back                                                                                                                         Updated Thursday October 14

The "Celebrating Life - Celebrating Val" gathering

I thought that we should do a lively gathering for Val while she was still here, rather than some memorial after she was gone. Originally her friends and I thought we should plan it for Sunday the 17th but she had slipped so much each morning that I reconsidered and asked if it could be put together by Sunday the 10th so Val could still interact with her friends. So Friday several of her Red Hat friends valiantly undertook organizing a "Celebration of Life - Celebration of Val" potluck party for two days later.

When her family was told of the gathering, they changed their plans to come out immediately, and Saturday afternoon ten members of her immediate family landed in Missoula and drove up the Bitterroot: her parents, Nick and Beatrice, her two brothers, Nick and David, her two sisters Tina and Vanessa, Tina's husband Dave, and Vanessa's two children, Christian and Kelly, and Kelly's husband Dan.

It was a wonderful gathering from 2:00 to 8:00 Sunday afternoon at the River Street Dance Studio, with over one hundred people in attendance either throughout or for some time during the event. All had been invited to bring a favorite photo and a favorite story of Val to share.  Val's family was made welcome in the hour or so before we ate as a band played in the background. Then everyone was invited to dig in to the huge variety of wonderful potluck food.

When all were seated and eating, Val's friend Marnie stepped up to the microphone and started the program with a moving tribute to Valerie. Val was then invited to the front of the room where she joked about looking over everyone's shoulder in spirit form and nudging them to do their best and be happy after she has gone to the other side, where she also said she'd "go to heaven and raise hell".

Val invited me up with her; I sat on a stool beside her wheelchair and she listened, for the first time, to my version of her biography.  People weren't sure they should laugh at first, but quickly got into the spirit of it.  It is reprinted below.

Then others were invited to come up and share their stories of Val, and for an hour and a half we were moved to laghter and tears by dozens of people and their loving narrations of meeting or being with Valerie, and the profound impact she has had on their lives.

Click on the image below to see an album with photos from the celebration.

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Val's Bio
 written and
  read by Joe     
Since she is so modest – and cannot talk very well now should you ask – let me tell you a little about this extraordinary woman who sits here - a quick resume’. Given what her life has been it shouldn’t be too boring. Not that I, or anyone knows everything about her life. Even she, herself, does not know everyone she has touched – where all the ripples have spread.

Look around you! – Look at what a family Valerie has gathered about her… almost all in the seven years since I returned to the Bitterroot with her. And I remember she was quite lonely for two years when we were in Darby, so really its just been 5 years to affect so many people.  All of us have been touched and changed in some way by her Knowledge, her Wisdom her Joy, her Enthusiasm, her Spiritual Awareness.

Val’s first family in this lifetime, the one she grew up in, have all come from the East Coast to celebrate her life with us: her parents Nicholas & Beatrice, and her sisters Vanessa & Tina, and brothers Nick & Dave, & some of their spouses and children – Val’s nieces and nephews. Throughout this afternoon & evening and weeks following please help make the Barzettis welcome into Val’s world here in Montana.

Born in the Eisenhower era in 1954, this Catholic girl, a Connecticut Yankee, has always had a strong and independent spirit. At the age of 14 she began reading metaphysical books – Edgar Cayce, Supernature, the Seth Books – and began her personal spiritual quest. At the age of 15 she rejected the Catholic Church, seeking first hand spiritual experience rather than comfort, tradition and strictures. At that age she began her political activism, marching to protest the arrest of Father Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip for draft counseling. She has continued her political and conservationist activism throughout her life.

Val was subject to considerable pressure, as many of us are, to conform to norms and expectations – some reasonable some not – but such is the nature of families and society. I suspect that there may be a direct connection between the fact that she did not conform, and the interesting and vital person she is.

She attended a Catholic high school because the security was better – not, those days, for keeping problems out, but for keeping students in. Even there she managed to spend most of her days stoned on pot, but got straight A’s through her entire high school career none-the-less. – ah – except for one B in chemistry one quarter.

Despite being the black sheep, Val is very close to her family, as evidenced by their presence here, and they have had many formative influences on her. Val’s love of animals was instilled by her father, a skilled hunter and fisherman, who taught his children to be curious and unafraid by continually bringing home spiders, caterpillars, and various and sundry insects to marvel at.

As the kids got bigger, so did the pets; guinea pigs, hamsters and lab rats lived their rooms. There was a parakeet named Tinkerbell. The family raised chickens, rabbits, geese, ducks, and a donkey. Cats and dogs were always present in the home.

When Val was 8, a raccoon became a family pet, starting her lifelong love affair with raccoons, and their more southerly and South American cousins, Coatamundies and Kinkajous. Ringtail the raccoon traveled everywhere with the family, even into grocery stores as they shopped. Ringtail was followed by Rocky I, Rocky II, and Rocky III.

