Almost Heaven

Rich & Mitzy 2016

[My dad & mom in 2016]

On Saturday May 26, at about 7:45 a.m., my father Rich Johnson breathed his last breath. I was sitting beside him with my mother, and it happened very gently and quietly. My sister Julie and brother Tim had just left the room, after playing a song for my mom. Tears sprang to my chest in a sob, but they were not tears of sadness. Rather they were a spilling over of love, the primal love I feel for my dad, and the overflowing love of my family that filled his room during the preceding days as we gathered.

I can barely describe what that week was like. I had arrived in West Virginia on Monday evening, and met my sister Julie and my mom at the nursing home. Others continued to arrive through the next days. We gathered in Dad’s room–they had moved him to a private room. Dad was mostly sleeping, but would wake sometimes, not talking, but aware of us. We gave each of us time alone with Dad as we needed it, but mostly we were together, sometimes all of us, sometimes various combinations of us, and one or two people would stay the night each night. We kept in touch with our siblings who were not able to travel to be with us through texts and phone calls.

Mostly, I remember the music–so much music. At first we played CD’s he had in his room, but then folks started playing songs on their phones–country songs, God songs, sad songs, songs of love. Then my brother brought in a guitar and we started singing songs. We have such a musical family! In between, we’d remember jokes my dad would tell, and how sometimes he’d start laughing so hard that he couldn’t get to the punchline. And we’d be laughing too. For example, my dad once talked about starting a nursing home in West Virginia. He would name it “Almost Heaven.” (And we sang that John Denver song too.) We filled his room with music and laughter and tears and grace.

Raccoon – CloserOutside his window was a bird feeder (that was true of all the windows at his nursing home) and sometimes the birds would sing too. Then in the evening, a little raccoon would come to the window, totally fearless, to get his dinner at the bird feeder, and bring us more laughs. My nephew named him (or her) Bandit.

I came home on Sunday the 27th, still overflowing with tears of love. I feel grateful that my dad had a long life–87 years–a good life, and a good death, surrounded by love. I feel grateful for my family. We live far apart from each other, from Maine to Montana, from Michigan to Texas, and we have very diverse viewpoints and perspectives on the world. But we make music and laugh and love so beautifully. These days were like being in ceremony, in the presence of the holy, we were touching mystery. Maybe our time together was a last blessing from our dad, who gave us so many blessings during our lives. Or maybe the blessings just continue.

Johnson family 2013

[Johnson parents and siblings in 2013]

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23 thoughts on “Almost Heaven

  1. I’m so glad you could be with your Dad and family at his passing. Sounds like a lovely transition. Beautiful blog. Blessings to you and your family.

  2. On the way back to WV, I was looking at clouds, thinking about how a friend told me in the 2 weeks after her mom passed, she seemed to be helping them and giving little signs of her love. I didn’t think I wanted to ask for a sign but it sure would feel good because I was pretty much a basket case since the afternoon. Suddenly it started raining on just our car. I know that because another car went by us and it had no raindrops on its windows. Now, after a few minutes, it did start to rain on the other cars, but then it stopped again. I told Julie that it has rained on all my significant events, but I didn’t know if Dad knew that. She said, well now he knows everything, (then a pause) for real.

  3. Your words of love touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Tears of peace. Tears of sharing. Thank you. May 26th was my birthday. Somehow, reading of the love shared by all of you and the peaceful passing of your dad on that day, made me feel more grateful than I already felt; that day became more special. What better day than a day when so much love and caring abounded. Your dad and you and all of your family and his loved ones are in my prayers and thoughts. May he rest in peace.

  4. Dear Myke,
    What a blessing to be with your dad when he died. It is such a powerful and mysterious transition to experience, which you described so beautifully in Almost Heaven. Thank you for letting us read your words
    and thereby share your thoughts.
    With love and comfort,
    Kathie

  5. Dear Myke,
    It is a blessing that you could be with your father and share this time with your family.
    Sending my love, Liz

  6. Myke,

    I’m so very sorry to learn that your dad has passed on. But oh, what a beautiful and touching chronicle of family love and of your father’s transition to the other side. His death was as all deaths should be: peaceful, surrounded by love, and music. My prayers are with you and yours.

    I send you all my love as does Ali, from Heaven.

    Marie

  7. Dear Rev. Myke,
    My heart goes out to you on losing your father. I’m sure you’re very sad, but it must be some consolation that you were able to be there with him and so many members of your family. The photos are wonderful and I’ve enjoyed looking at them and reading your account of your experience in WVA.
    Warmly, Sara Read

  8. Beautiful, Myke. I’m so glad that this part of your journey through grief was as loving and healing as possible. I hope that makes the entire way a little easier for you. Your dad and your whole family sound very special. Lots of love.

  9. Pingback: Fathers | Finding Our Way Home

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