The Hope of Immortality

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This is not a post about All Saints or what in Portugal gets called “Dia dos Fieis” — day of the faithful — when everyone, of any belief or none seemingly, makes a bee line for the cemetery and lights candles and cleans graves and talks about those who lie there, who left, long gone.

My first memories of it were of going to the children’s cemetery to put candles on the grave of the cousin, my age, whom I don’t remember at all, who died at 3 in what appears (according to databases) to have been a small pox epidemic.  She was the strong one of the two of us.  I don’t remember but for years, before I caught a reference to what she died of, I thought she’d died because I refused to share my bread with her, at tea at my maternal grandparents.

Anyway, perhaps the way I’ve been feeling lately tracks back to the fact that time is approaching, and like things trained in from very early, my mind turns to those who have died and whom I miss.

Lately too there seems to be a spate of deaths among friends and friends of friends.  And one of our pets is edging that way and I’m daily weighing the decision.

Greebo too is showing is age, so it might not be long…

I’m old enough that I appreciate being alive.  Even through the daily aches and pains.  Perhaps I got to this point earlier because I never expected to live very long.

Recently death has been rounding near, becoming familiar, shadowing me on lonely morning walks, pausing for a reminiscence when the day is foggy.

I feel as if it’s a strangely dressed man, on a city street, trying to get to the point that it can touch me, that I won’t fight back.

I’m fifty six and fast approaching the point at which I have as many loved ones and friends on the other side as on this.

One expects, of course, to lose grandparents, and I probably shouldn’t complain, or not too hard.  But I do miss Grandma.  This time of year, particularly, I miss her bustling around the kitchen, cleaning up the yard.  And I’d give years of life for one more chance to open the gate that no longer exists and take the path around the side yard, around grandad’s workshop, and into the always open kitchen door, to have tea with her one more time.  I’d tell her about her great grandsons, both of which at times remind me so much of her, and how things turned out for me.  And how much I miss her.

I’m sure she knows all of this, mind you.  Not only because someone like grandma couldn’t simply disappear, but because I have reason to believe she visited me once, at a critical point, some years after her death. I might have talked about it before. I don’t intend to do so now. I’ll simply say that yes, it could be an hallucination (I was near death at that moment) and maybe it was, but in my mind and heart I KNOW what I experienced.

But I’d like to sit and have tea — with lemon — and talk it over, just once more.

Then there is our friend Alan, gone for years now.  His death hurt more, because to an extent it took part of our youth with him.

I never thought of thirty something year olds (much less 50) as young, but we met Alan when we were all thirty.  Alan and his wife were, for years, our best friends in the worlds, our kids brought up as cousins. Holidays and celebrations were at one house or the other, and we had down to habit who cooked what so there was no need to coordinate.  And we went to cheap dollar movies together, broke into publication together, laughed and talked and shared most of everything for fifteen years.

He was diagnosed with cancer the year older son finished his freshman year.  We were visiting him at his summer internship when we got the call and I thought “I’m not ready to let go.”

I still wasn’t ready five years later.  But I had to let go, anyway.  And around this time of year, I miss him and he’s much on my mind.  The other day husband said “As Alan would say” and we both laughed.

He told us when we met again, he’d take us out for ice-cream because there are no carbs in heaven.  That was my last talk with him. I plan to hold him to it.

This week, I had word of the death of a guy who MIGHT have been my first fan, who did everything he could to promote me through my first three? four years with Baen.  Some of you will remember John Wagner from the bar.

He was very ill and was looking after his handicapped daughter, and at some point he stopped talking to me, apparently because he feared burdening me.

But I remember the conversations we had, and the silliness in the bar, and the long talks we had on AIM which were far more serious.

I know in the last few years he’s been hurting, physically, mentally, emotionally, and that his death was probably a release.  But I can’t but lament his passing and say I hope there is another time we can meet.

There are others.  I still miss Jerry, still find it weird I can’t simply email him to discuss something.

There was a fan, Ray Carter, I met briefly online, while my life was going insane, and who in a month became a close friend… and then died but will never be forgotten.

Then there are pets.  No, it’s not a different order.  Well, it is, but some of them have kept me sane and loved more than humans. I don’t know how else to explain it.

We’ve now lost five.  And it gets harder every time.  And Euclid-cat is going that way.  We had to confine him (in a three floor cat condo, but confined, nonethless because… well, our living room has half-carpet, and half-killzeed floor, and the rest of the house was getting the same way.  He simply doesn’t remember, or doesn’t care.

But he’s a cat who loves pets and contact. We used to call him a pet slut, because he’d do anything to be petted.

He took his confinement okay for a long time.  But this week has been hard.  He cries constantly and begs me for pets, and I can’t do that AND work.  I take him out and love him for an hour or two at night, but he wants more, and it’s worrying me.  I don’t want him unhappy. On the other than, he’s not in unbearable pain, which is our decision point.  And perhaps in a way I’m balking the decision because losing Miranda hurt so much.

Meanwhile Greebo, who is a cat, yes, but is MY dog, always at my heels, the guardian of my writing time, has been diagnosed with hypothyroidism.  This is not a death sentence. We will treat.  But it means our time together has drawn down to one-to-three years, from previous experience.  And he’s one of the cats who, like Pixie of blessed memory, or Miranda, or before them Petronius the Arbiter are so close to my heart, they’ll take most of it when they go (not that I didn’t love the other cats. Some are just closer.)

This all came to mind when I read Dave’s farewell to his dog.

And this brought another thing much on my mind, because I have aging parents, and my brother and the cousin who was raised with us aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore:  distance is a kind of death.

This came to mind because when I first “met” Dave Freer on line, Wednesday and Pugsley (her brother) were just puppies.  I was regaled with tales of their exploits and sort of knew them through him.

Like John Wagner, for a long time Dave Freer was someone I only knew online.  And yet, I grew to love him as a brother. I’ve met him now twice, and would like to see him again in the flesh before one of us leaves.

Thing is… we’re both getting older, the distance and travel is almost insurmountable, both physically and monetarily.

