Thursday, 18 September 2008

Isabel ...

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing ... not healing, not curing ... that is a friend who cares!
Henri Nouwen



Isabel is her real name, and there will be no fiction in these little titbits I am about to tell you. It may seem like it has no place on this blog, but you will see, if you are patient enough to read further, that it does.

Isabel has been my neighbour for 34 years. She retired some 10 years ago, and having the chance to see her and talk to her more often, we ended up becoming firm friends about that time.

It is not easy to describe Isabel. I sometimes tell myself she does not exist. Can't be real. Isabel is all about giving. She gives all she has, all she can do, all she has to offer, herself, everything, to everybody. She is generosity personified. She worries about everybody's problems and troubles, and actually struggles to try and offer people in need help, solutions, support. Like I said, hard to find words to describe Isabel.

In this rushed, impersonal, selfish and egocentric society we live in, Isabel is often not understood for her generous ways, and has very often, too often, been kicked by the very same people she gave all her heart to, trying to help. Usually, sadly I must say, after accepting the help she had to offer.

Isabel is an animal lover, and I think over the years the more she got to know people, the more she got to love animals. Her animals love her unconditionally. They run up to her when she gets home, just happy to see her, not expecting to see what she has got in her pocket. They live around her, for her, through her. They fully accept the love she offers them and they return that love, with love. I believe they are the only ones that really value her for what she is. The only ones able to, without words, give her the gratitude, the appreciation, the love she deserves. Isabel is a beautiful person, and even though I have tried, I have not been able to tell her, in words, how much I love her and appreciate her.

The day my mom passed away, being an only child, having lived with my mom my whole life, and having seen her leaving me day by day with ALSAmyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, sometimes called Maladie de Charcot, or, in the United States, Lou Gehrig's Disease) is a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement.

As a motor neuron disease, the disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body as both the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, develop fasciculations (twitches) because of denervation, and eventually atrophy because of that denervation.

The patient may ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movement except for the eyes.

Some notable people living with ALS:
British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
American guitarist and composer Jason Becker
American musician Eric Lowen of Lowen & Navarro
American football star Orlando Thomas

Some notable people who have died of ALS:
American baseball star Lou Gehrig (the namesake of the colloquial reference to the disease in the United States)
American folk guitarist Lead Belly
Leeds United and former England football manager Don Revie
British actor David Niven
Jon Stone The Creator of Sesame Street
Former Italian football players, Stefano Borgonovo and Gianluca Signorini
Diane Pretty, a British woman from Luton who became notable after being the focus of a debate about the laws of euthanasia in the United Kingdom.
My Mother.

, without being able to do anything for her, I was devastated, heart and soul into bits. The bell rang. There was Isabel. A pot of freshly made soup, and a cake. A tear in her eyes. No words were needed. She knew there was nothing she could do to mend my heart, she worried about my body, my other needs. She is a FRIEND that I love dearly.

These days Isabel has 5 dogs and 4 cats. 3 of her dogs she chose to have; the other 2 she rescued because they had been abandoned and instinctively attached themselves to her. All her cats were rescued. And she also has some lovely birds.

Our own dog, that we love to bits, is the son of Isabel's boxer Dolly. Isabel wanted to have Dolly spayed but the vet advised that it would be wise if she had a litter before the surgery. So Isabel had to find homes for the forthcoming litter of pups ... and there we were!

I had sworn, after loosing my beautiful black cocker Tammy at the age of 8, due to kidney failure, that I would never ever have another pet, because the loss was so hard to handle. Yet ... how could one say no to Isabel? Sure we would take one puppy. He is now seven - and still a puppy!


Thyson as a puppy
Thyson as a puppy. The slipper was used to gain perspective.
Hard to imagine.


