INTERESTING STUFF – 26 September 2020

EDITORIAL NOTE: It feels to me that this has been a momentous past week filled with terrible portents, especially from the president who refuses to say he will leave his post if he is defeated in November. I don't have words.

So a few of today's entries fall to heavier side of the scale.

* * *

IN HONOR OF JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG

You remember Founders Sing, don't you. The Youtube group who debuted in February with their tune, The Day Democracy Died.

They have been releasing these original political songs ever since and this week they gave us I AM RUTH – By Founders Sing, In Honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

YOUNG PEOPLE MORE LIKELY TO BELIEVE VIRUS MISINFORMATION

The number of new virus infections is not getting better. In fact, it is skyrocketing. This week, The New York Times reported,

”In a survey of 21,196 people in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, researchers identified a clear generational divide.

“Respondents 18 to 24 had an 18 percent probability of believing a false claim, compared with 9 percent for those over 65, according to the study [pdf], conducted by researchers from Harvard University, Rutgers University, Northeastern University and Northwestern University.”

People were asked to gauge their acceptance of 11 false claims:

”Those included false claims that the virus originated in people who ate bats, that taking antibiotics protects against the disease and that only people 60 or older are at risk of being infected.”

Read more at The Times. Talk to the young people in your life about staying safe.

AOC'S MESSAGE TO THE FUTURE

The Guardian reports that young people yesterday led strikes around the world calling for urgent action on climate change.

”Greta Thunberg led a strike in Sweden, which was limited to 50 people by the country’s lockdown laws – 'so we adapt', she tweeted, with a picture showing strikers more than 2 metres apart. The day of action also marked the 110th week of her own school strike, which began in August 2018.

“'Fridays For Future and the youth climate movement are striking again around the world, in a safe way and following Covid-19 guidelines, to demand those in power treat this like the urgent crisis it is,' she said.”

Relatedly, TGB reader Mary Evans Young, sent this pertinent 18-month-old video from U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez titled A Message from the Future.

In the U.S., we are in the final weeks of fighting for the existence of our country, even for democracy itself. Untold environmental damage has been done by our president and his minions in just the year and a half since OAC's video debuted. So don't let up. Register to vote. Help others to register. Plan your vote.

Read more about the worldwide children's crusade at The Guardian.

OBVIOUSLY THIS DOGGEREL FROM HENRY LOWENSTERN...

...cannot be ignored at this blog. Titled Down and Out.

When you are feeling down and out,
give Ronni Bennett a shout.
She's a long-time blogger
and memories cataloger
who writes about her ills
and the long-remembered thrills
that bring smiles to her face
and maybe will help erase
some of the despair
that afflicts your debonair.

IMPOSSIBLY YOUNG WILLIE NELSON

I've been listening to a lot of Willie Nelson lately – the old stuff and the newest too. He's 87 years old now. But in truth, he's ageless.

This is a medley he sang at Grand Ole Opry in 1965. Did you know Willie wrote Patsy Cline's huge hit, Crazy? I didn't until now.

NEW YORK'S RUBBER STAMP SHOP

Do people even use rubber stamps anymore? I guess so. According to the Youtube page,

”John Casey is the owner of East Village mainstay Casey Rubber Stamps, a local landmark that has endured for almost two decades.

“The iconic stamp and ink shop, located on East 11th Street in downtown New York, is beloved by locals. For years, residents and tourists alike have swung by to buy and make their own novelty rubber stamps.”

This short film is from Eric Maierson and Leandro Badalotti for Atlas Obscura.

THE BELUGA AND THE SEAGULL

This whale could have the gull for lunch in one bite but he (she?) didn't. Instead, they played.

* * *

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.


When Bad Days Turn Good – Part 2

On Wednesday in Part 1, I wrote about sleepless night terrors and how it seemed reasonable to me, during one of them, that we ought to be able to blink our eyes – or something similar – and quietly die.

I doubt I would have written about it had not my friend, Annie Gottlieb, in New York City, following that night sent a couple of quotations one of which seemed to have been written precisely for what I had experienced.

Her second quotation came into play a day later.

After that long night with not a wink of sleep, Thursday was generally a lost day. I got a few things done but not much. Plus, my nebulizer and oxygen didn't have nearly as strong an effect as they normally do.