Just as with my parents, every time I see them, might be the last.  Distance curtails your remaining time.  Makes people almost like the dead in your memory.  And makes your time with them very short, very precious.

I am not naturally — which will shock everyone who reads the soon-to-be-out short novel Deep Pink — a person of faith.  I’m one of those who find it hard to believe without seeing.

But I want very much to believe in a life after this, where distance and time have no hold over our loved ones.  And where we’ll all get together once more and forever.  Where I can tease John Wagner about the drool and the pink. (You had to be in the Baen bar at the time to get it!)  Where I can talk to Jerry about whatever interesting thought just crossed my mind.  Where Dan and I will go for ice cream with Alan.  And where, perhaps — if I’m very good — I can go for a walk on the beach with Dave and Wednesday.

Someday.

I’m not in a great hurry for it.  I’m not allowing that odd skeletal fellow to get too close, just yet.  But I can see how, someday, his approach might be welcome or at least not fought against, because he knows the way to where all my friends are.

And I must believe that land exists, that place where they all are and where we’ll have time — a long time — to be friends, together.

Because no sane creator would make something as complex as love (agape, not eros, in this case) only to have it vanish forever at the whims of time and health and capricious fate.

It must continue, somewhere.  Because it’s real, whatever else it is.

Somewhere the candle light and the tears must become golden light, by an endless ocean where there will be no more crying.

122 responses to “The Hope of Immortality

  1. Geoff Withnell

    I am reminded of a line from a Jefferson Starship song: “Tell me how, if you think you know how, people love if there’s no tomorrow, and still not cry when it’s time to go.” Somewhere, my Mom and Dad, who were married for 69 years, and boyfriend/girlfriend for 80 years, are walking together, holding hands and stopping occasionally to kiss. I don’t know what the next life looks like. But I have no doubt it exists.
    You are a worldbuilder, and i suspect, like Roger Zelazny’s Francis Sandow, that the worlds you created hang like jewels in the darkness of that straight gate.

  2. You have a rare talent for closing sentences that make one weep.

  3. I completely understand your feeling, Sarah. We lost my youngest sister to lung cancer in June. She had been a lung cancer survivor for over 6 years, and I was scheduled to accompany her to the Mayo Clinic for treatment for a persistent disabling cough that her local doctors couldn’t figure out. She was admitted to a hospital in northern VA to treat a general malaise and get her strong enough to fly to Minnesota, but became weaker and weaker. The family assembled in her hospital room (not all at once, but serially); Ruby and I drove the eight hours to VA and visited one last time. We went home a couple of days later.

    A day after that I got a text from a different sister saying, “You need to get back up here, now!” A panicked drive (it only took about 7 hours this time, as speed limits didn’t really mean anything) later, I reached her hospital room around 9:30 PM. Her other sisters and I were around her bed when she passed, at 6:22 the next morning.

    My father will be 95 in a couple of weeks. From family history we don’t expect him to go much beyond that, although we’d certainly be glad if he beat our expectations. I’m 67, and have never actually felt old (at least not internally). But time is calling out, gradually, increasingly, loudly. The aches and pains that we all get from overusing muscles that we don’t normally exercise no longer seem to go away; the eyesight is noticeably less sharp; understanding things said sometimes takes a couple of repetitions.

    I expect to have maybe 25 more years, 30 if I’m very lucky. It’s interesting in a way: as a young person or even a middle-aged person, you live your life looking forward, planning for the future, open-endedly. As you begin to realize that you may not live forever, you start to plan for the end game. Will my wife, my family, be financially secure when I’m no longer here? Will there be someone to take care of my wife when she’s aged, since I won’t be able to? Will my passing not put a burden on those I love? You find yourself hoping for, planning for, a graceful and dignified exit. That’s one of the reasons living wills and DNRs are fairly common these days, I think. It’s a person’s last chance of doing something good, and doing it well.

    And as you say, if you’re a person of faith (at least of the Christian faith, I don’t know the theologies of other beliefs) you hope and expect to be reunited with those gone on before, after you pass. But no matter what lies beyond, you want to do well by those you’re leaving behind, one last time.

  4. You’re only fiftysix – nowhere near time to go. I’m seventynine and have outlived all the contemporaries that I kept in touch with – my only living close family are my daughter, her husband and their son. But the only ones I stll weep for are the dear wife that I lost after over 50 years together and the father I never knew. He put his wife (with me inside her) on the last boat train out of Paris in 1940 but died as one of the earliest members of the French Resistance a few months later. But yes, I too cry for my lost dogs, and will be one of those who dreads either outliving them or having to watch while they go into that long sleep. Though I know I shall see them all again, wih the dogs playing at my wife’s feet in our garden.

  5. It has been said that we believe in an eternal afterlife because we believe ourselves fit for immortality. I incline to a different view: we believe in an afterlife because we believe in a God who loves us. We cannot believe such a God would be so cruel as to discard us after we’ve lived through our temporal lives. And indeed, that does seem to follow from the premise of a God who loves His creatures.

    So what remains is to establish the premise. (Not “prove” the premise; that’s beyond human ability.) The records we have of the deaths of civilizations premised on a malevolent God, who must be appeased with sacrifices, and the surging vitality of the civilizations premised on the loving God of the Gospels, whose Son said twice that “I want mercy and not sacrifice and who accepted death by torture for our sake, seem to do so adequately.

    We of the Christian Enlightenment have made our share of mistakes and bad decisions…yet we continue to learn and grow. Other cultures founded on a malevolent deity (e.g., Allah) persist only because, in one of our acts of lunacy, we’ve propped them up with our protection and wealth. We have time to unlearn that error.

    Will we be reunited with our beloved departed in the afterlife? Perhaps. But I expect it will be one of the lesser features of that realm. For the realm itself, and our admission to it, will constitute the long-awaited proof of the premise. And we might be surprised by some of the people who’ll be admitted there along with us.

  6. “I’ll simply say that yes, it could be an hallucination (I was near death at that moment) and maybe it was, but in my mind and heart I KNOW what I experienced.”

    Not that I’m a big fan of J.K Rowlings, but she did have a point.

