Living While Dying

What I have always liked are the surprises in life, the unexpected events that seem to occur to remind me that I don't control everything, and this surely is the biggest ever for me.

There has always been a lot of loose activity going on in the ether that impinges on my plans. Some of it is pleasurable, but a large amount gums up the works.

Knowing perfectly well that some people die hard deaths didn't stop me from assuming I would be as disgustingly healthy up to the end as I had always been – that is, until I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 76.

Ruminating on my own demise now and then in those many pre-cancer years, I never got further than something like, “I lived and then I died”, anticipating no remarkable lead-up to death.

To repeat myself from a week ago, “Man plans and god laughs.” You can't say in the case of this particular unexpected event, cancer, that it doesn't gum up my personal works.

The joint and body pains from a medication that didn't work out is one of those. Three weeks or so since ending that medication, the pains are receding in small, daily increments, but it is so slow I wonder if it will entirely go away.

As interesting as life has been these past two years, and continues to be, this is not one of the better surprises of my life nor is the COPD that the medication was meant to help control.

Backing up a couple of years, after the Whipple surgery from which it took months to recover, I watched myself create a smaller life, shrinking it down closer to essentials without many frills.

I wanted more time alone, too, and tried to arrange my social life to accommodate that. I was winding down my earthly existence, concentrating on only what was most important to me in the time left.

Then, early this year, my oncologist told me that the chemotherapy had shrunk my tumors by half or so and that he expected me to be around “for quite a while yet,” he said.

Soon after, I noticed that I was gradually expanding my life again. A few more social engagements, purchasing some books I had thought I wouldn't have time for and I even bought a sweater I liked – the first new clothing since the cancer diagnosis.

Before the latest diagnosis of COPD and the body/joint pains, I liked to tell myself (and others who would listen) that I was so free of symptoms that if I didn't know better, I would think I don't have cancer.

I suspect now that will never be so again. Even though, if you don't count the body pains and shortness of breath, I feel reasonably good, from now on I will be living while dying.

That was true before but I was not so out in the open and honest with myself about it as now, and maybe that's why I have been searching out smart thinkers, philosophers and others who have written well about growing old and getting closer to death.

Last week, that brought me back to 20th century, British philosopher Bertrand Russell and his essay written when he was about 80 titled, “How to Grow Old.”

It is very short – just three pages – and here are his points that are salient to me. Well, this week. We'll see how that changes or not.

”Psychologically there are two dangers to be guarded against in old age. One of these is undue absorption in the past. It does not do to live in memories, in regrets for the good old days...

“The other thing to be avoided is clinging to youth in the hope of sucking up vigour from its vitality.”

These have not been issues for me but it is still good to be reminded. More interesting is this, about facing the fear of death:

”The best way to overcome it – so at least it seems to me – is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.

“An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls.

“Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged with the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

Although this cancer/COPD event was a surprise to me, I think if given a choice, I would prefer the situation I'm in, knowing death is coming relatively soon but with time to appreciate and make good use of the new and different perspective it gives me.

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[EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the first of what will probably be more such ruminations on my predicament. Like today, they might be triggered by something I've read or what someone tells me. Other times it might be random thoughts without any conclusions. Perhaps we can call it, simply, thinking out loud.]




A TGB READER STORY: Forget Me Not

By Janet

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The backlog of stories is getting short. If you are inclined to submit one, check the note at the bottom of this story.

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I won’t let go of you. I don’t want to, ever. What was I doing while you were breathing your last breath - while you, my little sister, were dying?

Drinking wine, reading a book, sending you a message you would never see, waiting for a reply that would never come.

How is it possible that things were so ORDINARY that day, and in the hours before the terrifying call that would change us all forever?

In my dream, I turn a corner into a sunny hallway. Suddenly there you are, standing there grinning at me as if to say: “I’ll bet I’m the LAST person you were expecting to see!” Your shirt is bright white. It’s pretty. You look happy. Dazzling, actually.

The pants you’re wearing catch my eye. They’re patterned in tiny blue flowers with yellow centers. There is purple, too - perhaps buds that have not yet bloomed. Such vivid detail in those flowers!

I reach out to touch you and say something, but I’m being patted on the shoulder and lightly nudged until I’m awake. I sit up in bed “What the hell?” I say out loud. (Is it possible you’re here?) I look around, but I’m alone and the house is quiet.