My hospice nurse, who made her scheduled visit that day, gave me a new prescription to help with energy and appetite and rearranged how I take a couple of other drugs to try to help me sleep.

By bedtime that night, I was as exhausted as I've ever felt. I worked at staying awake as long as possible so if I slept, I would not wake at some ungodly early hour and ruin the next day too, but I succumbed, I think, at about 9PM.

When I woke, I was shocked to see that I had slept until just after 5AM. Eight whole hours of uninterrupted, dead-to-the-world sleep. Wow. And then I saw the two half-pills on my table that I had intended to take when I was ready to turn out the light. I had forgotten to do that and still slept all through the night.

What a day I had on Friday. I almost forgot that I have cancer and COPD. Of course, that exists only in my head (and heart). As soon as I walk too fast down the hall or try to carry something weighing more than about five pounds, I am sharply reminded with extreme shortness of breath.

But within the parameters of my diseases, I had a great day and I was thrilled. I don't remember when I last felt so good. And it lasted all day until normal bedtime. I even walked out to the trash bins and mailbox with greater ease than in a long time.

On Sunday, Annie sent her two Rilke quotations and here, following on my spectacularly good Friday, is the second one which, Annie says, Rilke told to a woman friend who was helping to care for him:

“Never forget, dear friend, life is a glory.”

Oh, yes. Life is such a glory – even as small a life as mine has become now, thanks to age, disease and pandemic - and it was in full force for me on that Friday.

The mystery, of course, is how Annie knew to send those two quotations exactly when I could use and enjoy them so perfectly and personally.

Thank you, Annie.

Sleep disturbances are a well-known affliction among old people. The Sleep Foundation notes,

”As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. In fact, research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood.”

It's not my purpose today to report on elder sleep issues, causes and what to do about them. (Maybe soon.)

Mostly with these two posts, I wanted to marvel out loud at how sometimes the universe pulls a couple of its smaller components together in such perfect concert.


When Bad Days Turn Good – Part 1

What I learned the hard way last week (why are so many lessons hard ones?) is that as my cancer and COPD advance, it is crucial – actually, mandatory if I want to function in even the smallest ways - that I get at least six hours of sleep, a couple more is better.

Without that, I am weak as a kitten in mind and body. Carrying a coffee cup from the kitchen to my desk when I'm that sleep-deprived, is a slow trek of only eight or 10 steps but it makes my legs shake, although I get stronger as the day progresses.

On two nights last week, separated by one night of a good, deep sleep, I lay awake the entire night. Whichever sleeping potion I had taken had failed entirely, a second dose didn't help and my thoughts got darker as the hours piled up.

I was ache-y, exhausted, restless and generally miserable. Even trying to use the time to sort through some ideas I had been recently toying with didn't work. My brain was fried, the blanket was snarled, the pillows were hot, my left foot hurt like hell and I just wanted it all to stop. By any means.

At that point, dying seemed reasonable and welcome. Right there and then. Just let go.

As I lay there, it began to feel like it could be just that easy to do. Why all the fuss we humans make about it, I thought. I could end all my discomfort by dying. Turn out the light so to speak. Tell my heart to stop. Be done with it all.

As I considered my impossible idea, it wasn't the same to me as committing suicide. Taking action to end one's life involves mostly violent intervention – a gun, a knife, a rope, a high roof and even those death with dignity pills I have tucked away involve mixing a series of drinks and taking them in the correct order at timed intervals.

If nothing else prevented me from doing one of those things, my exhaustion did. At that point in the night, just getting out of bed was beyond the realm of the possible.

As my sleepless stupor continued, I became indignant that I couldn't end my life by just thinking it. It's my life so why not.

Of course, it doesn't work that way but I began to believe it ought to and the idea had stuck with me even after I finally got some good rest a night later and lost my desire to end it all.

And that was that. With many years of poor sleep behind me, I have a lot of experience with dark thoughts on sleepless nights. I know it is best not to dwell on them.

But sometimes the universe has other ideas. A couple of days later while the idea of simply blinking out still popped up in brief moments, a long-time blog and New York City friend, Annie Gottlieb, sent me this quotation from the celebrated poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke. He wrote it, she told me, when he was ill with leukemia:

“We were such wonderfully good friends, my body and I, I don’t know at all how it happened that we separated and became foreign to each other.”