Some time later, Isabel showed up with a little bird, tiny little pink thing, about a week old, that had fallen from the nest, in her big bird cage, and it appeared the mother was not feeding it. So she tried to feed it, then handed it over to me as she was finding it difficult to juggle all the demands of her pets. I continued feeding the 'beak', and she is still with us today. That little pink ball with a beak is our Beaky, mother of many, that we also love to bits. Our Roseicollis (Peachfaced Lovebird). But that is another story.

Recently, not being allowed by law to keep as many pets in a flat, Isabel and her husband have more or less moved to the country. The good news - when we move to Paradise we will be neighbours again. Just need to cross the river.

Now the reason why Isabel has so much to do with our Paradise.

Isabel and her husband bought themselves, some years ago, the house in the country they have now moved to. There they have all the things they love, and are teaching us all the lessons we try to learn when it comes to our dream in Paradise - our new home to be rebuilt in Golegã.

Their house was bought sort of ready to move in, but to this day they have not stopped redoing, rebuilding, investing in it.

The walls, every year, show the bloom of soluble salts, so they have to re-render and repaint. So we decided - simply tear down all our old walls, keep only the façade, and rebuild the whole thing.

They built a very nice pool. Every year they have to work on it, interior, filters, covers. So we've decided - no pool.

They have many trees and appear to spend all their time cleaning, pruning and cutting. So we decided - only a few fruit and olive trees, the ones that are already there, because they are almost 'centennial' and it would be a crime to remove them.

Isabel loves her garden and has many beautiful plants, but she never stops watering, treating, cutting, planting and worrying about the ones that are ill and disappearing. So we decided - not too many plants, just a few easy maintenance shrubs.

As mentioned earlier, Isabel loves her pets and has many. She can't go anywhere because she has to look after them all the time. She worries about them and spends a lot of time and money keeping them healthy and well looked after. That does it - we will stick to Thyson, our boxer that we love so much and that Isabel gave us, and our Beaky (that Isabel also gave us), Barney and their never ending brood of chicks.


Thyson being introduced to Beaky
Thyson being introduced to Beaky. These days that little ball of feathers
sinks her beak into those floppy lips if he dares to get that close!


After all, our dream is that Paradise will be our retirement home, where we will be enjoying our free time doing what we feel like, when we feel like it, in the house of our dreams.

And from Isabel we have learnt that if we are not careful, we will end up retired yet busier than ever with chores that will be 'imposed' on us by choices made while building and populating the so much dreamt of 'Paradise'.

That's my input. I'll probably get around to scribbling something else that has a relevance to our move, soon ...


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Pam Beeton said...


This is a beautiful story.

I can identify with Isabel in so many ways. She is a lady after my own heart.

God bless her.

CrazyCath said...

Maria - what a terrific tribute to your friend. I have such a friend which I have just posted about - and her heartache at being let down yet again by some one she helped. I have not been as eloquent as you though!

Thyson is a beautiful brute of dog and looks as soft as anything! Hope he doesn't grow any bigger. And you're very wise to learn from other people's mistakes, because otherwise you would get no retirement as you say!

Maria said...

Hey Pam,
Thank you for your comment. She is a terrific person. You'll meet her when you visit...
Sent you an email. See you soon.
All my love

Maria said...

Hi there Cath,
Thank you for your lovely words. Isabel really is the friend few people deserve to have... i am very fortunate, but i often wonder if i really have done all i could and should to fully deserve her friendship. May be not, but i will keep trying :-)
And yes, i am learning a lot from her. Then again, you know, i am a lazy butt :-) She works hard at keeping all the things she so much loves, and may winge but never really complains about it.
Sorry to hear about your friend. The old saying "Good things come to good people" isn't really true, is it?
Thyson is our puppy brute yes, and he won't grow at all. He is now 7, but no wiser than when he was 6 months old. Totally crazy, but all heart this dog of ours. Totally soft, as you say :-) Ah... but we'll have to blog about our birds...
We should go by crazycouple here :-)

CrazyCath said...