    “Of course it is happening inside your head, Sarah, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

    We all go when it’s our time, and nobody knows the hour of our deaths, except Him. Me, I’m hoping that I can keep healthy enough to surf the medical longevity wave. Not a real realistic hope, since so many of us have had the same hope only to pass on anyway. But we are getting better at patching people up so they can enjoy life more, and longer, than we used to. And so far, even a terrible day above ground still beats the alternative.

  7. I miss Trouble, my cat i had to put to sleep last January, so much and tell her so when I think of her.

    now if you’ll excuse me, its dusty in here

  8. I decided a long time ago that I don’t know what’s going to happen. People die, is about all I can be 100% sure of. I’ve seen a couple of people who died, so that’s real. But beyond that, I don’t know.

    So, I get to decide for myself what I’m going to believe. Or have to, more like. And since I get to decide, I’ve chosen something I think is worthwhile and makes me feel better about it.

    What actually awaits, I guess we all will see. The last adventure, somebody called it. But until then, you’re alive. Enjoy!

  9. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Take Care.

  10. We now have two senior dogs (12 and almost 15 years), and the older one has had seizures from liver issues. She’s doing more-or-less all right, but it won’t be long. Isis and Ishtar long ago went to kitteh heaven, and Knight and Mary found that doggy yard with little critters to chase and grass to roll around in.

    Mom outlived two husbands (Dad had his last heart attack at age 53), all of her sibs-in-law and both of her younger sisters. She’s lived longer than any of us have expected, but she won’t last forever. Not sure of the heath status of Eldest brother (we’re not close), and Middle Brother has been living at the edge way too long.

    I’m starting to get back to normal levels of activity, and I’m asking Death to hold off a decade or three, but I think it’s above his pay grade; everything is up to the Boss. Beer in heaven? I’d love to reaquaint myself with it. Join me for a pint sometime, eh? That little tavern just southwest of the Pearly Gates. I’ll be there sooner or later. Bring your dogs, too. (Cats will come and go as they please…)

  11. Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

    The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

    If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

    George Graham Vest – c. 1855

  12. Amazing how long dust stays in the air around here after a windy day…

    Your friend, I think, was wrong about one thing. There are carbs in Heaven – but nobody breaks out in a horrible rash when they eat them. My future son in law can have a mug of hot chocolate, or a friend can have a Reese’s Cup, without a trip to the ER.

    And, yes, when you answer the knock on your door, it is always someone that you were just thinking about wanting to sit down with for a long lazy conversation over a cup of tea (or a tumbler of Bushmills, or a good beer).

    • It is not that there are no carbs in Heaven, but that there is no ice cream — there is only the idea of ice cream, the Platonic Ideal which we consume without absorbing as we’ve only the idea of bodies and no Time for digestion (and no need to excrete.)

      • We can hope for actual ice cream on the new earth, and a resurrected body would logically have no trouble with carbs.

        Anyhoo, Bl. Solanus Casey informed people (after his multiplication of the ice cream cones, up in Detroit) that celebrating with ice cream is pleasing to Jesus and Mary. So if Himself and His mom both agree on the freezer stockage, I’m pretty sure there will be ice cream.

  13. Reading this I realized how much smoke from the wildfires there is around here. Bothering my eyes, it is.

    Re pets: I got into a discussion once (I don’t think it was with a priest, but it was around the parish I went to at the time) with someone who insisted there’s nothing in the Bible about any other creatures in the afterlife, so there are no dogs in heaven.

    I am certain I was quoting someone when I told this person, somewhat forcefully, that if I get there and find out there are no dogs allowed past the pearly gates, they can just send me wherever the dogs go.

    • I would rather be a poop-scooper in Dog heaven than royalty in Heaven. I’ve said that as well.

    • there’s nothing in the Bible about any other creatures in the afterlife

      Which means there is nothing saying there are not other creatures in the afterlife. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as has been said in other circumstance.

      But if the best ever beagle companion of my childhood is not in Heaven, who will take me walkies, eh?

    • There may not be be anything explicitly in scripture about animals in the world to come. However, we do know that at creation G*d created all things including animals and declared that creation good. I can’t see Him leaving them out of the New Earth.

      I had a pastor that was fond of cats. He said scripture didn’t say anything about animals, but he hoped that he would meet his feline friends again. And he figured that in the new earth G*d would let the cats appear as they saw themselves. I like that theory and hope to be greeted by several tiger sized felines including a large orange tabby and one patterned like a holstein cow (he’ll be huge).

      • oh. Well, don’t ask me how, but Pixie will be lion-sized and have wings.

      • The scriptures may not mention animals that we know. But there are references to some very unusual things linked to God that would fit in with an alien creature right out of a sci-fi film.

        I’m inclined to think there’s more than just dead humans there.

      • I believe the same – wherever our critters went, when they pass on – I want to go where they did!

    • One preacher type got around that with, “If you want $PET there, $PET will be there. It’s Heaven.”

      And I recall the story of the fellow who died with his horse… and refused to go into the place claiming to be Heaven as the horse wouldn’t be let in. Thus did he avoid Hell.

      • Are you perhaps thinking of the Twilight Zone episode “The Hunt” which has a similar premise except a dog instead of a horse?

    • In my opinion, anyone who starts trying to put limits on what G-d can do or does… doesn’t really know as much as they think they do about G-d. I mean, come on, this is the deity who made the platypus, echidna, and armadillo. And people.

    • I utterly refuse to accept the possibility of any afterlife which does not include our beloved companion animals.

      I refer folk to the original Twilight Zone series, Season 3, Episode 19, The Hunt (available on Prime Video):
      https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B000I0DBEY/ref=stream_prime_hd_ep?autoplay=1&t=0

    • “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

      ― Will Rogers

    • Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;
      The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
      The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
      The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
      They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.

      However, we do not know what exactly this means. It may be a metaphorical expression of a peace that could not be expressed literally in terms we could understand.

      “Guesses, of course, only guesses. If they are not true, something better will be.” C.S. Lewis

  14. I’m one of those who find it hard to believe without seeing.

    I think that’s why your grandma visited.