Oh my yes. Me too. It is close to perfection in encapsulating that late-night death fantasy from a few nights earlier.

Until my cancer diagnosis three years ago, my body and I were great good friends and now we are not. I'm a bit less neutral about what has happened between us than Rilke sounds; more than feeling separated and foreign, I feel my body has betrayed me.

But isn't it wonderful to be given a well-conceived metaphor to further one's understanding.

Part 2 of When Bad Days Turn Good on Friday.

* * *

The organization that provides my hospice care is Care Partners, a non-profit that supplies hospice and palliative care to five counties in northwest Oregon. I have a wonderful nurse who is also my case manager along with a social worker and a non-denominational spiritual adviser with others to call on as needed.

They are all excellent and one other thing that gives me comfort: there is always a live person on the other end of the telephone line, a nurse, so that I can have real human help at my fingertips at any hour of the day or night.

This week, I'm blushing a bit that Care Partners published a story about this blog and linked to the first story I posted about entering hospice. Their home page is here.

[Part 2 is here.]

A TGB READER STORY: Life Lessons at the Lunch Counter

By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at “Into the 70s – 72 is the New 72”

When mid-summer rolls around, I remember the year – 1963 - that I was summarily fired from my summer job. Not fair!

I had just completed my freshman year and needed to earn expense money for the fall semester. I was thrilled to get hired at the five-and-dime lunch counter in my New Jersey hometown.

I proudly wore my starched yellow uniform with the white apron, designating me as part of something important, in this case a variety store with a name recognized throughout the country. Not Woolworth’s, but close [W. T. Grant & Company].

I learned how to make malted milkshakes, ice cream sodas, floats, sundaes and banana splits. Now I was a grownup, privy to the mysteries of creating soda fountain drinks. I took my responsibilities seriously - when I wiped down the counter, it was spotless to welcome my next customer.

I acquired several regulars. An older man, a fatherly type with horn-rimmed glasses, ordered an apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream every day. When he situated himself on the red vinyl swivel seat, I brought over his pie and coffee without asking. He always left five cents for a tip under the cup and saucer.

I enjoyed my new community of co-workers and loyal customers, and the ebb and flow of the day - breakfast rush hour, slow mid-morning, quick turnover of office and retail employees at their thirty minute lunches, kids and their mothers ordering soda fountain treats after school, then closing down at four with the rest of the evening free to hang out with my friends.

Another girl was hired but she wasn’t as conscientious in her duties. She was a permanent hire whereas I was there temporarily, the college girl passing through on the way to her future.

I saw her insert the malted milk canister into the spinner - but apparently not far enough. It flew off the spike and hurtled into mid-air like a missile off course. Fortunately, it landed on the floor, but not before ejecting strawberry malted all over the place, including on my yellow uniform.

My boss, enraged, walked up to me and shouted, “Miss Weiner, did you do that?”

I denied it and tried to explain but he didn’t listen, much less believe me. Didn’t my reputation for perfect attendance and proficiency make a difference?

The strawberry malted dripping off my uniform convinced him of my guilt. The new girl - whose uniform was spotless because she was behind the line of fire - stood silent while I took the fall.

My boss ordered, “Turn in your uniform and don’t come back.”

I stammered, “But, but, I wore my uniform to work today...“

“Okay, then get it back here first thing tomorrow morning if you want your tips for the week.”

I held back tears. The entire incident - from disaster to dismissal - happened within all of five minutes.

I waited at the bus stop in my yellow outfit covered with pink streaks stunned at the injustice meted out to me. The stains didn’t come out in the wash and I expected my boss to dock my pay for the damage. But I kept the name tag - really, who else named Barrie would they need it for?

The public humiliation I experienced burned for weeks. By then, it was too late in the summer to find another job.

In September, I returned to college and moved on with my life armed with a tougher shell and slightly more prepared for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I continued my food service line of employment working in the college dining hall, learning to carry five hot meals balanced on my left arm.

But nothing - not even the life lesson at the lunch counter - prepared me for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November.

Still, I’ve always wondered if Apple Pie Guy cared enough to ask anyone why I was suddenly gone.

* * *

[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.]


