I Am Back and Ready

Seven years, three months, one week, and one day ago, I lost my Dad, Neil, to a Glioblastoma (GBM). My father was a “man’s man” and, although he was able to scare many of our suitors away, if you made it into his inner circle- a place of unconditional love and support- you would find that the only thing bigger than his brawn was his heart. Ronni found this out in the mid-80’s when a fluke run in with this small town man changed both of their lives forever.

My dad was born in the tiny hamlet of Shickshinny, PA. He spent his childhood there and married the love of his life, Donna, who grew-up across the Susquehanna River in Mocanaqua. He raced cars, chewed tobacco, and he loved walking in the woods. He taught seventh grade science at the high school from where he graduated, and raised his children to be able to identify deciduous trees in February. He lived 2 ½ hours away from New York City, or as we called it, The Big Jabłko, but he lived a life as if it were a world away.

When my Dad met Ronni, or Vern as he called her, our family had just entered a time of enlightenment. We had heard of Vern- a jet setting producer for the likes of Barbara Walters and such, who resided in The West Village- and on Thanksgiving Eve, my Dad drove thirty minutes to the nearest bus station to fetch our holiday guest. Our family Thanksgivings consisted of 30-35 people, all who were close family. The fact that Ronni did not run out the door never to be heard from again still amazes me, and from that weekend on, we were family.

I met Ronni as a child, annoyed her through my teen years, dumbfounded her with my absolute stupidity in my twenties, and became her best friend in my thirties. My forties brought an unconditional, omnipresent love that bonded us deep within our souls. We shared lobster in Maine when times were good, and peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches when they were a bit tighter. We paired $400 bottles of wine with Dominos while watching Netflix in her bed. She taught me how to ride the subway and helped me navigate some of the hardest times of my life.

When my Dad was diagnosed with a GBM, my world was rocked. He was my hero, my rock, my sounding board, and the best Dad a kid could ever have imagined. I watched our Mighty Oak slowly lose his strength, and often not be able to recall the words in his everyday life. I began to grieve before he died. I mourned for small losses everyday throughout his fight and really thought I was going to be ready when he died. In the days that followed his death, I was relieved because my Dad was free. Guilt overwhelmed me. How could I feel more at peace with my Dad gone than I did with him here? In talking to Ronni, she helped me see that I had been caring for the emotions of those around me better than I had been taking care of my own. She urged me to treat myself as I would someone who came to our home to pay their respects. Taking care of myself and being selfish was not only alright, but critical for self-preservation.

Fast forward five years from that day… I was teaching, and during a break, I checked my phone. Two missed calls from Veronica Bennett. It was not Sunday- Sunday morning was our standing phone date- yes we called throughout the week to chat, but TWO missed calls. I called and Ronni told me she had pancreatic cancer. A death sentence. There is much that I can share about the time between that phone call and now, and I will on a much more regular basis now… but for the past month and a half, I needed to be selfish. I needed to process a loss that I knew was going to happen. I thought I was ready, but in the end, I was not. I was not done with our relationship in this life. I miss my Friend so very much. I am so sad.

Election Day

This morning finds me with an overwhelming anxiety. I have been up for hours, and have reached for my phone three times to call one of the only people I know who could understand, empathize, and validate the terror I am feeling about the state of the world and more so, the state of our country. Ronni and I have spent COUNTLESS hours talking about health care, Social Security, Medicare, taxes, global warming, education, equality... well, you get it. Recently, however, our conversations had changed to the basic difference between right and wrong. We discussed that this election has drawn a moral line in the sand. We are no longer living in a time where we can discuss basic policy (am I insane to admit there are times that I miss W?) but instead, a time where we are deciding the fate of our country.

I promise that the future of this blog will not be one draped in political agenda. Ronni felt so strongly about this election — please VOTE.

– Autumn

Ronni Bennett, 1941-2020

Yesterday, at 6:28 PM local time, Veronica "Ronni" Bennett passed away. Ronni bravely documented the aging process, with her Last Great Gift being the documentation of her death. We spoke for sometime yesterday, and throughout our conversation, she circled back to you. It was very important to Ronni that this amazing community continue to have a place to come and discuss this amazing journey we are all in together. Your support and love was a gift that Ronni never could have imagined when she started this blog 16 years ago, and she was forever grateful for each and everyone of you.

