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Remembering Ilona: Life Lessons Learned

A few weeks ago a very dear woman whom I was privileged to know passed away. Her death was sudden, within a month of being diagnosed with malignant melanoma she was gone. In the last weeks, she tended to the garden of her life with the support of her dear friends and family making intentional decisions about how she wanted to die. This was only natural for someone who lived her life so consciously, with such thought and care given to the diverse relationships she had cultivated. Ilona quilted her life together out of love and friendships, and her many interests were all, in some way or another, interconnected by a theme of generosity, service, and making the world a better place.

The transition time between spending her last days in her body, and the five days prior to being cremated were filled with the memories from so many people who’s lives were touched by knowing Ilona. Because the story line unfolded so rapidly, many of us were only caught up to speed after her breathing stopped. Nevertheless, the stories about Ilona and the individual experiences we each had with her were knitted together in a collective space, making her transition meaningful and rich for those of us who knew and loved her.

On the night of her cremation there was an abundant full moon, and there she was in my dream with her infectious smile, swimming and diving in the nighttime sky, dancing with the starry constellations, her dimples dazzling like stars. She has come to me many times since that evening, and I have no doubt she will continue to appear in my life as the friend she was to me for so many years. She now holds a new meaning and additional purpose for me – she is yet another reminder of what it means to live fully and embrace the temporal life we take for granted all too easily.

Ilona is not the first friend to transition to the after life, yet I am always profoundly touched by these moments when the simplicity of life is boiled down. We are all in the process of dying, yet for most people it is not top of mind, or even on the radar. Instead we tend to slip into an easy forgetfulness that means we get sidetracked with all kind of mundane things and lose track of why we are here in our body on this earth. Most people would rather live in the veiled ignorance of not knowing the bigger picture rather than to contemplate how they wish to spend their remaining days, regardless if that number is in the thousands, or to be counted on one hand.

Three years ago I was in my own process of actively dying. As I waited for an organ donor for an urgently needed liver transplant, things became so clear to me. I forgot animosity and resentment. I did not take simple gestures or daily routines for granted. Jealousy, insecurities and fear dissolved into two things: the day to day of staying alive, and faith. The act of letting go, of having no other choice than to resign oneself to surrendering to the greater plan of the universe, means that even in the midst of losing life, everything is ok. After my transplant I again, was very close to dying. Because my body was not accepting the new liver, I remember on several occasions the feeling of slipping; I was on an internal journey from darkness, arching around a curve towards a light on the other side of an eclipse. It was if I was being beckoned to the light of shelter, of safety. It was a divine moment where even in my deteriorating state, so close to death, everything was perfect.

As I grieve now for the loss of this remarkable woman, a friend of mine and a friend to so, so many, I am comforted to know that she has become a part of this infinite light, a guardian now to far more souls than she could ever touch in human form, though I always knew she was an Angel.

Rest in peace, Ilona

Ilona will rest under the shade and vibrancy of a cherry tree for all time. Life Lessons Learned 1. Life is short. Don’t waste time on petty, mundane things.

2. Life is short. Keep your eye on the big picture. Do the things you love doing and Cultivate Love. Ilona did.

3. Life is short. Even when time is ticking and there seems to be no time, take the time to smile and make room to check in with the people you love. Ilona did.

4. Life is short. Take it easy on yourself. Question what your real motivation is for doing the things you do and be honest with yourself without beating yourself up over it. There is nothing wrong with having a carrot dangling in front of you to motivate you onward, but don’t let the carrot be your sole purpose. The journey in reaching the carrot is ultimately the point. ‘Cause you may never reach that carrot.

5. Life is short. Remember the blessings in your life everyday. Tell the people you love that you love them. Have gratitude for your amazing, miraculous body and don’t take it for granted. Before you know it, it will be gone.

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