I cry myself back to sleep because I’m sad. We came close just now, but we didn’t get a chance to talk.

A few days later your dear, grieving husband sends pictures of some of your African violets in full bloom. The flowers remind me of the pants you wore in my dream, yet they are different. I remember thinking how poetic it would have been if they had been the same.

Sometimes I try to fall asleep by closing my eyes and conjuring up the dream again. It’s pleasant, as if you came back one more time. I see the sunny hallway, your smile, the colors, and the flowers. Suddenly I bolt upright.

The flowers! I know what those flowers are! They are forget-me-nots. Forget-me-nots! I search the internet for pictures and I find them. Sure enough, that’s what they are; forget-me-nots, beautiful and vibrant. Just like in my dream. Just like you.

I will not forget you. In my memory you smile every day. I watch you. Blue eyes, quick step - the ease with which you went happily about your life. Last time in your kitchen we laughed, joked, we raised our coffee cups and our spirits, solved a couple of the world’s problems, too.

I took it all for granted. I swear I didn’t know. How could I have known? But I loved you. I most certainly did love you. And I think you always knew that. I hope you always knew that.

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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.]




The Alex and Ronni Show – Posted 19 August 2019

This episode of The Alex and Ronni Show was recorded last Wednesday, 14 August. Since then, Jeffrey Epstein's death, which we discuss about halfway through the video, has been declared a suicide by the medical examiner.

I've never been a conspiracy theorist but I still think it's fishy.

Unrelated to anything Alex and I discussed in this video, I was was watching live TV reports of the protest marches of Proud Boys and Antifa in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday while idly skimming through online news.

I found this lovely story about a former refugee who was given a bicycle by an aid worker in the Holland camp where she lived with her parents for several years when she was a little girl. "My five-year-old heart exploded with joy," she said.

As young as she was then, she never forgot the man's kindness. Twenty-nine years old now and living in London, she took a long shot recently, posting a photo of him on Twitter asking if anyone knows his name or where he lives.

Given how much bad stuff goes on on the internet, this is a refreshing story. Read it at Daily Kos. It's worth your time and you will feel really good when you've finished.




ELDER MUSIC: Classical Predilections 6

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.

* * *

Here is some more music that has taken my fancy in recent times. Some I heard on the radio, others I played for my own enjoyment and thought I’d share it with you.

JOHANN FASCH was a German violinist and composer.

Fasch

Jo’s dad died when he was about 12 and the family moved in with his mother’s brother who was a clergyman. It was through him that young Jo became a choir boy and made the acquaintance of several composers who put him on the path to becoming a composer himself.

He wrote cantatas, concertos, symphonies and chamber music. Surprisingly, nothing he wrote was published during his lifetime. One such is his Concerto for two Oboes da caccia, two Violas, two Bassoons and Continuo in G major. The oboe da caccia was a hunting oboe.

I didn’t know that there was such a thing. It’s a bit deeper than the regular oboe and looks like this.

Oboe da caccia1

I’ll play the whole concerto as it’s quite short as was the way of things back then before Vivaldi, Telemann and Bach came along and changed all that.

♫ Fasch - Concerto for 2 Oboes da caccia 2 Violas 2 Bassoons and Continuo in G Major FaWV L_G11


The music of PHILIP GLASS tends to polarise people.

Philip Glass

Nobody seems to be ho hum about it – you usually love it or hate it. You can tell where I stand as I’m including him today. I especially like his piano music and I’ve included a piece today, his Etude No. 2. Listen with an open mind.

♫ Philip Glass - Etude 2


Continuing with contemporary music, ELENA KATS-CHERNIN is easily Australia’s finest living composer.

ElenaKats-Chernin

It might not induce you to listen to this when I say that the text of the piece is made up of mostly nonsense syllables sourced from Russian words to do with sea creatures; those words are then split up and used in reverse.

The composition was first heard at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. It’s performed today by Sally Whitwell playing piano and the Gondwana Voices, a Sydney young people’s choir. Here is Deep Sea Dreaming.

♫ Kats-Chernin - Deep Sea Dreaming


For a complete change of pace, I give you MAX BRUCH.

Max Bruch

Max was a German composer who has a couple of hundred compositions to his name, but is best known for his violin concertos which have become a staple on the concert circuit. That is especially so of his Violin Concerto No 1 in G Minor. Here is the third movement.