We all will feel the pain of this loss for a long time to come, and although 30 years her junior and far from a writer, I will continue to make TGB accessible, and comments are always welcome. I will make many mistakes, I am sure, and please forgive my lack of HTML understanding, but I will get there.

I will leave you with knowing that she was ready. Just before she died, she said, "When you get here, it is really nice. I am not afraid." – Autumn


The Alex and Ronni Show – 30 October 2020

We have come up today on a new episode of The Alex and Ronni Show, recorded on Wednesday.

When I started this blog 16 years ago, I subtitled it (see banner above) “what it's really like to get old” and for a lot of years that's what I tried to do - research, write about and ruminate on how we age.

Then, three years ago, the universe hit me with cancer followed shortly by COPD and I knew from the start where that ends. So I made a course correction in the topic so to write as openly and honestly as I can muster about what it is like to know you are dying – the good, the bad, the whatever else - because that is what interests me these days.

But today's conversation with my former husband, Alex Bennett, seems to be a throwback to those early years of the blog – just a couple elders talking about ordinary old-people stuff, some laments, the compensations we make for our growing list of infirmities – sort of what “it's really like to get old.”

You can check out Alex's online talk show here.

Old Lady Fancy Pants

If, like me, you have a big-deal disease or two such as cancer and COPD, there is one thing you can count on: nothing stays the same and hardly anything gets better.

That's the cosmic joke. (There are more earthly ones too.)

In the first instance, such diseases progress. No pleading, no appeal to divine intervention, no miracles. It is the diseases' job to grow and from your and my point of view, get worse.

I've always thought it is weird that it works that way. When the disease does what nature compels it to do, it eventually kills its host (in this case, that would be me) and therefore itself. What use in that?

In terms of earthy jokes, my hospice nurse visits on Monday mornings. Aimee-the-wonderful checks my vitals, goes over my medications, discusses my well-being – or, recently, lack thereof – and then we discuss my future, such as it is.

As you who have read this blog for a good while know, I had a long respite until last February when chemotherapy stopped working. I began slowly slipping down hill and the speed has since since accelerated.

Drugs have helped but I haven't needed a nurse to tell me what's happening.

Not long ago, Aimee-the-wonderful began gently hinting at what I'm likely to expect next. She asked about incontinence. Ewwww. But there you are.

I've been retaining water – bloating – for a while which Aimee says will at some point unexpectedly break through – overload, muscles weakening, etc. and that I should purchase what some manufacturers call life-changing absorbent products.

Adult diapers.

There hasn't been a problem yet, but I've only just begun taking the diuretics to rid my body of excess water so who knows. Particularly during the night.

I perused such products on the internet, decided on pull-ups because they work like every other kind of underpants and made my purchase hoping for the best as to size since the websites have little to say about what small, medium, etc. mean.

It was my first chance to try this out on Monday with my first evening incontinence pill at bedtime. I yanked a pair out of the tightly wrapped package, shook the panties open and to my utmost surprise, found they they are trimmed in – wait for it – frilly lace. Yes, you read that right: frilly lace.

Is there anything else to do but giggle? So I pulled them on, pranced around in front the full-length mirror and had a big hearty guffaw at myself – old lady fancy pants.

A TGB READER STORY: For a Few Mysterious Minutes

By TGB reader Jean-Pierre

Some years ago - before I got to be eighty-five with a miserably sore hip - I was walking my youngest grand-daughter to the play park on a golden Fall day when she said, quite unexpectedly, right out of the blue, "I'm glad I chose my Mother and Father."

She was a toddler, barely five minutes into this crazy world, remember - and when it soaked in, I said, "I'm glad you did, too, Charlotte."

She spent a few minutes explaining why her Mother was kind and her Father was responsible, and then she was back to herself, eager to hit the swings and the roundabout, the adult expressiveness reverting to its usual chatter.

Charlotte's eighteen now and starting university - with a penchant for roller skating, playing guitar and offbeat hobbies.

But it's hard not to forget that for a few mysterious minutes, somewhere between chasing the dog and looking down the path for the play park, that little tad revealed some tantalising unknown where we might get to choose the manner of however many futures we have.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Monday Time Out

As I noted at the end of Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, it's been a few rough days in a row – weakness, lethargy, disinterest, lots of sleep and not much else. Even one of my top two or three favorite small pleasures, a hot bath, has been hard – it's too difficult to get out of the tub.