For years the dogs in the household were coonhounds and used by Nick to hunt raccoons. The dogs knew the difference, though, between the wild coons they hunted and the family's pets and they left them alone. Rocky II, however, being a raccoon, loved mischief. When the dogs would laze and sleep in front of the wood stove, he would sometimes quietly creep up to the dogs, then swiftly nip them in the balls and run madly away as the dogs scrambled out of sleep and barking, pursue the raccoon around the house. Always failing that, they would eventually return to the fire and the game would begin again. It was great fun for raccoon and humans, if not for the hounds.

Later while in college she had a baby raccoon, pushed out of the nest before his eyes were open, that imprinted on her when he did open his eyes, although she soon discovered he was blind in one. Living in her pocket, Jeremy accompanied her to her summer job as nanny, cook and gardener. For two and one-half years he went everywhere with  his "mom" Val: to classes, to work, to friends' homes, to stores, to theaters, restaurants and bars. In fact, as he grew larger, Jeremy developed quite a "taste" for human vices: alcohol, cigarettes, LSD and various other drugs. On summer mornings Val would discover all types of items on the front lawn of her apartment - money, keys and all the above-mentioned items - where various bar patrons had walked from town to share a drink with the raccoon that delighted everyone, and investigated everything in their pockets.

Other wild visitors the her childhood  home were Oedipus the Possum (who was not such an exciting pet), weasels and snakes – several snakes – maybe even many snakes! So fascinating were the snakes that, when their father found a large boa constrictor for sale at a large RV show in the coliseum in NYC one time, the children clamored to have him buy the snake. Having already had 5 snakes disappear inside the house, Bea put her foot down with an ultimatum – it was either her or the snake, but not both! Apparently it was a pretty tough decision but since the snake couldn’t cook, they reluctantly decided they had to forego the snake and keep their mother.

A good cook and a doting mother, Bea made sure everything ran smoothly, both at home raising the 5 kids, and at her husband’s welding shop as bookkeeper. (Her brothers, incidentally, carry on that tradition, owning and operating a very successful welding shop in Connecticut, where part of their work includes the highly precise welding of valves for nuclear submarines.) Bea’s influence shows up in Val in all of those areas – her delicious and adventurous cooking – her heartfelt caring for all small, injured, defenseless, and downtrodden creatures, both animal and human – and in her amazing memory and facility with numbers.

Val’s social aptitude was also undoubtedly instilled by her parents, who frequently entertained at their home, and who, for many decades were excellent and active square dancers.

Age 18, at the end of high school, headstrong and knowing better than everyone, Val decided she could make more money working than by continuing her education; so she put her straight A transcript to good use by going to work on an assembly line in and electronics factory, and living where she could afford to – in the slums. Thus began her checkered and colorful career.

She very quickly (read: a year and a half) realized being an expendable cog in a manufacturing machine might not be the best way to get ahead; she enrolled in East Carolina University, Greenville N.C. Here she was introduced to the tropics and Costa Rica for the first time as an exchange student. Three years later with some - shall I say, forceful… input from her father, just one semester short of a degree in Geography – specifically Latin American Geography – she quit.

Being groomed for a job her father negotiated with the Vice President of World Sales of Stoeffer Chemical Company, she enrolled in Pennsylvania State University in Agronomy. Two years later she graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Agronomy, spurned the $50,000/year job as Latin American Representative for Stoeffer selling toxic chemicals to peasants, and enlisted in the Peace Corps for $50/month and keep. She worked as Agricultural Extension Agent to onion farmers in the central valley of Costa Rica where, riding a moped, she saw 30 farmers a day, 100 a week.

The central valley is also the location of the largest city in Costa Rica, San Jose, and it was during this time Val closed the bars 5 nights a week, drinking – a lot – and dancing to salsa music. The only reason she was in town drinking and dancing 5 nights a week was that she bars were closed Sunday and Monday. After years of this, one morning she woke up with a hangover – her first... but had no clue why she was feeling so bad. She went out one more night, made the connection, and stopped drinking.

But she still loves to dance.

Val left the Peace Corp after 3 years (because they wouldn’t let her stay in longer than that) and backpacked around South America for a year – by herself.

A year and a half and a couple of bitter cold winters in Wisconsin followed – rewarded by a Masters Degree from University of Wisconsin, Madison in Agricultural Journalism Communications and six months as a 'consultant' in Columbia (Read: Trying with a staff of 30 to establish from scratch a radio station to communicate “technology transfer” to farmers... in six months).

Then there was a year in Ecuador in the Amazon headwaters as a consultant. A dry term again for teaching indigenous Indians in the jungle to grow organic vegetables as part of a famine relief effort by a Catholic charity after an earthquake took out the one road over the Andes mountains leaving the area isolated. Unless she could finagle a ride on a military Blackhawk helicopter, (which she was able to do several times) it took her 2 days on busses and a day up the river in a dugout canoe to reach the village from the capitol.