Thyson is 7? He looks like a pup still. I am sure, Maria, that you are a great friend to Isabel. How many friends would tell the whole world how wonderful she is? You just did. Friendship is not about deserving each other - it is about sharing and caring. If you do that, you are a (deserving) friend. ;0)
And crazycouple? I think we are all a bit crazy somewhere, somehow... :0)

Waddo said...

A story to be proud of and a person to look up to as well - a true friend indeed is a diamond. Never be that hard and fast with your retirement plans that you can't change it as you go along! We planned to only do a little in the garden and it has taken over our lives, but we spend time from it in the pool relaxing. Sure it is work to keep it going, but in retirement it stops being work and starts being fun. 12 big olive trees to tend to every year = 60 gallons of free olive oil! Worth the effort. All veg is free with a little work/fun and tastes so much better than from the shops. Water from the well at little cost indeed and a big garden for the silly German Pointer to run around in - wonderful. Some was planned and some just happened, that is what retirement should be, when you visit you will see - the chill goes on. Till then, chase that dream as hard as you can and don't forget the heating for the winter - cutting your own word is hard work but the open fire is to die for. Take great care guys. Mick & Cec - TRNC (

Maria said...

Hey there Mick and Cec :-)

It's good to know you are enjoying your "retirement" ... gosh I do envy you guys!

Thank you for your comment ... but let me tell you a secret or two:

I do not need to look after our 2 'centennial' olive trees. I already have all the purest of olive oils I may need from my friends in the village. And I already have all the lettuce, and tomatoes, and cauliflowers, and carrots, and onions and potatoes, and pumpkins (for my 'marmalade'), 'cause my friends in the village give them to me. And it's all totally 'Bio'. Yes, they do taste a lot better than the ones we get from the supermarket. And ... the same friends look after the trees for me too ... (hehehehe ...).

The big advantage of little São Caetano (or 'Sleepy Hollow', if you prefer) is that they've known me 'forever'. They look after me; I look after them! It's a bit like the old days when doctors looked after their patients in exchange for chickens and eggs. I do their tax returns and other paperwork they aren't able to do; they smother me with friendship and products of their labour. My problem is often convincing them that I do not want them to fill my car boot each time I visit. Aren't we lucky? After all, there are only about 50 of us in the little village. Like our daughter Sharon says, "If you see 2 cars together on the road in São Caetano, it must be rush hour!"

I agree with the big garden for the silly boxer. That for sure. But Terry will be responsible for the grass, and Terry alone! My revenge!

Pool? Nah ...!! How could I relax by the pool? I am not a swimmer (neither is Terry) and you can bet I would sit by it and start thinking about the cost of maintenance and the need to clean it ... naaah! Instead we will pick up our rods, walk 50 metres to the river, and do some fishing! That's life - eat your heart out (especially since you were the one to teach Terry how to fish.)!

We are chasing the dream, yes, and the heating is being taken care of by the planners (solar - compulsory). And yes, yes, yes - the open fire is to die for, and we shall have one!

Take care you two. And start planning your next visit to us. Can't wait.

With tons of love.


Fletch said...

...(especially since you were the one to teach Terry how to fish.)!

And I am here to tell you that he had 'the patience of Job'. Nothing much has changed from then to now - I am still the world's most inept angler (fisherman)!

Shrinky said...

It is no coincidence Isabel and you have been drawn together, it is transparent from your words that both she and you have been whittled from the same tree. This is written with such love and honesty, it's heart-warming to see there are still Isabels (and Maria's) out here.

Lee said...

Terry, Sorry! I thought I'd left a comment back in September when I first read this. My thoughts then were that Isabel sounded like a real gem and worthy friend. It was fun seeing your animals.

We just had the Blessing of the Beasts service at our church where all the congregation's pets got blessed. I'm sure if my parish had been a rural one our priest would have been blessing all kinds of interesting beasts.

I dropped in this evening to invite you to come listen to the SAVAE video I've added to my latest post. They're singing Asi Andando and using traditional instruments. Quite good.




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