Some More Blog Housekeeping

OREGON WILDFIRE UPDATE:
On Friday evening, the air quality where I live returned to “good”, the best ranking on the scale. It creeped up a few points on Saturday but still in the “good” range, remained there on Sunday and is there this morning.

That doesn't mean our terrifying air is done for the year. Some fires are still burning, there might be more, the wind can change. We live – all of us - on so many levels nowadays holding our breath. I haven't unpacked my go-bag.

* * *

Just over a week ago, I posted some blog housekeeping notes about disruptive comments a drive-by reader had left and explained why I banned that person from future commenting.

There will be no banning today. This housekeeping is of a more personal nature – all of you and me.

First: some readers have commented that they are amazed that given my diagnosis of cancer and COPD and that I am now in hospice, I still publish this blog on a regular schedule.

Well, yes, and that is because it is what I do. It is what I have been doing for more than 16 years. It gives shape and form to my days. I love writing this blog. I love trying to say just what it is I mean as truthfully and artfully as I can. And, sometimes I succeed.

It has been interesting these past three years making the style transition from mostly reporting on issues of interest and importance to elders, to a much more personal blog about what it is like to be dying, a topic that is all but taboo in our culture generally so it's not like there is anyone much I can crib from.

It took awhile to find my way but I think it's working fairly well now. I learn more about myself and this final journey during the effort to be as clear as I can be for you, TGB readers, but also from your responses and support.

You make me stronger, more resilient and therefore more capable of dealing with this ultimate fate of every living thing. Just so you know, I'm not nearly as brave as some of you have said. I just wake up each day and go forward within the limitations of this diseased, old body. I have no other answer for what to do than that.

Next: The number of reader emails has increased a lot over the past two or three months. As in the past, I try to answer each one if only, sometimes, with a thank you but it has now gone beyond my capability to keep up.

My stamina wanes week by week now so there is a decreasing number of useful hours in each day. You say the loveliest things but I wear out so easily even just sitting at the computer sometimes that I must cut back the time I spend here.

If you do not receive a return email, please understand that it is only the disease stealing my energy, not that I am dismissing or ignoring you. I read every note I receive.

Not infrequently, emails sound like they are meant for the comments section. I think this happens when subscribers click “reply” in the email they receive with the day's blog post, but those returns go only to me via email.

To comment for everyone to read, click the title of the story in the email. It will open in your browser where you can scroll down, click the word “comments” and add your message to the conversation in the box provided.

Next: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some things happen at an awkward time for blog publication. Usually, I write blog stories the day before they are to be posted and in doing so, I can miss late-breaking news items.

Last Friday evening was one of those times. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death was announced after I had shut down the computer for the day.

I thought for a few moments I should rewrite Saturday's Interesting Stuff to include that news. But it was the end of my day, I was tired and decided it was such big news that no one needed to hear it from me.

Almost everyone who commented on Saturday mentioned Justice Ginsburg briefly. It is an enormous political event and to some of us, a personal one too.

So let's make some space here today for anyone or everyone who wants to, to talk about Ginsburg in the comments - the ramifications of an “instant” nomination from the president, how that might affect the election and whether anyone besides me doesn't believe a word Senator Susan Collins says about how she will vote about anything. And, of course, the wonderful Notorious RBG herself.


ELDER MUSIC: Together at Home 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.

* * *

We are all still locked up at home (okay, maybe we can get out for various things, but still). I really want to thank these and other musicians who make this a bit less grim.

Several of the DOOBIE BROTHERS reunite (virtually) to perform their most famous song, and one that’s really appropriate for this column Listen to the Music.


Alas, we can’t have John Lennon performing his most famous (solo) song. In his place here is STEPHEN RIDLEY. Stephen performs Imagine (and bits of other songs) in a (nearly) deserted London railway station. This piano has been used for many musical videos from back when people could congregate.


Here is a video I had originally had in the first of these columns. It got the flick when I found other songs by both these performers. It’s still worth a listen. It’s by BRIAN MAY (guitarist from Queen, of course) and SHUBA. They perform a Queen song, written by Freddie Mercury and first performed by him, Love of My Life.


The CELLISTS OF THE SEATTLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA could easily have fitted into the classical version of “Together at Home”, but that was full, so I decided to include them here. It’s one of J.S. Bach’s most famous tunes, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, from his cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147”.