    It’s both a comfort, and a rock in your shoe. You’re not going to forget, eh?

    • No. Well, maybe yes, but no.
      You see, I was in the hospital, and the doctors were flakey as heck to the point that Dan was standing by me to prevent them from doing something stupid (in this case? biopsy, which in the state I was in would have killed me.) He was consulting with my SIL by phone, and a few of the thing they wanted to do would have killed me.
      But our child-care (4 and 1) arrangements fell through, and he had to go home for two hours.
      In those two hours — it will tell you how far gone I was that this seemed perfectly normal — grandma came in and sat with me. She came in, felt my forehead as she used to do when I was little, and sat on the chair by the bed. I was safe, and I slept.
      When Dan came back and asked if I was okay I said “oh, yes. Grandma sat with me.” And he freaked.
      But she just sat with me. Just a few minutes before Dan came in, she adjusted my blankets, kissed my forehead and left.
      The weird thing through all this: grandma was very close to her mom, whom I never met. She died 8 years before I was born.
      When she came to visit, a woman was with her, and waited by the door, not coming in, just leaning on the wall. Like it was a long way, and she’d come with grandma, but didn’t want to disturb me by being a stranger at my bed side.
      When I described the woman to mom, she said it was my great grandmother.

      • …would have killed me.

        Fortunately for me my current doctor is Not Insanely Stupid. It was recently found I have a heart condition for which the usual first-line (even ‘just in case, we’ll see what happens’) treatment is a beta-blocker. BUT beta-blockers reduce pulse rate… and my resting pulse rate is… astonishingly low (the automatic equipment for blood pressure checks threw errors as a rate that low could NOT be right). So… no beta-blockers.

        I expect there will be LOTS more to this, but for now I’ve been told to reduce my tonnage, and reduce my coffee intake. Interestingly, it was “coffee” and NOT ‘caffeine’ and was even told “green tea is fine.”

        • Caffeine gets the attention. But both coffee and tea apparently have some rather interesting chemicals in them, in addition to most people’s favorite stimulant.

          • I can’t remember what the specific stuff in tea is, but it can actually sooth especially if you over-soak it. Thus having a cup of tea before bed.

            • There’s 3 in the xanthine family, caffeine, Theophylline and Theobromine. The latter two were used as long term Asthma treatment drugs (which is why I know they exist). Theophylline is the tea one (although the amounts are small and the caffeine dominates) . Used to make me jittery as heck and I’d skate towards panic attacks (as I was/am a heavy Caffeine user too mixing the two in largeish doses is BAD ). But you gotta breath. Luckily modern long term treatments are WAY better.

      • Sounds real enough to me. Mystical experiences, and I’d lump this one in that category, are uniquely subjective. Can’t be reproduced on demand, and hence, not subject to scientific experiments. But they contain too much truth, often not previously known to the recipient, to say they aren’t real.

      • I was doing fine until just now… damn all dust.

      • Sounds important to me.

        Thing is, you point out it could be a hallucination… but you can’t shake it, can you?

        Was good for you, because you needed protection– and now it’s good for you, because it’s a different kind of protection, a reminder. (At least two or three fold, even.)

        *sighs in Irish* Gotta love His sense of humor.

      • My special needs daughter described an older lady visiting her dreams (she was maybe 3). Perfect description of my wife’s grandmother, who passed before my daughter was born. We don’t even have any pictures hung of grandmother.
        The veil can be permeable when needed.

        • And it doesn’t always make sense.

          I went to boot for the Navy in August of ’01.

          First week of September or so, I sat up in bed in a dead panic– because the light coming through the windows was mid-afternoon. Then I noticed the walls were sort of yellowish white, and there were dudes standing at the end of the bunks. And someone was walking down the center of the berthing. Then I noticed they were NOT wearing normal clothes, they looked…like the pictures in my uncle’s Navy pictures, but not quite.
          About that time, the night guard grabbed my arm, because I was sitting upright in bed staring at the air.

          Turns out the outfits were what guys who’d been in that barracks in the first few years after it was built would’ve been wearing when they did bunk inspections.

          If it’d been a few weeks later, I would figure it was just an obvious reaction…but I wrote about it to my folks before 9/11 happened.

          I usually forget what dreams looked like, too, but I can see this.

          Heck if I know what it means. I know what I want it to mean– that they were coming on duty, because we’d need them– but I don’t know what it actually means.

          Probably that I have an over-active imagination.

  15. When the last (sigh) cat went we knew there would be no other. It was too hard to do the right thing by him, and we knew that by the time a fresher feline was done we’d likely not be able to do the necessary. Worse, we are of a vintage that the real possibility exists that another housemate might well out live us. It would depress me had not my Eastern European ancestors already depressed me.

    Come the resurrection I do not know what awaits, my intellect is arrogant but not so boldly so as to imagine it can see over that horizon. I expect there will be no Time, nor Space to limit our hearts, but I care not, as my caring affects not one whit of what I’ll discover.

    There will be time to find out, probably before I am fully prepared to travel there.

    • Pet directives. Even permanent foster care …

      Baring that, at least locally, there is “Loved again Pets.” These are pets who have outlived their first caregivers.

      • Caregiver? For pets? I was rather under the impression I was a care recipient. I’ve certainly never had a cat that seemed to believe I was competent to catch my own mice.

        I prefer to think of myself as having run a pet escort service.

        • Carrington Dixon

          Opposable thumb on demand …

          • Opener of cans and doors, thrower of tennis balls, holder of the other end of the leash on walks…

            • I want a dog for walking companion. I’m convinced when I have one he’ll know he’s taking ME for walks.

              • It sure is easier to keep up a walking routine when you know you are letting your dog down when you skip one.

                • Yes. To it all …

                  “Opposable thumb on demand …”
                  “Opener of cans and doors, thrower of tennis balls, holder of the other end of the leash on walks…”
                  “I’m convinced when I have one he’ll know he’s taking ME for walks.”
                  “It sure is easier to keep up a walking routine when you know you are letting your dog down when you skip one.”