♫ Bruch - Violin Concerto No 1 (3)


MAURICE RAVEL is best known (and quite often only known) for Bolero.

Ravel

Like every composer, there’s more to him than a single composition. In 1904, the French musicologist Pierre Aubry was preparing a lecture on Greek folksongs. He enlisted the help of Greek-born fellow musicologist and critic Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi to provide some examples. He, in turn, asked his friend Maurice to orchestrate some of the chosen songs.

One of those is Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques (Song of the Pistachio Harvesters). It’s sung by the marvelous soprano SARA MACLIVER.

Sara Macliver

♫ Ravel - Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques


NICOLA FRANCESCO HAYM was an Italian jack of all trades.

Haym

He went to London when he was in his early twenties and stayed there for the rest of his life. He took a job as a theatre manager and also wrote the words for operas by various composers, including Mr Handel.

Besides that he composed music of his own, was an artist and a literary editor who wrote about linguists, art, politics, poetry, geography, mathematics and astronomy.

Nic is the only composer I’ve come across who was a numismatist, being an expert on early Greek and Roman coins. He wrote several trio sonatas, one of which is the Trio Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 1. This is the fourth movement.

♫ Haym - Trio Sonata No. 1 in D Minor Op. 1 (4)


PYOTR TCHAIKOVSKY has a suite called “The Seasons”, a bit like Haydn, Vivaldi and others.

Tchaikovsky

This is a misnomer as it’s really just the months of the year. These are twelve solo piano compositions and are quite lovely, gentle pieces; a million miles away from his bombastic works. The one I’ve included is June. It’s played by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

♫ Tchaikovsky - The Seasons (June)


CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS was a French composer, organist and pianist.

Saint-Saëns

He was a child prodigy and performed major works in concert before he was a teenager. He was a bit of a polymath as he excelled in philosophy, literature, Greek and Latin, mathematics, astronomy and archaeology.

Camille is probably best known for rather over the top works like the Organ Symphony (No. 3) and Danse Macabre.

His Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 is not in that mold; it’s a lot quieter than those. This is the second movement with Ha-Na Chang playing the cello.

♫ Saint-Saëns - Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor Op.33 (2)


There is an oratorio that GEORG HANDEL wrote three times.

Handel

Well, he revised it twice would be more accurate. The first time he wrote it in Italy and called it Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusion). The next time was when he had moved to London and he called it Il trionfo del Tempo e della Verità (The Triumph of Time and Truth).

The third version was in English and just called The Triumph of Time and Truth. An aria from that is called “One Band Of Pleasures Keeps Watch Over My Thoughts”.

♫ Handel - One Band Of Pleasures Keeps Watch Over My Thoughts


I’ll end with FRANZ DANZI whose name might give away his origins. He was born in Germany to an Italian cello player.

Danzi

Franz took after his dad and took up the cello himself. He also wrote music and was a conductor of some note at the time. His compositions tended to favour chamber music – duos, quartets, quintets, septets and the like.

What we have today, however, is a bigger work. It’s the Concertante in B-flat major for flute, clarinet & orchestra, Op. 41, the first movement.

♫ Danzi - Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major for flute clarinet & orchestra Op. 41 (1)




INTERESTING STUFF – 17 August 2019

KANGAROOS IN THE SNOW

While it is high summer in the United States and other northern hemisphere countries, it is winter in Australia. One source tells me snow is an uncommon occurrence down under. Another source says it's not so rare.

Either way, here is, to me, a video of an odd occurrence, kangaroos frolicking in the snow.

PAIN CHART

There is, in physician examining rooms in the U.S., a pain chart asking the patient to choose, on a range of one to ten, how much pain he or she is having that day. I never know what number to choose because I don't know what my upper pain limit is.

This is a much more evocative and useful pain chart (she said, smiling). My friend Frank Paynter was the first of several people to send it.

Painchart600

FOLLOW THE YELLOW MARBLE

Keep your eye on the yellow marble as it navigates a puzzle path of contraptions, the YouTube page tells us. The whole thing is set to Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

The creator says he went through about 300 failed recordings in a month before he got it right.

BEAR FALLS ON POLICE CAR

I'm going to break precedent (and maybe law) by publishing this entire, but very short, story here. No one should need to click around the web and back to read such a fine and funny piece of journalism.