PAUL KELLY is one of the world’s finest singer/songwriters. Here he is with JESS HITCHCOCK. Jess is an up and coming singer, if you can call 10 years as a singer, songwriter, teacher, backing singer, composer as “up and coming”. Together they perform one of Paul’s songs, Every Day my Mother’s Voice.


It was JOHN FOGERTY who was my inspiration to produce these columns in the first place – his were the first of these videos I found. He performs with his kids, a daughter who usually plays guitar, but she’s playing drums on this clip, and two sons who play bass and guitar. Not to forget the family dog.

That means today’s instrumentation matches that of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Here’s the Fogerty family with Tombstone Shadow. This might be the best garage band ever.


IAN MOSS was the guitarist and one of the songwriters for iconic Australian rock group Cold Chisel. JIMMY BARNES was the charismatic singer for the group whose vocal style made Joe Cocker sound like Pavarotti.

On this clip there are some others, including Jimmy’s daughter Mahalia Barnes singing harmony. The song is When the War is Over.


DELTA GOODREM is often described as “The Voice of Australia”. It’s a pity she’s not widely known elsewhere so I’ll do my little bit to help that along. She performs the quintessential Australian song Down Under, first performed and written by Men at Work.


Speaking of Men at Work, here is the main man from that group, COLIN HAY. He’s a solo performer these days, although he often calls on a couple of friends to join him. He does that today when he performs the song Ringo Starr made popular, Photograph. Ringo knew what he was talking about as he was a photographer of some note.


Hands up all those who don’t remember PETER FRAMPTON from the seventies. Okay, a few of you, but back then he was everywhere with one of the biggest albums of all time. You know the one, at least those who didn’t put their hands up. Here’s another Ringo song, It Don’t Come Easy.


KRISTEN MOSCA channels Scott Joplin with her tune, Quarantine Rag. She says that it’s her first original rag, and based on the way it sounds, she has a real future in this genre. Scott is smiling down on her and the rest of us.


I was going to end there but thanks to Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, I found this one, and it’s an appropriate way to end. Here is ARLO GUTHRIE performing the old Stephen Foster song, Hard Times Come Again No More.

Arlo has the help of Jim Wilson on piano, Vanessa Bryan as co-lead singer, the great Stanley Clarke playing bass, a terrific choir and others who are mentioned at the end of the video. It’s amazing how relevant a 160-plus year old song can be.


INTERESTING STUFF – 19 September 2020

WORKERS WHO ARE BEST AT THEIR JOBS

It's amazing skill but also speed – really, really fast.

FAMED RETAILERS THAT HAVE FALLEN INTO BANKRUPTCY

More than 20 iconic retailers that have filed for Chapter 11 perotection this year of the pandemic. It's also a list of stores that have defined the lifetimes of most of the people who read this blog. In no particular order, some of them are:

Lord & Taylor
Brooks Brothers
J.C. Penney
Neiman Marcus
Pier 1
Gold's Gym
Hertz
Dean & Deluca

See the rest of the list and read more at AARP.

ECLIPSE THE BUS-RIDING DOG

From the Youtube page:

”Eclipse, a black Labrador retriever, loves going to the dog park with her human, Jeff. They usually take the city bus together, but one day Eclipse got impatient and decided to hop on by herself..."

Watch the full story:

FLU SHOT REMINDER

It has never been more important than in this year of pandemic to get a flu shot. They have been available for about a month and I got mine – the version that is specifically for old people – a couple of weeks ago.

If your health care provider is Medicare, the shot is free. Well, except for me and others like me. For some reason, the physician or pharmacy or other health care provider who administers the shot is not reimbursed if the patient is in hospice. So it cost me $82.69.

More information at Medicare.gov.

COMEDY WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS – FINALISTS

The finalists are in for the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Here are three of them:

FunnyWildlifePhotos1

FunnyWildlifePhotos3

FunnyWildlifePhotos2

You can see all of the nominees here.

And you can vote for your favorite here. The winner will be announced on 22 October.

WHERE CORK COMES FROM

It wasn't until a work trip to Spain in 1988 that I had the slightest idea where cork comes from. A local explained it to me as we drove through a cork farm.

This video, about cork growing in Portugal not only explains it, but shows how it is done.

