Donna: Poet, Cheerleader and Friend
As I wrote in my previous post, Donna Marie DeGuglielmo was my friend, who’s passing on November 19, 2021 has affected me more than I would have imagined. Sometimes, you see, my friend would get on my nerves. Sometimes, I wouldn’t answer the phone when she called. Actually, there were many, many times when I would not answer the phone — mostly because I hate the phone. But she was lonely and desperate for telephone conversations, so in her quirky, persistent, funny, and sometimes blunt, sometimes sweet way, she wore me down with her pleas.
I would call her one month and then every other week. We started Skype conversations, and I really enjoyed those, but we had to stop them when Donna had more strokes and found the screen too stimulating. In the last nine months or year of our relationship, we spoke on the phone about every week. I’m still feeling guilt right now that the phone calls often felt more like a duty than a delight.
Whether through email, video chats, or telephone conversations, Donna and I conversed most frequently about faith and writing — I tried to always keep our conversations focused on these subjects. It was fairly easy since we were both Catholic, and she was writing a memoir like I was trying to write a memoir. I’ve written poetry since I was a little girl, and she discovered poetry after her aphasia began. When Donna wrote to me or shared some of her writings with me, her language disorders were obvious. For our telephone conversations, she advised me how to communicate with her — engage in active listening, allow her to find words on her own, and limit the number of questions I would ask — useful things to know when conversing live with stroke survivors. She always had a good sense of humor about all of it. “I’m not drunk, I’m just slurring,” she would say and giggle.
In light of her language challenges, her desire and ability to take up poetry was beautiful and impressive to me. Despite having great difficulty in finding the right words, and dyslexia on top of everything, she was able to string words together in lovely little poems, with their own particular pacing, that were true expressions of who she was. Because I knew her well, when I read her work I get the feeling of every word being a treasure, one sought for with great yearning and difficulty and then cherished and caressed when found.
In 2018, we both resolved to get a book published. She put out a free PDF book entitled Creative Poetry Prayer. Her desire was to write many chapbooks and to teach creative poetry prayer to stroke survivors and other people with aphasia. She was always ambitious with big ideas and dreams. She gave me the audiobook The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith, which she also listened to for writing the story of her own life. Although the book that I wrote in 2018 did not turn out to be the memoir I had intended, this book by Smith was very helpful in the writing of It’s Good to Be Here. With all of the advice that she shared with me, tips and tricks that she found on various websites and in various groups, she was my only friend who was a writing companion. We made up our own tribe, she said. Because Donna Marie (who went by Donna Maria on her blog) was such a good motivator and cheerleader, she is deservedly in the acknowledgments for my book. I was also in hers.
Coming to an End
In 2021, Donna kept falling in her apartment and received several concussions. The strokes just got worse from there. She would go to the hospital and then rehab, and then back home. And then she would end up in the emergency room again and back in a nursing care facility. This went on for several months. Because she had a cell phone, I was able to keep in touch with her, although we didn’t often talk for very long at all because of her fatigue. She always sounded upbeat, however, never defeated, always making plans, even new, grander plans. Sometimes, however, she would confess that she simply wanted to watch Little House on the Prairie or some other TV shows, and once she asked me if I thought God would be disappointed with her for that. I assured her that He would not be disappointed, reminding her that God loved her beyond imagining.
Then, one day, I called Donna’s phone and left a voice message. She didn’t return my call, but that didn’t worry me at this point in our conversations until I called again and her phone was off. Still undeterred, I kept calling, but her phone kept on going directly to voicemail.
I had a bad feeling.
Never To Hear Her Voice Again
So I tracked down her brother Danny through social media and messaged him. He informed me that she had been moved to the hospital again and had to have surgery. The phone had stopped working and she was, at that point, unable to talk anyway. So I told him to tell her that I was praying for her and to say “peace” to her for me, because that’s how we always ended our conversations. He visited her every day and wrote back the next day to tell me that she had smiled when he gave her my message. I then sent him voice clips through Facebook and he played them for her when he visited. I came to understand that she could not feed herself or move her arms, though she did begin twitching one of her hands, no doubt showing her impatience to speak, to get up and do something. But then her breathing became very labored.
I knew what direction this was taking, even though her brother had been very optimistic to that point. Still, that morning when I read his message telling of her passing in the night, I sat silently in front of my computer, stunned by grief. I couldn’t speak. I could barely move. I didn’t even want to breathe lest I start bawling.
There were so many times when I felt burdened by Donna’s need for friendship and communication, times when I was frustrated with her political statements or even her loneliness. Pity had perhaps been my first motivation to befriend Donna, and my efforts were mostly seen by me as a kind of Christian duty. But with all now said and done, I know that she was truly my friend. She was always my friend as I was hers. I miss her more than I imagined I would, there have been many things that I have wanted to share with her since November when she passed. Thankfully, she was indeed a woman of deep and vibrant faith, and I believe that she passed into a far better place, a marvelous existence beyond imagining, and she is having a great party with her jamboree of Angels and Saints, never ever lonely again.