There is no byline. It is an AP story via The Guardian. Your goal is the last sentence but don't spoil it for yourself by skipping down to the bottom. Read the whole thing – you'll appreciate the ending more.

”A patrol car was struck by a falling bear in northern California last weekend, causing the vehicle to crash and explode.

Authorities said a Humboldt county sheriff’s deputy was driving on State Route 96 on 3 August, answering a report of a drug overdose in the community of Orleans, when the bear fell or jumped onto the car, apparently from a steep embankment.

The bear smashed the hood and windshield. The patrol car hit an embankment, rolled onto its side and burst into flames.

The deputy managed to escape without serious injury.

The fire was contained to about half an acre but the car was gutted.

However, the California department of transportation stated: 'Don’t worry, the bear also fled the scene.'”
Photo of the mangled police car at The Guardian.

NORTHWEST ANGLE, MINNESOTA

There is a place in Minnesota that has the feel of small town America, but if they want to get to the Northwest Angle, travelers have to leave the U.S. and go through Canada to get there.

Lee Cowan explains a geographical quirk along the northern border of the U.S. From CBS Sunday Morning.

SCIENTISTS' REACT TO STRANGE DEEP SEA CREATURE

As YouTube explains,

”Scientists on the Nautilus team ran into a mysterious creature on a recent expedition in Hawaii. The strange fish was found nearly a mile beneath the surface." From National Geographic:

WHAT IF HOUSE CATS WERE MUCH BIGGER THAN THEY ARE

Russian artist Andrey Scherbak creates fanciful “photos” showing what the world around us would be like if house cats were much larger than they are. Here are two:

CatInGrocery

CatInRain

There are many more at Bored Panda and 150 of Scherbak's images at Instagram.

CREATE HAPPINESS IN WHATEVER YOU DO

All I will tell you is what TGB reader Joan McMullen said in an email when she sent a link to this video: “It's not what you think.”

* * *

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.




Happy 94 Years, Millie Garfield

Actually, Millie's birthday is Sunday so we're a little bit early but when someone is in their tenth decade, several days of celebration do not seem excessive to me. So...

HBMSingleFlower

In recent years, Millie has spent less time with her blog, called My Mom's Blog presumably because her son, Steve, helped put it together, and then Millie was up and running on the internet in 2003, a year before I was.

We met soon after I started Time Goes By which means we've known one another for about 15 years. For several of those years, Millie produced an ongoing video series for her blog called “I Can't Open It” - something a lot of us have problems with and which became an internet classic.

Here is one of them. Her son Steve is the videographer:

These days you'll more frequently find Millie on Facebook. Here she is having a beer with Steve and his wife Carol last week at Riverwalk.

MillieAtRiverWalk

Here's another photo from Millie's Facebook page with Steve and his wife, Carol. Have you noticed that this family eats a lot?

MillieSteveCarol

As we have done for many years on Millie's birthday, we add up our years. So if you take Millie's 94 and my 78, we get 172. Add yours to this total or the last total in the comments.

Yes, it will probably get all mixed up and not exactly right but that's the fun of a party – just giggle and move on.

Meanwhile, let's all sing Happy Birthday to Millie and her amazing 94 years. I love you, Millie.




The Price of Murder-Suicide and Medical Tourism

On Monday's discussion here about end-of-life choices, the cost of the drugs used for physician-assisted dying - $3,000 to $4,000 in Oregon – was mentioned. (Thank you all who posted ideas about assistance with the price.)

Soon after that story was posted Monday morning, two related stories popped up while I was reading the news of the day.

The first is short and terribly sad. As the Washington Post reported, Brian S. Jones, shot his wife, Patricia A. Whitney-Jones, age 76, in the head then shot himself three times.

”[The] Washington state couple whom authorities believe died by murder-suicide reportedly left several notes expressing worry that they could not afford treatment for the wife’s severe medical issues.

“The husband, 77, called 911 shortly before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and told the dispatcher that he planned to shoot himself, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. The man said he had written a note for the sheriff with information and instructions.

“The dispatcher tried to keep the caller on the phone, according to authorities, but the man said, “We will be in the front bedroom” and hung up.”

Did you notice that first sentence in the quotation, “...worry that they could not afford treatment for the wife's severe medical issues.” We'll get back to that in a moment.

The second story has a happier ending but still leaves one wondering.

