cavallo_feliciano

Feliciano

When my wife Trisha and I speak to senior groups and organizations about successful aging, one of our most important recommendations is to socialize. Living in isolation has long been shown to be extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. Remaining social as we age has been one of the most studied and verified behaviors for continued good health and mental fitness.

This brings me to my story. More than forty years ago during the Viet Nam era, I served in the U. S. Air Force. After my first tour of duty stateside, I was sent to a NATO base in southern Italy. Being a newly wed, I desperately wanted my wife to join me. Not having much money, I devised a plan whereby I gave a buddy who was sending his wife home on a Christmas charter a few bucks, and my wife assumed her identity on the return flight. Being in such a remote part of the country, there was no room on the base for us to live so we had to live on the local economy.

Prior to her arrival, I heard of a man in a small town several miles away (it actually had a small castle) that would rent to Americans from the base. I borrowed a car and went to talk with him. He turned out to be a wonderful man named Feliciano. He was the town electrician and had four apartments above his business. He spoke very good English because during WWII he was captured by the allies early on and spent the entire war on a farm in Scotland. Beyond his language skills, during his captivity he realized a value and interest in meeting people from other cultures and perspectives. I was able to rent an apartment from him and it would be our home until my two-year tour was finished.

Visiting with Feliciano was a daily occurrence. Watching soccer on the television in his shop was great fun. He was interesting, polite, and what we might call an “old world gentleman.” Our frequent parties and loud music  brought an occasional knock on our door, but he just smiled and would say “some of the old people have complained.”

I recently discovered Feliciano died last year. It seems his beloved wife had passed away ten years ago and both of his daughters had moved out of the country to be with their husbands. The NATO base had long since closed, and when he retired, Feliciano was left with only his little home on the quiet street of his small Italian village. Finally, one morning he dressed in his suit and tie, lay on his back, put a pistol under his shirt and pulled the trigger. Unbelievably, the official report said he then pulled his shirt down and died. Proper to the end.

Learning of Feliciano’s death, and perhaps more disturbing, his loneliness, has left me very sad. I know he tried all he could to be social and he lived in isolation for as long as he could. I hope he is at peace now.

The life lessons here are so obvious, I’ll spare you the clichés. For us, hearing about our old friend got Trisha and me reminiscing about our time in that village. After some detective work on the internet, I was able to locate a couple who were good friends from our time in Feliciano’s apartment house. They live on the other side of the country, and we haven’t seen them in forty years, but we already have plans to get together sometime next month. I think Feliciano would be very pleased.

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