There is nothing new on cable news, just repeats of what the hosts said last hour and the hour before that, etc. My mind is too addled to read.

I sit in bed or at the computer and stare into space for long periods of time quite comfortably.

What is lovely are the email notes from you, dear readers. You say the nicest things and I wish I could answer every one. But I am just too weak right now So I'm taking a time out today, and tomorrow is reader story day so I have two whole days to rest.

Please don't think I am ignoring you. It is just that my body is screaming REST at me and so I am doing that.

Thank you all for being there. It means everything to me.

ELDER MUSIC: Classical Whatnot 4

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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Here is some more music I thought well worth a listen.

FRANCESCA D'ADDA was born in Milan and lived most of her life in that city.

D'Adda  Francesca

She really didn’t start composing and playing music until her husband, an architect and her cousin, died. She married again (another architect) to someone who was really well connected. That probably helped her somewhat. Her main output was music for duets and trios, mostly involving the piano, her main instrument. Today’s offering is her Trio in E-flat major, Op. 18, the first movement

♫ D'Adda - Trio in E-Flat Major Op. 18 (1)

MICHAEL BALFE was an Irish composer who lived for much of the nineteenth century

Michael Balfe

He wrote a couple of dozen operas, hundreds of songs and some cantatas. These days he’s pretty much only known for one of his operas, “The Bohemian Girl”. From that we have I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls. This is sung by the wonderful GRETA BRADMAN.

Greta Bradman

Australian readers (and some English ones as well) will recognise that surname, and yes, she is the great man’s grand-daughter.

♫ Balfe - I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls

While we’re in Australia, here is the wonderfully named Van Diemen's Band. That sounds like the name of a folk group, but they’re a classical ensemble led by Catherine Jones. They play a composition by NICOLA FIORENZA, who was born in Naples and was a violinist and composer around the end of the Baroque period and the beginning of the Classical.

 Nicola Fiorenza

The piece I’ve chosen is his Cello Concerto in F major, the fourth movement.

♫ Fiorenza - Cello Concerto in F major (4)

Continuing this theme for a bit longer, a while ago Australian pianist Gerrard Willems recorded all of BEETHOVEN’s piano sonatas and piano concertos. I produced a column on it at the time called The Beethoven Obsession.


From that collection here is the most famous of them all, the Piano Concerto No 5 in E flat, Op 73 called “Emperor”, the second movement. To my ears it sounds as if Leonard Bernstein listened to it before he wrote the music for “West Side Story”.

♫ Beethoven - Piano Concerto No5 E flat Op73 'Emperor' (2)

We've had the real Beethoven, now for the pretend Beethoven. I'm talking about FRIEDRICH WITT.

Friedrich Witt

Fred was born the same year as the great man but outlived him by nine years. One of his symphonies was the “Jena Symphony”, so-called because it was discovered in that city and was initially attributed to Beethoven because of the similarity to his early ones. Someone else found another copy a couple of years later with Fred’s name on it, and there goes that theory.

It’s still the same piece of music but, hey, it’s not Beethoven. The same sort of thing happens with paintings. Anyway, this isn’t that one, it’s his Symphony No.6 in A minor (known as Alla Turca), the third movement.

♫ Witt - Symphony No.6 in A minor (3)

FRANTIŠEK JIRÁNEK was a Czech composer of the Baroque era. I could only find one supposed picture of him, and it was very dubious, so I didn’t use it.

Fran almost certainly was a pupil of Vivaldi as he was sent to Venice to improve his musical skills. After that he returned to Prague for a while until he left for Dresden where he was employed by the Prime Minister. He remained in that city for the rest of his life.

The influence of Vivaldi is obvious in his works, one of which is his Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso continuo in B flat major, Jk 17, the first movement.

♫ Jiránek - Concerto for Oboe Strings and Basso continuo in B flat major Jk 17 (1)

In spite of her name MARIANNA MARTINES was born and lived most of her life in Vienna – her father was from Spain.

Marianna Martines

Upstairs in the apartment building where the family lived was a struggling young musician called Joseph Haydn. Marianna became a superb pianist and apparently a beautiful singer. Many of her works feature vocal performances.

As she got older, Marianna and her sister (neither of whom married) hosted musical soirees at their home that attracted many distinguished guests, including Haydn and Mozart. Her compositions were well regarded in her time, and it’s believed that Mozart modeled a couple of his choral works on hers.