According to Kaiser Health News, on a Saturday morning in July this year, 56-year-old Donna Ferguson from Ecru, Mississippi, met Dr. Thomas Parisi, an orthopedist from Madison, Wisconsin, at Galenia Hospital in Cancun, Mexico, where he performed a total knee replacement on one of Ferguson's knees.

A few hours later, while Ms. Ferguson was already working with a physical therapist, Dr. Parisi flew home to Wisconsin. Ferguson stayed another 10 days at a nearby Sheraton hotel for physical therapy at the hospital twice a day.

”Parisi, who spent less than 24 hours in Cancun, was paid $2,700, or three times what he would get from Medicare, the largest single payer of hospital costs in the United States. Private health plans and hospitals often negotiate payment schedules using the Medicare reimbursement rate as a floor...

“In the United States, knee replacement surgery costs an average of about $30,000 — sometimes double or triple that — but at Galenia, it is only $12,000, said Dr. Gabriela Flores Teón, medical director of the facility.

“The standard charge for a night in the hospital is $300 at Galenia, Flores said, compared with $2,000 on average at hospitals in the United States.

“The other big savings is the cost of the medical device — made by a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson — used in Ferguson’s knee replacement surgery.

“The very same implant she would have received at home costs $3,500 at Galenia, compared with nearly $8,000 in the United States, Flores said.”

Ferguson's Mexico surgery was set up by a new-ish organization, North American Specialty Hospital (NASH), based in Denver.

”[NASH] has organized treatment for a couple of dozen American patients at Galenia Hospital since 2017.

“Parisi, a graduate of the Mayo Clinic, is one of about 40 orthopedic surgeons in the United States who have signed up with NASH to travel to Cancun on their days off to treat American patients.”

Two big things jump out at me about these two stories, especially as 20-odd presidential candidates in the U.S. are arguing over their individual flavors of “Medical for all”:

What is wrong with a country that sends its patients AND its physicians to another country for treatment at a reasonable price?

And

What is wrong with a country in which an aged couple sets up a murder/suicide pact because they cannot afford medical treatment?

Both of these questions fall into the same category as Monday's question about the high price of the drugs in Oregon's physician-assisted death program.

Any of us could find ourselves in these predicaments. Something is very wrong.




A TGB READER STORY: Poutine to Padre, Day 7

A road trip from Montreal to San Padre Island, Texas, by Brenda Henry

Bus number 50 goes straight into the heart of Memphis.

It was on this day we observed one random act of kindness after another.

We board the bus, pay and sit.

Three stops later, a senior man climbs aboard. He has no money but the driver welcomes him. The man takes a side seat. His hair is half matted, half sticking up like he slept rough.

Call him Mister.

His bottom lip protrudes and trembles. He's wearing a faded red sweater with a hole in one elbow, baggy tan pants and worn down work boots without laces.

Mister doesn't look at anyone. He's in his own world.

He mumbles to himself, straightens his body on the seat, looks around.

The bus stops, more passengers enter.

There is something arresting about Mister. I quietly observe him and wonder who he is and what stories he could tell me.

He digs deep into his pocket, pulls out a small stick of deodorant, removes the top and meticulously rolls the deodorant all over the outside of his clothing- arms, chest, armpits and the full length of his pants.

He puts the cap back on the deodorant, places it back in the same pants pocket, removes a tiny tube of toothpaste, uncaps it, squeezes out a blob and uses his index finger to rub it all over the inside of his mouth.

Mister smiles at nobody, stands up, takes a plastic comb out of his other pant pocket, rakes it back and forth through his tangled hair, smiles and moves to a different seat up front as if he's alone.

The bus stops. A well-dressed senior woman climbs in carrying two shopping bags and her large purse. She sits, arranges her bags and looks around.

Call her The Angel.

Her eyes land on Mister.

The Angel doesn't seem to know him but perhaps she sees something in him - a reminder of her own life.

She leans forward and speaks.

"Hey, hey."

She's talking to Mister.

He doesn't hear her.

She tries again.

"Hey, hey."

Mister hears something, turns his head, looks in The Angel's direction. Is she talking to him?

His face says, "Who would even want to acknowledge me?"

That's when The Angel reaches into her purse, takes out some dollar bills, folds them, gets up, walks over to Mister and hands him the money.

Do they know each other?

We are certain they do not.