                  Also true. Our cats don’t think we are remotely competent. I know the dog doesn’t either. She forces me into the kitchen to eat. She pesters until we go play and go for walks.

                  • Ninja, the cat who talked to me, was very smart. I caught him so many times on his hind paws, front paws wrapped around the door knob, sure there was a trick to opening the door to mystery.

                    He knew I was the filler of the food dish. He would ask “Now?” I would tell him I would feed him when I got back. When he heard my car, he would rush to the back bedroom to tell the other cat that the provider of food was home.

                    Before he admitted he understood English, he had a phrase in cat he would say: “you are to follow me into the living room, I will jump up on the back of the couch, and you are to pet me in exactly the right way.” He was a person who knew how life was to be lived.

              • My dog is the best walking companion.

  16. I have the belief that Otto is somewhere else building another life for us. It is this hope that helps me to survive day to day in this world. As for seeing the dead, I have seen Otto and some of my pets in dreams. With Otto I have seem him more recently when I am near a health crisis. Since dreams and visions come through my father’s side of the family, I am not the only one who has the “hallucinations.” 🙂 I like logic, but there is some things out there that we have no experience of… or ability to explain.

  17. Rick Locke, dammit. I never met him but I cried, and I never do.

  18. I will simply note that I am as old as my mother was when she had the stroke that put her in a nursing home for the rest of her life and just ten years shy of when she finally passed.

  19. I am older than my dad when he passed & now married longer than they were…and I realize that my mom was younger than I when he passed & she has almost been a widow longer than she was a wife. Very startling to think. We lost our #2 son 2 yrs ago & I thought my heart would break. It was hard to breathe. Pretty much my only solace in it was I Thess 4:13-18. I have every confidence that we will see him again & he will be whole & healthy. And he will see his beloved wife again & have all eternity as their time was too short. And I’ll see all the family members. i like to think of them fishing & sitting with a drink & talking. Him getting to know his grandfathers….and that sustains me. And we’ll have eternity to be together & love & fellowship together & praise God. But we’ll be together.

  20. It wasn’t just you Mama Taz. Basset stopped talking to EVERYONE. He didn’t wanna be a burden was part of it, the other was he was stubborn to the point of STUPID about not asking for or accepting help. Even when it was clear to everyone and their brother’s cousin’s, daughters aunt…that he NEEDED it. He wouldn’t let Sylvia ask either. Everyone knew I talked with Syl though so if people wanted to know what was going on with the flop eared, curmudgeon; they asked ME. If you look up stubborn ass in the dictionary there is probably John’s picture there. News of his passing on Sunday hit me like a fucking truck. I expect he probably made a few pithy comments in passing, while walking thru the gate. “Make sure that flea bitten wolf gets dipped, he probably needs it”, among them I expect.

  21. Our lives are always accompanied by sorrow and death, but do not have to be defined by them. Sorrow and death are the consequences of sin, but Christ conquered sin and death. Moreover, He knows our sorrow and fear and longing because He experienced sorrow and fear and longing.

    God gave us the gifts of pain, sorrow, and fear. Every pain, no matter how minor, tells us that something has harmed us. Every sorrow tells us we have lost something. Every fear that we are in danger. Each of these points beyond the immediate to the eternal: we have been harmed, grievously and mortally, by sin; we have lost something most precious–our relationship with God; and we are in eternal danger. To be human is to sin. To sin is to have pain and loss. To die in sin is to suffer the eternal wrath of God, which is the second death. Death is separation. When loved ones die we are separated from them. We look for them and they are not there. We listen for them but only have memories and memories fade as we age because that too is part of death. The second death is far worse because in it we are separated from the love of God…forever. It is God’s love that gives us the joys, beauty, and enrapturing goodness of life. To be separated from Him ought to cause shuddering deep in our souls. There is no companionship in Hades, only darkness, loneliness, sorrow, and…eternal separation.

    I too am well acquainted with loss. My father died when I was five, my mother before my 14th birthday. Death often seems to have come in frenzied groups of loved ones and friends. Fifteen years ago it sat on my chest, defying several rounds of antibiotics…as of this week it seems to be back there again. Yet I do not fear.

    I do not fear because Christ redeemed me. We are so used to hearing the gospel message in America that we have become inoculated to it but it sings sweetly to me. Jesus Christ saved me. He rescued me from sin and death. He walks with me in every joy and every sorrow. Nary a day goes by that I am not amazed at why He saved me. Left to myself I am a jerk: arrogant, cynical, hateful, and self-absorbed. I would never have chosen Him, but He chose me because He chose to love me. It passes my understanding and yet I know it in my heart and soul and mind because since then He is my greatest love.

    We see this increasing darkness in our land. Madness and hatred strut and rage across the country like a mad herd of musting elephants. Such things tempt us to despair, to lay down and die whimpering, or to vainly charge the herd knowing death is certain. Outside of Christ, these are and will be the only choices.

    Do you want light? Choose Christ. Do you want to overcome the death and madness that threatens our land? Choose Christ. Lay down your vanity and self-importance. Offer up everything you are, have, and will ever be. Acknowledge and repent of your sin and rebellion toward the great God of Love who created you and surrender yourself to His grace and mercy which is found in His Son. Choose Christ.

    And cry the battle cry of the redeemed:
    “Oh death, where is your victory? Grave, where is your sting?”

  22. Then there are pets. No, it’s not a different order. Well, it is, but some of them have kept me sane and loved more than humans. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    While this might not explain it for you, there have been times when people have been such the primary problem that I could not trust expressions of love from them. However, I have never been unable to trust my cats. It wasn’t unconditional love or judgment free, it never is with a cat, but it was always something I could trust.

    So, yeah, Blackie, Gandalf, Artemis, Quilt, Pisachio, Simba, and one day Sable and probably George, will be missed than many people in my life. Because when I had no one else to trust, I had them.

  23. In some ways, Death is an old, familiar friend. As a hospital chaplain, I’ve walked beside many families as their loved ones have gone through that door, some easier than others. For me, though, the best description of death is in the last chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. “The dream has ended, it is morning. The term has ended, the Holidays have begin.”