One thing that greatly saddens me, dear reader, is that her blogs are no longer visible to any of us, and I fear much of her work, including her memoir, is lost. Her little e-book remains, so I would like to share it with you. (Please click HERE.) You may also want to see her on her YouTube channel HERE. (I watch my videos once in a while, just to hear her voice again.) If you read Creative Poetry Prayer or watch one of her videos, then please go to her Facebook account and kindly leave a comment there as a tribute to her.
And thank you very much for letting me introduce you to Donna Marie, poet and friend.
© 2022 Christina Chase
Feature Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash
Christina Chase View All
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.
Christina your ‘posting’ is the first I have received from you and I am most thankful that I actually have the opportunity to
communicate with you. My name is Dave Backman, I’m 82 living in Freeport Maine; in July my wife Eleanor and I
will celebrate 56 years of marriage, 3 sons but no grandchildren. I feel very close to God and occasionally write
a poor form of poetry which enables me to express my faith….”scripture, prayer, and worship mold us all as one;
dear God we are your witnesses until our lives are done.”; OR ” Then Jesus Christ ascended, God’s Spirit now
our guide; His light of love within our souls, in faith we do abide. Dear Lord you’re my salvation, walk with me by my
side;May your loving arms enfold me when I’m about to die.” Christina, these are excerpts from two of my ‘poems’
titled “Witnesses” and “God’s Love from the Cross” respectively.
I have read your book twice and am on my 3rd pass. I have recommended it to many others but I am not sure
how many of them have actually read it. In a clear way, you have expressed God’s presence and compassion
in and for all of us and the opportunity we have to express this is so many ways to others.
I do want to comment about ” the phone calls felt more like a duty than a delight”. To me it really does not matter
that much because you were there for her, giving her the contact and love which she needed. “Being there”
is what compassion is all about! I’ll end this commentary with one of my favorite quotes from Pope
Francis ( I’m Lutheran, formerly a Congregationalist, but I feel like I am a CHRISTIAN and see the Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit everywhere!). Pope Francis speaking in Krakow Poland, 28 July, 2016 said “To be
attracted by power, by grandeur, by appearances is tragically human…but to give oneself to others,
eliminating distances, dwelling in littleness, and living the reality of one’s everyday life: This is
exquisitely divine.” Two other quotes: Archbishop Desmond Tutu ” God uses each of us in our
own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is
there” This one is from me…” The presence of God in us all is the very essence of us all”.
God bless you Christina as you walk your path through life!!
Thank you for reaching out and reflecting with me, Mr. Backman! Awe and gratitude fill me whenever I learn that someone has read my book (and you have even read it more than once!) and recommended it to others. God is good — and He definitely works in mysterious ways, using someone as little as me to touch others. Thank you for sharing those quotes! I have copied them for future reflection.
It is always good to meet a fellow Christian! Have you ever published any of your poems? I especially like the line from “Witnesses” and would be intrigued to read more of “God’s Love from the Cross.” I write some poetry myself, some of which can be found on this site, and I’m very glad to connect with a fellow poet, as I’m always wanting to improve. Thank you also for your encouraging words about “being there” for my late friend. I hope I may continue to be there for anyone who may need to me in any way. Like Archbishop Tutu said in the quote that you shared, I may not be the best one, but I may be the one needed at the time. I’m glad that you took the time to communicate with me!
May God bless you and your poetic heart,
I read your “letters” faithfully but many times I’m too sick or tired or too sleepy to “reply” or comment. But it’s wonderful to get to know you thru your “letters” and writings. Some of us are lonely and dare not communicate our selves for fear of being misunderstood or even laughed at for our views, values, and beliefs. Your sharing of yourself, just as you are, gives me insights, courage, and yes, closeness to another human being, which I crave. I’m so thankful to God that I found you, your soul and mind and body. Now I have someone that touches me deeply, where it counts. May I say I have a friend. Please continue to share your life, feelings, ideas, and especially what touches your soul and being. I’m so looking forward to reading this book you are working on. Please, please, share!
God loves you so much and so do I.
Martha, I am always happy when I see your name in the comments! I’m deeply moved by what you have shared here. God is good. Your faithfulness is greatly appreciated. Writers need readers, but more importantly, human beings need human beings! I am grateful for this relationship and honored to be considered your friend. Words can’t describe how much your words continually encourage me to keep writing. I really need encouragement! (Don’t we all?) So thank you! You will be reading an update on my second book on the last day of June.
With love and prayers, (I pray for you with every Friday rosary),
Thank you so much for including me (and many others) in your Friday rosary. What a treasure for me to know that….
Your friendship with Donna Marie left an indelible mark in your heart and I’m sure it expanded your capacity for love and understanding. Sometimes it’s after our dear one has left this earth that we gradually discover the fullness and meaningfulness of our relationship with that person. Donna Marie was certainly a fighter, a living spark for God! She will be part of the chorus (in Heaven and on earth) praying for you and the delivery of your God given talent of writing. I’m so looking forward to the end of June to get an inkling about your upcoming new book! Thank you, Jesus!
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