived it with gusto.

Even as a child, you used your natural spit and vinegar to protect the underdog. Woe to the person who tried to pick on you, much less on someone less strong or less intelligent than themselves. The way I hears it, you were not apposed to punching someone or wrestling them to the ground for this sort of transgression, and the neighborhood boys knew this and steered clear. If only I had a protector like you when I was the target of bully ridicule. (Wait … I did … thanks brother Mike!)

You have also been an invaluable collaborator when it came to my own art. I was never an easy person to work with, but you always supported me in whatever way you could; and also had an extraordinary capacity for creative aesthetics. An artist in your own right, I always looked to you for your own critical eye to help me discriminate between my own good and not so good work. You helped to refine the look of my art fair booth, as well as the way I displayed my work. You were also a fun partner in the field … often influencing me toward a subject I was overlooking, or even seeing compositions before I saw them myself. This was due -more than anything else- because of your deep relationship with nature. It was often like being with a child when exploring the outdoors with you … always something new and exciting just around the corner.

Yet, the hardships of living with a man so devoted to the ‘beat of his own drum’, the challenge of living with 15 years of chronic Lyme disease, the trials and tribulations of a difficult menopause, followed by the news that your life-long partner has terminal cancer, have all taken there toll on you … and we struggle with that, don’t we. Nevertheless, your indomitable spirit is gradually pushing through as always, and you continue to be one of the deepest hearts and brightest spirits I have ever known. You are hurting and may need a lot of support yourself right now, but this too shall pass. I have no doubt that the riches contained in the depths of your being will nourish others hearts, minds, and souls and continue to make your life a vivid one.

More than anyone or anything else, my relationship with you has brought me from the depths of atheism to an agnostic realization that something as profound and beautiful as love cannot -like a flame- be created and then extinguished. I don’t know what that might mean, or what form that might take, but I do believe that what you and I have created together will continue on indefinitely … and this gives me comfort and joy.

I guess what I want to say is that I love you, Pegala, for so many reasons … and that I am thinking of you and wishing you a very happy birthday.