Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Meditation on Immortality, A Version for Mom

My Mom is gone, at least the version of my Mom that we knew and loved. While her body lives and a life she just can’t seem to get a firm grasp on now transpires in the back yard of my office of all places, the Mom of my memories seems to have died, at least in spirit, when she could no longer be safe in her apartment 2 years ago. There’s life here, for sure, but most days it seems more like survival. As if the final tomorrow is simply defeated one more time each day that a tomorrow arrives.

Like my Mom it turns out that I will also be dying tomorrow; you will too. Again, like my Mom, and my Dad before her, we will probably just not die all the way all at once. This has prompted quite a lot of thought about death and dying, but more thought frankly about living. What part of living constitutes being more than just alive? What, and how much of “what” is necessary in a day to qualify as living. And as with my meditations over my Dad’s long, slow departure, is there such a thing as immortality?

My memory is a bit hazy on when exactly Mom started to slip. She’s been here in Cleveland for about 4 months now. A recent viral infection seems to have brought about another pretty big step down, especially since she insists on taking her oxygen tube off (which drops her O2 levels frighteningly low). When in town, which is most of the time, one of us typically drops in for at least an hour each day. While not a huge amount of time, this is dramatically more company than Mom had in the assisted care facility in Rhode Island. Of late she has spent more time in the “company” of Dad and old friends. Outreach from her oldest friends, be it a card or the odd phone call she manages to answer, seems to bring her the same kind of comfort Dad got from his friends’ visits once upon a time.

While immersed in this line of thought, so similar to when I was thus engaged with Dad, I returned to a very famous poem by Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Graveyard.” We are each but mortals. Billionaire or barkeep, the vessels of our voyage will all come to rest as deeply, as empty. Born low or high we shall all be bourn aloft or below, our sails forever furled. Shod in buckles and bows, or like my Mother, in the blemished “seconds” bought at the local discounter Ann & Hope to save money she no longer needed to save, each will enter and exit barefoot.

Not one of us will be spared.

And what of immortality? There exists a path, at least of a sort. However shod, however adorned our vessel, the course of our travels is forever marked by their intersection with that of our fellow wayfarers. The power and character of that immortality depends on the depth and character of those encounters. That my Dad was not only in mind but also of a calmer mind knowing that his memory lived bares this out. As my Mom’s memory fades will she, like Dad, be of a calmer mind knowing that she, too, will be remembered?

Are you familiar with the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead? A nice introduction is the Disney movie “Coco”. Lovely story. Typically cool animation. Anyway, no one is truly dead if there is still a memory that they lived. As long as someone remembers you, you live forever. Who will remember you? How will you be remembered? As your vessel slows, becalmed in an ever shallower breeze, will you be accompanied? Have your travels brought other vessels closer, tenders still knotted? How large was your fleet? At the end will your vessel or your voyage be the memory? Your shoes or your footprints? Again, Thomas Gray:

“Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.”

Out of view yet not out of mind, the Dad who left us in 2015 lives on through his connections. The Mom who left Rhode Island has connections. Family and friends who will remember her. Who she is now is tempered by the memory of who she was to all of us and them. A family’s memory is powerful, but its reach is limited, doomed to dim in the shadows of yesteryear cast on the lights of today. There is something about a friendship, though. The reach of friendship seems so much larger. Longer. Brighter, even. The memories contained within a long friendship seem to be inoculated against whatever disease may suppress the present.

Whatever immortality we may have lies not so much in ourselves but in those memories and the friendships that carry them. A typical New Year’s resolution revolves around the things one might do to lengthen your voyage. I imagine that I will make at least a few very concrete efforts toward that, as it seems I do every year. However, this year I think I will also consider immortality, making a conscious effort to concentrate on the other vessels in the fleet that are accompanying mine on our journeys together.

My single New Year’s resolution is to follow the example set by my parents, my in-laws, and those who remember them, to deepen the ties of the friendships that they may carry memory of my voyage, long after my vessel has reached its final shore.

I’ll see you next year…

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