HOW TO VOTE BY MAIL IN EVERY U.S. STATE

Presidential voting season is almost upon us and many more states than in the past are allowing a form of vote-by-mail. Links are here for deadlines and other information in every U.S. State.

WATCHING HOW BEN AND JERRY'S ICE CREAM IS MADE

Me? I'm a Haagan Dazs person but that doesn't make other brands less good and the manufacturing process is probably similar. This video was made at a Ben and Jerry's factory in Vermont.

BIRD BATH IN THE HANDS OF BIG GUY

According to Big Geek Daddy,

”Birds are attracted to running water so I can imagine that this might not be as difficult as it seems but it’s still pretty spectacular to watch.

“If you love to watch birds in your yard get rid of the traditional bird bath and get one that has flowing water. You’ll be amazed at how many more birds the running water will attract.”

But the running water isn't the real surprise. It's at the end when the camera shows us the big, burly guy who's helping out the teeny-tiny bird.

* * *

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.


The Alex and Ronni Show and a Short Amount of One Other Thing

Thanks to my hospice team – nurse, social worker, spiritual adviser – and my palliative care specialist, I feel safe and well taken care of. Each one of them is dedicated, smart, resourceful, likable and always there when I need them.

But sometimes it's out of their hands.

There is nothing they can do about my horrible night's sleep and today (Thursday as I write this) I am bone-tired, angry, ill-tempered, bilious, cantankerous and ornery.

It's so bad I can't even stand myself.

That's it. That's all I've got for you today. Except for this week's Alex and Ronni Show recorded on Wednesday.


Stumbling Along Toward an Ending

In the time I have been writing here about my approaching demise [counting from the Whipple surgery, it is more than three years] I have felt a need to be upbeat and positive about it in these pages.

The source of this pressure is more confusion than mystery. It is a natural bent of mine to seek the bright side in everything from disappointment to catastrophe. But no doubt I am also influenced by reader input that often favors pluck and fortitude in facing the inevitable destruction that is our mutual fate.

In addition, I am a realist. I do not engage in impossible fantasy as our president does and neither do I ignore difficulties. Most of the time I deal with issues head on and work them out as much as is necessary in the moment, sometimes leaving harder aspects for later.

Well, later has arrived and the truth is, it's not so easy now being my old perky self. The odd thing is that it's not about death itself that has me down some days. It's the deterioration on my way to the end.

Remember a week ago when I wrote about how I look like the Rodin sculpture of The Old Courtesan first thing in the morning? That's just the beginning of the day.

Maybe it's the “worst air in the world” in my neck of the woods due to the wildfires, but when I stand up first thing in the morning now, I can barely breathe. I was doing fine lying down and sitting, but not on my feet so I head (slowly) straight for the oxygen concentrator and plug myself in.

Who knew brushing one's teeth could be such an energy drain. Or walking to the kitchen or measuring out the coffee.

Actually, pretty much everything can take my breath away – in the literal, not exhilarating sense.

I gave up making my bed a few months ago and as of this week, I have hired a cleaning service because it is no longer a matter of taking three rest periods to change the bed; it's that I cannot do it at all. Nor can I push the vacuum cleaner anymore.

Taking out the trash is hard too. It's amazing how heavy those under-the-counter kitchen bags can get so I've taught myself to fill them only halfway before taking them out. Now I have taken to putting them in the car, which is closer to my apartment, and drive the 100 feet to the trash and recycling bins.

At first, I felt stupid making that short drive. Now it is a necessity.

Washing dishes, once a boring chore to me, has become one bright spot among all the stuff that exhausts me. It is the one thing left (aside from sitting) that I can easily do without losing my breath.

Even though I took care of my mother 24/7 during the four or five months she was dying and watched her become weaker day by day, I had no idea it would someday be so hard for me to do the household chores I took for granted for more than 70 years. Or, I suppose, I just didn't apply such decline to myself.

In healthy midlife, I think we can't imagine that we will ever become weak and tired and dependent. Oh, all right, make that “I couldn't imagine it when I was in midlife.” Maybe you knew better than I did.

Did I mention that even bending over is almost beyond my capability now? Do you remember that old joke about the old man who knelt down to get something off the floor and said to himself, “I wonder what else I can do while I'm down here?”

