Saturday, April 1, 2017

Contemplating Mortality

Handsome Bogart, 18-years old
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
I used to think that it was rather morbid that my in-laws had purchased their burial plots when my husband was a small child. Every time we went for a visit, we stayed in a hotel across from the hilly Memorial Gardens, with a large white praying statue on top. The lush green grass and the occasional Canada geese grazing on the slopes were peaceful and comforting evidence of perennial life.
Every time Ray would drive by he would joke in his inimitable dark humor that he bought his wife an anniversary gift and she never used it. It gave me shivers, imagining my husband’s parents deceased.
As the way of all flesh goes, it seems to be closer and closer that Joan may have to use that anniversary gift from long, long time ago. Time flew by and, as it did, we thought of living, of family, of togetherness, of life’s accomplishments, not of mortality. We thought of ourselves as living forever until someone close or known to us got really sick and died. We brushed away the annoying thought of death, as if it would never happen to us eventually. Yet we all leave this earth as dust, a short lived spark in the memory of those who know us, perhaps love us, who are still alive and left behind.
I had an eerie feeling the first time I visited my Dad’s grave. It was perhaps because I was really sick when he died and I could not attend the funeral so many thousands of miles away. In a sense, I never really had closure. I stared for hours at the pictures of his funeral my uncle had sent me, but it was not the same. It was as if he was still alive in some far away corner of the world.
But I was staring then at this corner of the world and reality slapped me in the face. My Daddy was but dust and my memories of our lives together for the first twenty years of my life. With the grace of God, Dad and Mom made me, cared for me, and loved me enough to let me go to a better place so far away. How do you ever thank your parents for choosing life?
I knew Dad’s mortal remains where interred there, but his spirit was somewhere else, in Heaven, but in some ways it lived inside of me. It was so quiet around me, you could almost hear every sound nature made, buzzing of bees, the wind moving the tall grasses, and the leaves twirling on tree branches in the gentle breeze. The earth was alive but my Daddy was part of its dust. His bones were resting in a bag deep in the earth, the wooden coffin perhaps long decayed. I planted a flower on his grave wondering if sufficient rain would keep it alive after my departure. How long would it be before it withered and died, turning to dust?
My mom is losing her battle with dementia and she hardly remembers her life in the correct sequential order. We are happy when she remembers our names.
My mother-in-law is paralyzed following a botched spinal operation and will be sent soon to a hospice, closer to the ultimate chapter of her life. Her beautiful blue eyes are still the eyes of the little girl she once was, not understanding what happened, why time flew by so fast.
Bogart is our beautiful Snow Shoe Siamese whom we adore. He is turning 18-years old sometime this year, we don’t know when because my daughters adopted him from the pound. The vet told us, he was one year old then. Although his previous owner abused him in the first year of his life, we gave him a good and loving life and home.
Bogart is showing signs of old age, turning lean and meowing more than usual, probably from arthritis pain, but can still do a hippodrome routine once in a while, running up and down the stairs, thinking he is a race horse. We clip his twisted claws which sometimes get snagged or tangled on various pieces of furniture, tapestry, or leather chairs. He is an old kitty, a centenarian in human years.
As hubby and I are struggling with profound health issues, we are now fully realizing that we are no longer the immortal young who thought we could live forever. It seems like yesterday when we met, the years flew by, but we never had enough time together, we wasted part of our youth with other spouses who were not our soul mates.
My husband is an American hero who dedicated his entire adult life to his country and I hope that someday he will take his proper place at Arlington National Cemetery.
We cannot understood why we were here on earth and why God created us, for what purpose, but we now understand that we are no longer immortal and we hope that we are going eventually to a good place, part of the circle of life, leaving traces of us in our children’s DNA.
Does it matter for most people where the final resting place will be? The sun will rise again, rain and snow will soak the ground, the moon will cast ghostly shadows in my beloved woods, the fierce hawkish wind will blow, and the earth will renew itself as it had done for millennia. We become again invisible atoms in the universe.


  1. Ileana, we are born into this world to pass into the next world. As the door closes on this life, a door opens for the next, eternal life.

    As my mom was fading, we talked a little about her immediate future. My dad had passed a little over a year before. She said she wanted to go during the Christmas holidays. Her dad, for whom I was named, passed away on Christmas Eve.

    I asked her why she wanted to go during the holiday season. She responded, saying it is the most beautiful time of the year, and she had been preparing for her exit her whole life. She got her wish, going peacefully, about 2:30pm on New Year's Eve.

    While allowing for being myself, I attempt to follow in my parents' footsteps, keeping them alive for myself, my siblings and all of the younger generations who knew them.

    I joke a bit about what is happening in the world today and welcoming my exit. Believing there is a Heaven and a Hell, I pray that I not only will be welcomed into the glory of God's everlasting presence, but I will be saved from seeing those who purposely inflicted so much harm against humanity for eternity. It helps to soften the hurt while I'm here.

    I visit my parents gravesite weekly, thanking them for what they did for family and friends and thanking God for sharing the two greatest people I will ever know in this life. Above all else, they taught me and our family what true and unconditional love is. I didn't make it easy for them for a period of time, but they never wavered in their love for me. I probably helped them get to Heaven, just for them dealing with me.

    I lost my youngest brother almost 3 years ago. The key for me is doing something that can live on, if only in spirit. There is, but One God, and, as long as I please Him, I am doing what I was designed to do.

    You and your family are in my prayers.

    1. Thank you, Celtic tiger, your words are so well spoken. I find comfort in prayer and in my belief in God, of Heaven, and the afterlife.

  2. Excellent celtic tiger...spoken so well with many things I wanted to say. We are truly just passing through this life (we are in this world, but not of this world), to what will be our forever place with he Lord. Eternity with the Lord, who is love and all the good things rolled into one, is such a gift to look forward to. In the meantime God has designed each one of us to carry out His purposes in this life. One of mine was to care for my Mother for 8-1/2 years while suffering the progression of Alzheimers. I would never trade that time for all the ups and downs. It was one of my purposes. There are so many people God puts in our path to be there for at various points, jobs to do that will ease the way for others, and for you Ileana, He has given you the gift of writing to speak to the hearts of your readership. You are also a caretaker for those around you (your Mom and Hubby) and He has enabled you to lean on Him as you walk through your MS (that is His way of allowing Him to be your Rock). You are walking out His purposes every day!

    Know you are loved and lifted in prayer each day!

    1. Thank you, Sandy Green. You are a sweet and caring friend. I never walk alone, God is always in my heart but I do have moments of solitude. God has given me the gift of writing and sometimes I am able to put in short phrases the storm that rages inside my life. But I am strong, mom and dad have raised me this way and I hope that I had passed this quality to my girls.