Here is the first movement of her Overture in C Major. I always thought overtures were a single piece. I guess I was wrong.

♫ Martines - Overture in C Major (1)

Those with long memories of such things will now probably have a flashback to when they were young and used to watch TOM AND JERRY cartoons, I know I did.

Tom & Jerry

This next piece was featured prominently in one of them. Indeed, it was the basis for the whole cartoon. I looked it up on Youtube, and it’s still a lot of fun. The piece of music I have in mind is by FRANZ LISZT.

Franz Liszt

It’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, S. 244. In this case it’s a piano only version arranged by Vladimir Horowitz and played by one of the finest pianists around, Lang Lang.

♫ Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 In C Sharp Minor S.244 (Lang Lang)

GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN was the most prolific major composer in history.

Georg Philipp Telemann

He wrote thousands of compositions, and I’m not talking about little things – some went on for hours. He was good friends with both Handel and Bach, indeed he was god father to one of Bach’s sons (who was named after him).

With all those compositions you can bet he came up with some interesting instruments to compose for, otherwise it would have got really tedious.

We have one of those today, his Sonata for two chalumeaux in F major, the third movement (or maybe the fourth, there seems to be a one and a halfth movement for some reason).

A chalumeau is the forerunner of the modern clarinet. It started out as a folk instrument, but composers started using it due to its mellow sound.

♫ Telemann - Sonata for two chalumeaux in F major (3)

MICHAEL HAYDN had the bad luck of having an older brother who was the best known composer in Europe at the time, also one of the best.

Haydn Michael

Michael was no slouch at the composing business such that quite a few of his compositions were attributed to big brother Joseph for decades, centuries even.

It’s only with modern scholarship that they have been restored to their rightful owner. I don’t know if this is one of those, his Horn Concerto in D Major, P. 134, the first movement.

♫ M Haydn - Horn Concerto in D Major P. 134 (1)

INTERESTING STUFF – 24 October 2020


I'm pretty sure I posted this a few years ago but it recently turned up again and I find it as impressive and encouraging as before. According to the Youtube page,

”When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable 'trophic cascade' occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix."


Cats being as enigmatic as they are, I'm not sure there is much satisfactory explanation here but it's worth a few minutes of your time.


More cat vids showed up this week so here are two political ones. This from Tony Sarmiento:


And a kitty reminder in case you have not yet voted:


My friend John Gear sent this. It might be a little raw for some but hey, we're all grownups here.

More here.


A small, important life lesson for us all.


TGB reader Mary Evans Young sent this lovely video.


Yesterday, Friday, was a really rough day for me. Not pain as sometimes happens. Without tempting fate by saying too much out loud, that has been increasingly controllable.

But tiredness, dejection, weakness so deep I can barely walk across the room or write even a few words on the computer screen - so much so that I almost skipped preparing this blog post for today. Then, as a distraction, I checked email and found a note from friend Edie Birken.

It doesn't change the circumstance or what I'm feeling about it but it makes it go easier. This is what she sent:


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Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Quotations on The Time Before Dying

It has been a long time since I posted a list of quotations about age and dying. In fact, it is probably years. But I don't stop collecting them – my god, people have a lot to say about death, at least in short form – so here are a few for your perusal and commentary.

Not too many today because quantity becomes overwhelming and they lose meaning. So just a few. Many wise men and women have left behind worthy ideas about death for us to ponder.

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“It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do, because it could teach us so much about living.” - Robert M. Herhold
(As it seems to be doing for me.)

“For my part, I would like to die fully conscious that I am dying...slow enough to allow death to insinuate itself into my body and fully unfold, so as not to miss the ultimate experience, the passage.” - Marguerite Yourcenar

“...I count as the greatest good fortune to have these few months so full of interest and instruction in the knowledge of my approaching death.” - Alice James

“There is only one solution if old age is not to be a parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give existence meaning – devotion to to individuals, to groups or causes, social, political, intellectual and creative work. - Simone de Bouvoir

“The first part of life is for learning. The second for service, and the last is for oneself. It is a time for discover inner richness and for self-development and spiritual growth. It is also a time of transition and preparation for dying. The closer we come to death, the closer we come to reality and truth.” - Gay Gaer Luce

“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” - Dag Hammarskjold

Are there any short and pithy such quotations you would like to add?