  24. It is my strong impression that if dogs and cats aren’t allowed into Heaven, company there will be VERY thin.

    See: ‘Moses’ by Walter D. Edmonds.

    My mother’s passing was softened by her firm conviction that the night before, Big John (Father’s first Bulldog) had come to see her in her hospital bed.

    Father had been telling me for about fifteen years that he did not expect to live out the decade, and while we had grown closer in those years, I had gotten over the urge to shake him and yell, ‘You can’t die, I’m not done with you!’. Mother went first, and while his faith would nit allow him to turn his face to the wall, he wasn’t happy.

    I expect Mother and Big John came to get him.

    • “Mother went first, and while his faith would nit allow him to turn his face to the wall, he wasn’t happy.”

      Number of of examples I’ve witnessed.

      FIL passed. MIL’s faith wouldn’t allow direct suicide, but she more or less managed it anyway. Took her 3 years. In the end, in theory, family could have sued the unintended helpers. She was in assisted living, until her daughter could get moved after a transfer out of town. She called for help one morning, multiple times, when it was busy, no one available, no one came soon enough. To a person it was “Winifred again. She can wait.” Someone called wolf one too many times. She was 72.

      Maternal grandparents died 14 days apart. Grandpa first. Then Grandma. As we were told later, the collapse that put both of them in the hospital was grandma’s heart. They ended up in the same nursing home with grandpa on the hospice side, where he died 10 days later. Two weeks later was his memorial, which grandma planned and supervised. 2 AM, the morning after grandpa’s funeral, her congestive heart failure won. She’d essentially been in congestive heart failure since the original call when they’d found her collapsed on the kitchen floor. She staved of death to have things done her way. No one was surprised. She could out stubborn a mule. FWIW. They were in their ’90s.

      Grandma Anne, survived her husband by 32 years; a widow longer than they were married. She was left with 4 children still at home, ages 9 to 16; two older were married with children of their own. She did not drive (not that her older kids and their spouses didn’t try to teach her …). Had not worked outside the home since before they’d been married.

      My mom. Dad’s been gone 11 years this spring (died less than 3 years after mom’s folks). But she figures she was lucky that they had an extra 23 years after the initial stroke. She is busy. Between bridge, all the activities that comes with all the Shriner groups for different aliments, and the hospital supports. Every time we turn around she is busy going off somewhere, often teamed up with others on companion tickets and shared facilities.

      We figure I will survive between the two of us. I plan to be like both grandmas & mom. Only I’m planning on 100+.

      • All my childhood, my folks followed the same pattern. Father was a scholar by trade, and so much of the time when it looked like he wasn’t doing much he was actually working. Mother, being scholarly also, understood this, and if they were about to go do something together, she would wait until he either came on his own, or she knew (from long experience) that he was spinning his wheels, whereupon she would go and get him.

        In the two or so years after she passed, he and I talked a good deal, and I think when he had said everything he needed to, she came and got him. He told me shortly before he passed that I reminded him of his Father, which other than the love of my Lady is the greatest compliment I can conceive of receiving.

        I have business here, but when it’s Time I hope to see them (and all the Johns, from Big John to the last).

  25. My twins sister and I turned 83 last Saturday. It’s always a surprise to see how long you’ve lived. We both have husbands alive and fairly well, and 61 years married. Look in the mirrors and there are those old ladies, but in our minds we are still 35 and able to do anything. (Many of those anythings we haven’t been able to do for the past 5-10 years.) And isn’t that a blessed life?

    I have had diabetes since I was about 40, and many, many trips to the ER from 60 on. Yet I consider myself healthy and doing well for a person my age. And like you, I know death is around the bend; which bend though, is the question. I feel a need to be here to take care of my husband, he feels the same need towards me.

    I look forward to seeing my parents, my older brother, my grandparents, and many others who have gone before. Singing the old song of “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.!” But I’m still here, there is still a place for me and I really have no plans to leave anytime soon. Just because I’m ready, doesn’t mean “I’m ready.”

  26. I do not welcome death. Not yet, and not soon, by Himself’s good will and grace. But the thought of eternity while all around me people come and go in their own time would be a torturous existence. One day I will meet my end. In that, there is hope, because limited though this life is, it is precious.

    My entire childhood, we went to funerals. Every month until I was six, then it slowed down a bit. Big extended family. Chickens grew and got et, as did hogs, and the cattle every so often. As I grew up, there were dead infants (illness, things that might’ve been caught and fixed today), a few, cousins. A young man I grew up with, suicide. Friend, car accident, hit by a drunk (not a good death, but we don’t get to choose our end we who don’t believe our lives are our own to take). Pets, all the kitcats, one after the other.

    Every end begins a new chapter. For us the living, it is a life without that piece of ourselves that lived in another person. It amputates a bit of the soul. That’s the price of love, loss. If we are aware, we give it willingly. I’d not give up a single one for fear of the grief that is sure to follow. It is not pleasant, but I am a better man for knowing, and being known by, each and every one of them.

    The end, as I see it, well. I never expected to make it to twenty. Odds were about even, there. As best as I can, though, I look at it like my life is a room, a workshop. I’d like to leave it tidy. All the tools racked and labeled sensibly. Dust swept up. Tables cleaned and wood polshed. Stools waiting to be sat on, and everything in good working order. It isn’t for me, to come back another day. It’s for whoever comes next, for the story that they will tell, the job that they will do, and the destingy that they will achieve. Perhaps their path will be a little smoother, for a little bit. Maybe it’ll brighten their day.

    Not today, though. At least not yet, I think. But someday.

    The library, at least, well. If they’re a reader, I suspect they will be pleased. *grin*

  27. I know with certainty that Heaven is real. It will be a place of infinite JOY. Infinite LOVE. Infinite PEACE. I know and trust the One who promises, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

    The older I get the more dead people I know. This includes some animals. My cat Ninja will be there to great me, in addition to the crowd of humans.

    When one of our beloved short lived friends died, I wrote a poem: “Goodbye Beloved”. It ends:
    “Yet deep in my soul I know
    we will meet again
    where pain does cease and Joy abounds.
    Where tears are washed away.