Mister takes the money as if he can't believe this is happening.

He thanks The Angel.

She goes "uh huh" and walks back to her seat.

Three stops later, he disembarks.

The driver lets us off in the Memphis bus terminal.

We walk the streets.

We walk the streets.

We listen to the blues.

I write.

MEMPHIS
Memphis is the grandmother of the blues
Her life story transcends time
Her fingers are bent, her playing hands hardened

Every line in her face is a testament
She sings the truth about life
She can make you laugh until you cry

She can make you wail like a baby

Her words force you to take a cold hard look at yourself
She reads your soul like an angel

You can't bull shoot her

She will sit near you on a public bus in Memphis
And hand you her last dollar

And you will take it

Because she knows you better than you know yourself.

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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.]




“Man Plans and God Laughs”

As I mentioned in a post last week, I've been through a lot of pain over the past few weeks. It's much better now but was the worst I had felt during this cancer odyssey since recovery from the Whipple surgery in the summer and fall of 2017.

When I hurt or am sick, my mind wanders to the dark sides of life - in this case, frequent thoughts about when, with a terminal illness, it is time to go. Is it now?

My palliative care physician tells me his patients invariably know when that time arrives - time to stop treatments and for some, to invoke Oregon's Death with Dignity law.

But even with that, my mind was also its usual busy self: things to know, books to read, people to talk with, blog posts to write. Etc.

Stepping back from myself, I could see – if I make it my choice - it was not yet time to die.

When you are healthy and particularly if you are also young, you think you know what you're talking about when in reality, you will come to see one day that you were fooling yourself.

Well, maybe not you, but certainly me. All those big life questions I thought I had so diligently explored over years and, as much as possible, answered? Piffle.

Even with plenty of evidence to the contrary (all but one in my family died of cancer), somehow I believed that I would be healthy and hale until, at an advanced age, I would die quietly in my sleep.

As it turns out, according to a quick trip around the internet, the number of people who do so is hard to calculate and often – especially with elders - the result of underlying disease which may or may not make death while sleeping a “quiet” experience.

Further, until I sat down to make some notes for this post, I had not realized that for many years – decades, to be truthful - I also believed in a contradiction: I had come to see death as life's last great adventure and I wanted to experience it while awake, not in great pain and lucid.

I still do. So what is it? Die in my sleep or die wide awake? You can't have both.

When I moved to Oregon nearly a decade ago, I was pleased to know that along with seven other states and the District of Columbia, physician-assisted dying is allowed by law.

Among other requirements are that the patient be mentally competent, be diagnosed with a disease that will lead to death within six months as confirmed by two physicians, and be capable of administering or ingesting the life-ending drug without assistance.

The drug, I am told by a physician, puts the patient into a coma within a few minutes and death results shortly thereafter.

How is it I didn't realize before that I cannot be awake and lucid enough to experience the main event and also be in a coma? Not that I know what goes on in anyone's mind while in a coma but I doubt I would be aware in the way I want to be during the last moments of my life.

What a dilemma – because I don't want to die in an anonymous bed somewhere in a “facility”, but at home amongst my stuff and one or two or three loved ones. If you let a disease run its course, there is no way to guarantee that.

Which is where I'm stuck.

And here is another thing I hadn't considered: The drugs, acquired via doctor's prescription, cost between $3,000 and $4,000 – and I doubt Medicare Part D pays for them. That pretty well guarantees physician-assisted death is a privilege reserved for the middle and upper classes.

Do the inequities in American life actually follow some people to the grave?

An old Yiddish saying tells us, “Man plans and god laughs.” No kidding.




ELDER MUSIC: Felice and Boudleaux Bryant

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.

* * *

Felice&BoudleauxBryant1

FELICE AND BOUDLEAUX BRYANT wrote several thousand songs, somewhere between three and seven, depending on who’s counting. Here are a few of them that you might recognise.

People of a certain age (that is, round about mine) tend to associate them with the Everly Brothers, as they wrote a bunch of songs for them, most of which were big sellers. There’ll be a few of those today.

The Oxford American Magazine summed up their writing style best...

”If you’re drawn to musicians who salvage their art from tragic romance, addiction, and other personal wreckage, you may as well turn elsewhere now.