A six month trip in the South Pacific followed – 2 months with her bother David touring New Zealand and touring and scuba diving in Australia; then 3 months on her own island hopping to Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Rarotanga, to name just a few of the more familiar ones.

For 6 months she managed a stock photography co, in Connecticut – then spent 2 years as Director of Caribbean and Central American Environmental Reporting for PANOS, a non-profit Sustainable Development NGO, wearing silk suits and high heels in Washington DC.

Then back to Costa Rica – her first love – where she wrote a book, in Spanish, for the International Union of Conservation; and during which tie she enthusiastically served as tour guide and translator for her entire family for 2 weeks over Christmas.

Her wanderlust reasserted itself again, and she was off to Asia for 7 months. A month of touring India and 5 months in the Osho Ashram – Osho is better known in this country as Baghwan Shree Rajneesh.

It was in the Ashram Val was called or directed to go to New Mexico. With the help of a friend, she entered a specific trance state for seeking answers, and asked
WHEN? APRIL! (of the next year).
Having learned her life flows far more smoothly when she follows her inner guidance, she set about making her way to Taos, a place she had never heard of before.

Having to leave out Thailand and Borneo due to the new time constrains, she spent a month in Bali and Singapore, then flew to the US, then back to Costa Rica to dispose of her house, then back to the US.

Through a marvelous series of fortunate coincidences (Read: Val’s life flowing smoothly) she was provided the money she needed to do everything, and a car (not having needed on for decades) now that she was repatriated.

After a week canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp with her siblings, she drove west into the unknown. Val showed up on my doorstep in Taos where I had been advertising for a roommate. When I opened the door, some place of knowing inside me went “Oh boy – this person is much more than a roommate!” Although I had been in a single relationship with another woman for 2 years, 4 days later I proposed marriage to Valerie.

She took me back to Costa Rica – to see how well I traveled – I suspect, and a year after my proposal, she accepted.

We were married in a ceremony by a Sufi master on top of Costa Rica’s highest peak – Chirripo – 12,000 ft in elevation, with the setting sun in the West over the Pacific Ocean, the full moon rising in the East over the Caribbean Sea, and a beautiful lightning storm, inaudible, far below us on the slope of the mountain. It was April 28th, 1995, Good Friday of Easter Weekend.

Later, in August, we had a more conventional ceremony in the back yard of her bother Nick’s beautiful home in Connecticut, with volleyball, children running all over the lawn, wild game meat, a whole roast pig, and a cake shaped like a Mayan pyramid.

Although her parents and I have not spoken of it, given Valerie’s love of the land, climate, culture and people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and some of the boyfriends she had brought home, her parents were probably surprised, if not a little relieved that she was marrying a white boy from Wyoming and Montana. Her friends were surprised, if not shocked, that she was marrying at all!

Valerie’s life has been much less dramatic and much more domestic since then. After honeymooning on Kauai then working on Maui for a winter, and a few nice road trips – say from Montana to Connecticut via Seattle – it was been mostly gardening, and helping my mother (who is here also this afternoon) working with Friends of the Bitterroot and Common Ground, editing technical books, teaching and attending workshops, and mothering orphan raccoons. She has managed to make it to Costa Rica for a week or two almost every winter.   Most of you are much more familiar with her life here in Montana.

Along with her love of travel (she has been in 49 states; the 50th, Alaska, was scheduled for next summer), Val also loves hiking and cross country skiing, camping, dancing, gardening, raising raccoons, fire walking, tropical beaches, photography, reading, raccoons, water coloring, scuba diving, white water rafting, movies, e-mail and jokes. Oh, did I mention raccoons?

She has also done massage, healing with crystals, and is fairly accomplished with animal communication. We have no fence around our garden; when she wishes to keep them out and just eat the plants she grew for them, she just asks – and they respond. The proof is merely to look at the garden.

Underneath all this is her love for and relationships with her friends – families like this she has drawn together everywhere she has been. When she and I returned to Costa Rica, the onion farmers - now old and retired, and their children now grown - recognized, remembered, and welcomed her. She has friends all over the world where she is always welcome. And the foundation of her life is her love for her birth family. Nick and Bea, and her bothers and sisters – who sit here.

The best teachers don’t necessarily speak the lessons they have, they demonstrate by living them, and those who are ready – those with their eyes to see – perceive those lessons and are taught and changed.

This – master teacher – has demonstrated to us, by living her life, how to live fully and completely; how to meet all circumstances with anticipation, joy, awareness, and acceptance of the spiritual lessons that are always there; how to remain true to our essential inner nature; how to love wholeheartedly.

And now that she may again be answering the call of her wanderlust, setting out on another journey to meet once more that far more ancient family of spirit beings, souls not clothed with bodies at this moment, she is demonstrating how to be fully conscious and aware of, and to, that transition.

I am honored and blessed that she chose to spend part of this lifetime with me. We have all been honored by her presence.

Thank you Valerie.