    Then such bliss
    to know you forever.
    Till then,
    goodbye beloved.”

  28. Heaven is a real place. I know this. I just do.

  29. I’m an agnostic; there is no one faith that seems right, though some are better than others. But I see too much Art in the World to think there is no Artist. And for death to be an ending for all souls seems like bad Art.

  30. I lost both parents the same day. Mom to cancer, Dad to a heart attack an hour later. Not a good time, especially since my mother was 59.

    WRT pets, this is one reason I don’t have a dog. They’re a tragedy on four legs. Cats last longer. Birds? Right now, I have two parrots…one inherited from my parents, the other passed to me from my sister. They’re long-lived beasts…the Macaw my sister inherited may well outlive her.

  31. I like this take on the question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u24h4aEw2eI The part about not growing numb and forgetting…

  32. Never doubt that Love k is real. It is the realest thing in the universe.

  33. My maternal grandmother is 96 and I hope she’ll beat her father, who died aged 102. I know Grandpa will come to get her when it is her time.

  34. A recent conversation I had with my son was that he has genes from both sides that dictate longevity; my maternal grandmother was 90 when she passed away from an accident (slipped on the bathroom floor) and his paternal great-grandmother is still around, well past 90 herself.

    Mind, he is more aware of time and death than his peers, thanks to unfortunate experience. But I hope that when we, his parents, pass, I hope that he can say that we lived long and well; with great-grandchildren of our own.

    • Paternal grandmother lived to see great-grandchildren born and play with them, if not see them raised to adulthood. Some of the great-grands were older than the grandchildren …. kind of what happens when your oldest is 18 years older than your youngest.

      My maternal grandparents not only lived to welcome great-grandchildren, they lived to see most grow to teens, and the oldest to marry … their first great-great-grandchild was born a few months before they passed away. Didn’t get to hold the baby, but they got pictures.

  35. If you have never heard this song or seen this video, you probably should. Everything you have expressed so well in this post only in country music.

    ….”If heaven was a town, it would be my town
    On a summer day in nineteen eighty-five.
    When everything I wanted
    was out there waiting,
    And everyone I loved was still alive.

  36. Why do I find your best blog entries after everybody else does? Either ahead of the curve or behind it; that’s me. I do want to tell everyone here (if they come back) that I’ve greatly enjoyed their responses.

    And you, m’lady, nailed it, like you so often do.

    I was raised Catholic, and eventually rebelled against the notion of Hell, especially for the trivial transgressions we were constantly warned against. (“Impure thoughts,” egad. Like thirteen-year-olds have any control over those.) Purgatory, on the other hand, intrigued me. What if it’s not just temporary Hell? What if it’s more like a hospital? I’ve lived what I consider a charmed life, and now, at 67, I realize I’ve picked up a certain amount of scar tissue along the way. What happens to all that? Does God have a way to heal the awfulness we end up dragging behind us all our lives? Faith means that God exists, and Hope means trusting God to know what’s busted and how to fix it. I’ve had faith all my life. Hope came around a little more slowly, but I aged into it. Hope for me eventually became radical hope, trusting that all persons, dogs, cats, hamsters and in some ineffable form the whole big shebang of creation will be present in the new Heaven and new Earth that we were promised in Revelation 21.

    As for that scar tissue: Writing can very healing if you know how to write from the heart. Losing my parents was very hard on me. I healed some of the ache by writing a happy ending for them. It helped me get some closure, and put into play some of my thoughts about what purgatory is really for. (I put a PDF of it online as an example of that sort of healing by writing. I won’t post a link here, but those interested can search for Jeff Duntemann Homecoming and find it.) When I lost my poor little QBit a month ago, I wrote a scene where he found my father and mother and joined their heavenly family. That helped.

    I could have thirty years left. (My great-grandmother Martha lived to 96.) I could die tonight. I won’t say I’m good with that, but I do accept it–and there are those strange moments sometimes when I can hardly bear the wait to find out where radical Hope will finally lead me.

    • Your understanding of purgatory now matches up with the binding Catholic teaching.

      (The incredibly bad catechists that the Catholic church ends up with just boggle my mind; for example, HAVING impure thoughts wasn’t the issue, ENTERTAINING them was– a matter of treating people like things, as Sir Terry put it.)

      I’m glad you’ve found healing.

      • I wish I could be sure of that. My mother lived for 22 years after my father died horribly, and she never got over the depression that his illness and death caused her. Purgatory, if it’s about healing sin, must also heal the pain of people who did their best (as my mother did in nursing my father through his illness) and came out of life on Earth wounded and bleeding their humanity into the void. God must be capable of healing that wound. I think he empowered my father to heal her when her time came, as I said in the story. Their love for each other affected me deeply, and I credit that love (in part) for the 50 years I’ve spent with my Carol.

        I can’t imagine God punishing a boy for wanting to love a girl fully and physically–especially when no one warned the boy about the mental/emotional chaos that comes with puberty. I hope the Church does a better job now than they did sixty years ago.

        • No. The church does worse now.

          • Thanks to Catholic Answers and related groups, the folks who are trying to fix it have resources. And we know there’s a problem.

            (Even if I am SCREAMING at how vapid the ‘Life and Faith’ series from Ignatius Press is. It’s aimed at 2nd graders, my 4 year old is following with ease. Heck, the TWO YEAR OLD appears to be getting it.)

        • I know the metaphors in the Bible talk about it as a purification– so you go in one side with the good things, your mother’s love for your dad (and you, and…), all the other wonderful things. And then helped her get rid of the bad.

          The Church is still just a bunch of people; parents are the first teachers, and when they’ve been mis-taught….well, there’s a reason that our Mary here talks about vincible and invincible ignorance, and I figure there’s a REASON that Jesus made the point about millstones.

          You go to hell because you choose to be away from good, ultimately reflections of Himself*; you can’t do that on accident.

          Some of us are pretty sure we’re gonna need a LOT of repair work, though; I wonder what my temper will turn into, if I get to be purified.