“The lives and joint career of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Nashville’s first full-time, non-performing songwriters, offer few attractions for the rubbernecker. By all accounts, their 42-year marital and creative partnership was nearly idyllic, as Boudleaux acknowledged when asked to explain the optimism of many of their songs: 'I suppose it’s because we’ve had such a very wonderful relationship.'”

Felice said,

“'We started writing for the hell of it, for fun,' Boudleaux said, 'and after about 80 songs we thought, this looks like it could be a good thing. But we originally wrote them for our own amusement.'”

I’ll start, appropriately, with the EVERLY BROTHERS and one of their big hits.

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As mentioned above, they wrote a lot for the Everlys, and this will not be the only song of theirs. It’s Wake Up Little Susie.

♫ Everly Brothers - Wake Up Little Susie


By 1960 there was a fad for teenage tragedy songs. Not just the teenagers (Tell Laura I love Her, Teen Angel and so on) but others as well (by Marty Robbins, Patti Page etc).

The Bryants wrote a song to send up this phenomenon, called Let’s Think About Living and BOB LUMAN was the singer who turned it into a considerable hit.

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Bob was from Texas and lived in some wonderfully named towns early on – he was born in Blackjack, grew up in Nacogdoches and went to high school in Kilgore. His father was a good amateur musician and encouraged young Bob.

His first band included the great guitarist James Burton, before he played with Ricky Nelson, Elvis, Emmylou Harris and anyone else who wanted the very best. Anyway, here’s Bob with the song.

♫ Bob Luman - Let's Think About Living


BUDDY HOLLY mostly performed his own songs.

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However, now and then he’d have a go at someone else’s. This one turned out to be quite a hit for Buddy, Raining in My Heart.

♫ Buddy Holly - Raining In My Heart


Here is our second dose of the EVERLY BROTHERS.

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Their song is Sleepless Nights. This was also performed by the Flying Burrito Brothers, a group that contained Chris Hillman, founder member of The Byrds, and Gram Parsons, himself a member of The Byrds for a short time.

♫ Everly Brothers - Sleepless Nights


A few people have recorded the song, She Wears My Ring, but the version I like is by JOHNNY O'KEEFE.

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Johnny was the first and best of Australia’s early rock and rollers. He started out as a wild one (a song he wrote and recorded) but like many from that time, mellowed over the years.

This song is on the mellower end of his output, but it’s still evident he’s a rocker when you listen to his voice.

♫ Johnny O'Keefe - She Wears My Ring


Love Hurts was originally recorded by the Everly Brothers. It was later covered really well by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Emmy also did her own version, as have several other performers. One of those is LEO SAYER.

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Leo was a bit of a chameleon, changing styles depending on what was popular at the time. However, he always brought a little extra to everything he performed. This one is a little heavy on the celestial choirs and strings but he does a good job.

♫ Leo Sayer - Love Hurts


Some more EVERLY BROTHERS.

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It seems they were naughty and got banged up in the slammer. However, they don’t want Mary to know about this. It should become obvious to her when they don’t come home for quite some time, or ever, according to the song. Take a Message to Mary.

♫ Everly Brothers - Take a Message to Mary


When SUE THOMPSON had several hits in the early sixties - she sounded to us as if she were a teenager just starting out. We were wrong as she was was well into her thirties at the time.

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This isn’t one of the songs of hers I remember from then, but it was written by our pair today, so it’s included. The song is Have a Good Time.

♫ Sue Thompson - Have A Good Time


Doug Dillard, of The Dillards, and Gene Clark, from The Byrds, teamed up to record a couple of fine albums under the name DILLARD AND CLARK.

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Doug was a virtuoso banjo player, which will be demonstrated on the song Rocky Top. Donna Washburn is also prominent singing along with them.

♫ Dillard & Clark - Rocky Top


Okay, it’s approaching the last dance of the evening, so grab your sweetie for that last dance. Here are the EVERLY BROTHERS to do the honors.

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This is what we used to call a “clutcher hugger”, and we blokes really liked these. I don’t what the gals thought about them. The song is Devoted to You.

♫ Everly Brothers - Devoted to You


FELICE AND BOUDLEAUX may have claimed to be non-performing songwriters, but they did make a couple of albums, so we’ll finish with them.

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They’re better than they give themselves credit for as they demonstrate on All I Have to Do is Dream, originally a hit for (guess who?) the Everly Brothers.

Felice & Boudleaux Bryant - All I Have to Do is Dream