That's me now. Actually, it is not a matter of what more I can do. It's that I'll be heaving for breath for four or five minutes after the two seconds it takes me to retrieve a dropped pencil. I try to hang on tight to things now.

My long-winded point today is that the growing impediments to the simple way of life I have nowadays leaves me tired, weak and then dejected, asking myself, why not use those end-of-life drugs right now?

It's a good question. Except. Except. Another thing I didn't know in my mid-years is how strongly life insists on coursing through a body even as damaged as mine is now. A night's sleep (when I can get it) coupled with coffee and the nebulizer puts things right for a few hours and once again, I cannot imagine not being here.

Last week I discussed some of all this with my palliative care provider in a video call. That day, I was also lamenting that using the end-of-life drugs when the time comes deprives me of the final act of life I had wanted so much and we had previously discussed: to experience in my last moments what death is like.

As he often does, he had a good answer for me. Explaining that death doesn't happen all at once, but over a period of time, perhaps I could transfer that desire for knowing the last moments into tracking my physical and emotional transition to the day when I decide it is time for those drugs. To shadow myself down that road.

That surely animated me and made the hard stuff I'm going through worth the effort – for now or for as long as it does. And sometimes I'll tell you about it here.

There I go again, finding the bright side.


A TGB READER STORY: Memory of a Summer Day

By Janet from Minnesota

On this beautiful summer day, my heart is filled with memories of a lady I used to know. It makes sense that I use the word lady because it implies a gentle manner and is a word that seems to embody who and how she was.

I think we must have met long before my first recollection of her. Nevertheless, the first time she appears in my memory is on a summer afternoon. Her white-grey hair is carefully combed, as always, and she’s wearing one of her floral cotton summer dresses. The pink and white one, I think it was.

She’s standing in the doorway of her tidy little house holding the door open for us, smiling and chattering cheerfully. We would come to repeat this ritual many times over several summers, but that first time and how she looked on that day has stayed with me for all these years.

She always seemed genuinely happy to see us, greeting my mom with a big smile. “Oh, Patsy, how are you? Come on in. Look at all these nice kids. Oh, and here’s my little Jeanne!”

My mom and I and some of my siblings had made the two or three mile walk to her house - an easy trek because it was all downhill (and because I didn’t have a toddler to pick up and carry every so often like my mom did).

After taking our shoes off at the door, we respectfully made our way into her house. It was a curious place to me, simply decorated with old fashioned furniture and knickknacks.

I remember a figurine that sat on a small table by her green and gold lamp. It was of a woman with a fancy hat and gloves and a very glamorous smile painted across her porcelain face.

In the dining room was a corner shelf that held several elegantly flowered teacups with matching saucers. I can still see the bright colors and delicate handles of the teacups and how pretty they looked against the dark wood of the shelf.

I didn’t think about it then, but today I can imagine her placing each teacup in just the right spot and how she must have dusted them one by one, carefully returning them to their proper place on the shelf.

Her windows were always filled with plants. She was a prolific and gifted gardener; one of the many sweet things about her I didn’t truly appreciate until it no longer was.

I’m lucky after all these years to have vivid memories of her flower garden and of her walking gracefully in and out of the rows of beautiful flowers like a butterfly who didn’t want to miss out on a single one of them.

She was at home in the middle of all those flowers, chatting happily about which ones were doing well, which would bloom next and what colors they would be, stopping here and there to select just the right blossoms for a pretty and colorful bouquet to send home with my mom.

After a visit to her flower garden she would send us to the neighborhood store for vanilla ice cream. Carefully opening the ice cream carton from the side, she would slice the frozen treat like a loaf of bread; a thick, delicious square for each of us.

It was a special delight when raspberries were in season. Fresh from her garden, she’d spoon them onto our ice cream in a most generous fashion, the bright red berries atop the sweet ice cream slices making my mouth water with anticipation. I’d be hard pressed to remember having a better treat before or since.

As I write this, my heart overflows with memories of this kind, sweet lady - too many and too tender to write about in one sitting. So just for now, on this beautiful summer day, I will remember her the way she was on those summer days of long ago, greeting us with a smile, making sure our visit was pleasant and special the way a gracious hostess does, and sending us off with more smiles, happy chatter, some homemade raspberry jam, and of course, a bouquet of beautiful flowers. Here’s to the precious memory of you, my dear Aunt Vickie.

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