          *which is why the show/story someone mentioned where they forego “heaven” to be loyal to their pet works– loyalty, and love, and courage, to refuse a wrong even in the face of authority and ultimate loss…wow.

          • That story was The Twilight Zone episode 84, “The Hunt.” My mother hated the show and I only saw it occasionally. (I was 9 at the time.) So I missed that one. There’s a good writeup on Wikipedia.

            • The Hunt is also available on Amazon Instant Video, free for Prime members. I put a link elsewhere here.

            • *dryly* Your mom had good taste.

            • I am very much on the same page as you, Jeff, regarding Hell. I’m thinking it’s something like The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis—people are stuck there as long as they refuse to look up and see that there is a way out instead of focusing on treating the other denizens selfishly and evilly. I believe that since Scriptures are clear that it is G-d’s will that all be saved, that’s going to happen in some way, through eternity. Also, I fervently pray that Jesus has opened the way and that we will have an opportunity after death to accept Him, when we can see clearly and not through this dark mirror.
              I’ve had what I suspect are two “true” dreams about evil and the afterlife; this is when I was in my twenties and not religious and certainly not schooled in theology. One dream was about Heaven: I was in a beautiful room, sort of like a ballroom, filled with tables and feasting and people and light. Imagine the best party you’ve even been too, full of fascinating lovely people, and the most effervescent of happy feelings—the party you never wanted to end. In the dream I noticed a staircase leading down at the far end of the ballroom, and I went exploring. It led to a darkened lounge, also lovely, full of soft purple neon and happy people. I was given to understand that there are different levels of Heaven and that people would gravitate to the one that felt the most comfortable. Now, the dream seems to jibe with Jesus talking about heavenly banquets and joyous wedding feasts and also with his reference to “many mansions” in his Father’s house.

          • My mother was a good woman who did not believe in her own goodness. She loved deeply and generously, and yet told me more than once that she feared being sent to Hell for her little failures–which, when she admitted them, were either trivial lapses or nonsense drummed into her head by her own parents and the Triumphal Catholic Church of her youth. This is supposedly the sin of scruples. Yet how can wanting to be better than you are ever be a sin?

            My sin is defying authority. I’m hoping I won’t need it anymore after I move to the next life.

            • I’m reminded of Fulton Sheen’s line about hearing confession from nuns– “it’s like being stoned to death with popcorn.”

              Scrupulosity is a sin like any other–a good thing that’s out of balance.

              My sin is probably lack of moderation.

            • Jeff, you know in heaven, when you’re throwing one of your epic parties for your friends, you and I will laugh over our fears, right?
              It just came to me as a flash.

            • My sin is defying authority.

              I can honestly say I have never defied Legitimate Authority.

              I will confess to sometimes questioning the legitimacy of more than a few self-proclaimed authorities.

              As to how “wanting to be better than you” can ever be a sin … you had only needed to ask:

              [W]hen it comes to self-scrutiny and confessing sins, they unconsciously hide the very sins they try to confess. And there you have it: scruples. You’re overly concerned about things that might be sins in order to hide the real sin of your secret anger at God.
              http://chastitysf.com/q_scruples.htm

              Thus it is clear you’ve misunderstood (misinterpreted, misrepresented?) the Sin of Scrupulosity. Anybody who’s been in a long-term relationship understands the psychology of arguing over minor nits to avoid the elephant in the room. And, of course, the other matter depends on what you are doing to be better, don’t it?

    • I think hell exists, but as a Greek Orthodox put it “the doors of hell are locked from the inside.”

      • I am sure Hell exists, but doubt my qualifications to know who is in there, for what reason, or for how long. But my Faith advises me that Salvation was theirs for the (sincere) asking.

      • I have long been of the opinion that if there is 1) a place of divine punishment and 2) “justice” is even a small part of it (let alone “mercy” and “love”), then that place of divine punishment must eventually be empty. Any wrongs people have done in their life must eventually be fully and completely paid for and on the “locked from the inside” bit, provided the souls of people can still learn after death, then there must come a time when everyone within has had enough.

        As for “eternal punishment”, the religion I grew up in had an answer to that: one of God’s names is “Eternal” and so “Eternal Punishment” is “God’s punishment” whether it lasts for an instant or an eon.

        • It’s good to know I’m not alone. This is mostly my own position, though I’ve gone well beyond it into gonzo optimist/universalist territory. If even one creature remains in Hell eternally, God loses. Does God lose? No. That’s like dividing by zero; it’s meaningless. And slimeball though he could be at times, Bertrand Russell asked a very pertinent question: How is infinite punishment for finite transgression just? Well, it’s not.

          As for the gates of Hell being locked on the inside, well yeah: What created being has a will stronger than God’s? If God wants us to come home, all of us–even the worst of us–will eventually cave. For some it’ll take awhile, but God is patient.

          No matter how strong evil is, ultimately it cannot stand against an all-powerful and all-good God.

          • That’s where the logic that hell isn’t punishment, it’s a choice, comes from.

            All you have to do to get out is want to be with God– but you have to really want it.

            (Note: You’ll be happier if you do, truly happier, so the following examples are very weaksauce.)

            Like all I have to do to have a better social life, face to face, is put the kids in school and go out to events, and socialize.

            Or how one can be immortal, you simply need to not die….

          • Hell, like Heaven, exists outside of the Material World and thus is outside of Time: Eternity is not Forever, it is all in the moment.

            And as your term is only limited by your refusal to accept Salvation, the key is in the cell door and the damned have only to turn it.

            But, as the Man said: Some prefer to Rule in Hell than Serve in Heaven.

  37. There is, so far as is known, in this world but a single form of immortality: to live on in the memories of the human race. Homer, with his bloomin’ lyre, Caesar, whi came, saw and conquered, Temujiin, the Genghis Khan whose hordes rode the Earth and became the stuff of nightmares, William Shakespeare — all live on in human memory and seem likely to remain immortal so long as human mind recalls.

    Thus it seems fitting that a man known for generations as America’s favorite comic, Bob Hope, should have as his theme song “Thanks for the Memories.”