This I Believe: Ginny Johansen (2023)

Hello, my name is Ginny Johansen. My pronouns are she/her. Here’s my situation: I have Glioblastoma with a few months left. This is not a death sentence. It’s a gift!

This gives me enough time to:

  • Tell people how much they mean to me,
  • Get my affairs in order,
  • Do a few bucket list things (Native American Museum in Washington DC,
  • Say goodbye.

There are only 2 things I believe, everything else is just theories and questions:

  1. God is love
  2. Love never dies

I consider myself a happy agnostic. I don’t believe God can be fully known or defined by our finite, limited minds, labeled, or put in a box with rules and regulations attached.

But Love seems like a broad enough concept to be useful.

I often substitute Love for Lord or Our Father in sacred texts. For example: “Love is my shepherd, I shall not want.” and “Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Love is with me.” “Love restores my soul”.

I see God in all your faces full of love and compassion and all your offers of help in this time of crisis for me and Ingrid. I see God in nature. A friend once asked me during a very skeptical stage of my life, “How can you look up at that beautiful night sky and not believe in God? I thought about it and I realized the true miracle was not necessarily the night sky, but the fact that we have the eyes to see it, the mind to comprehend it, and the hearts to be moved to awe by it.

I had the same mind-blowing experience when I took biochemistry in college and had to memorize, on a molecular level, all the complex steps of photosynthesis, aerobic and anaerobic respiration and other truly miraculous workings of the human body. Of course, I forgot the details as soon as the final exam was over, but I was left with the same sense of awe at the complexity of it all. Lewis Thomas, who wrote The Medusa and the Snail and was President of Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Institute, talked about the massive endorphin release at the time of death, so that people and animals don’t die in horrible pain in a world where everyone dies. Hmmm! Seems like there is no survival value in that process when the animal or human is already dying. So, it’s hard to chalk it up to evolution or the survival of the fittest. Another awe-inspiring coincidence? Or is it a sign of a merciful God of Love? Maybe….

So, am I afraid of dying? No, not at all. I am afraid of what my loss might do to Ingrid and my other loved ones. But I know they will have help, as will I. I know many hospice nurses and I know my pain, shortness of breath, and any other problems will be managed and Ingrid will not remember me struggling.

Where will I draw the line at further treatment? When it will no longer do any good and decrease the quality of my remaining time. Or when it will destroy my personality – Who I am.

I have a lot of questions about what comes next. Maybe I’ll get some answers, maybe not.

I have a lot of theories:

  1. Reincarnation? Everyone likes a do-over. But many world religions consider it a trap until you reach Nirvana.
  2. Maybe, you get whatever you truly believe at the moment of death. There is some quantum theory that supports this. That would explain the traditional Christian’s drive to save souls, even at the very last moment, by acceptance of Jesus as our Savior.
  3. Maybe there is no such thing as linear, chronological time and we get to go back to chosen previous experiences over and over. Is linear time just a way for us to navigate this existence with our limited minds and be able to function in this world? Functional MRIs show memory is as powerful as the original experience.
  4. Maybe death and all the material world are illusions. This is what I was taught to believe as a Christian Scientist and it fits with some Eastern religions. Because death might not be real, maybe we never die or maybe we’ve died over and over and just not known it. Maybe we have a seamless transition with the same old problems we still have to solve?
  5. I suspect something goes on. If radio waves and other forms of energy go on across the universe forever, why wouldn’t something as resilient and strong as the human Spirit also go on?

I don’t necessarily expect answers to any of this just because I die. My mother was a very wise and loving woman right up to her ending. She saved our family with her kindness in spite of profound dementia in her last few months. She considered dying the “Last Great Adventure”. In 2nd grade I took my pet chicken to “show and tell”. She died when I got home and I cried. My mother told me, “We don’t know what really happened. Just because we can’t see her anymore or cuddle with her doesn’t mean she hasn’t flown back to her mommy who taught her to be so cuddly”.

So, how am I really doing? How is Ingrid doing? We are in a place of peace and gratitude. We have so much beauty, love and joy in our lives. I have had meaningful work with my patients and nursing students and the ripple effect of all of that. And, I have music. I wake up singing most mornings. A neighbor made me a Dream Catcher to hang in the East window of my bedroom in honor of her brother who died of brain cancer shortly after my own little brother also died of brain cancer. In the middle is a crystal that scatters “rainbows round the room” when it gets the morning light. This is a line from an old Lesbian folksong by Cris Williamson called “Like an Island Rising” that I wake up singing. I’d like to share this song with you. (song plays)

I love you all more than you will ever know. Thank you.