A TGB READER STORY: What's the State of Your Mind?
Answers to Reader Questions About Death and Dying

Being Terminally Ill

EDITORIAL NOTE: To name this ship we are on together now for this final journey of mine, it was a close vote among Curiosity, Ronni's Ship of Friends and This End Up. It is the votes sent by email that put This End Up over the top by three votes, and so it is. I'm not sure how we're going to use the name of the boat yet but feel free to offer your suggestions.

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The headline today is my new status: terminally ill. After knowing this for two-and-a-half weeks now, I still don't fully believe it. First of all, I feel as healthy as the best I have ever been. Nothing hurts. I have no symptoms. I can do anything I need to do.

Except for one thing: I have been disabused of that marvelous notion humans have all our lives of being the one immortal: you might die one day, but not me.

When I wake each morning, that seems to remain so. I lie there looking forward to the day, eager to get going, maybe reviewing a list in my head of things I need or want to do.

It's always been like that but now it doesn't last long enough for me to finish the list, as I am rudely interrupted recalling that I live in a different country now – the land of the terminally ill.

Isn't that a horrible phrase, “terminally ill.” It's too clinical, even industrial. It ignores the humanity of the life that will be extinguished and it sounds so imminent, as if I am already on the first bus out of here - a bus being driven, of course, by the grim reaper, hood in place and scythe in hand.

But that's not true of me. For awhile anyway, I've got some time. None of the doctors and nurses knows exactly how long in my case but, given some chemotherapy, six to eight months before symptoms begin to kick in has been mentioned.

Me? I take the prediction with some caution. The time could be shorter or it could be longer and since there is nothing I can do to affect the timing, the only rational choice for me is to carry on living.

Without, however, losing sight of the impending exit date. To ignore it would be absurd.

On the day I learned of my new status, some decisions came to me immediately. I've mentioned giving up the daily workout I've always despised, and now I get to eat all the ice cream and cheeses – my two favorite foods – as I want.

I explained in an earlier post that I have no bucket list and I am uninterested in them except for this thought that came to me three or four days ago: I want to go somewhere to spend time playing with a whole passel kittens – puppies would work too – you know how they climb all over you and lick your face and squeak and squeal and tumble around and make you laugh like a four-year-old.

Maybe more than once I want to do that before I go. I need to find somewhere near here that will allow it.

Another decision I made right away is that I will not keep my new status a secret. I proactively tell people whom I want to know or who need to know, and I will tell others as needs be.

That can turn out to be tricky.

Indeed, I need to avoid that barren phrase, “terminally ill,” because it sure does push people away. Even without it, few know what to say to a person whose days are officially numbered. Except for some.

Many years ago, when we were decades younger than we are now, a friend and I joked that if either of us ever had a terminal disease, the healthy one would interview the other to death.

As a matter of fact, she and I had a long phone call over the weekend. Sure enough, she asked a lot of questions and among all sorts of other topics, we talked about my new status, my predicament as it were, some of the details and we toyed with some of the unknowables, having a fine ol' time doing it.

Afterward, I was curious about what the internet says about talking with people who are dying.

The Mayo Clinic has a pretty good page about how to be with a loved one who is terminally ill. Some other online advice feels suspect to me: choose your words carefully, don't ask questions, talk about something other than cancer.

Huh? Just speak. I don't care what words you use. Ask any questions at all and god, at this point, certainly talk about cancer and dying all you want. I can't promise my responses will useful because I've never done this before and I'm still learning. But do say what you want to say.

The one big thing I don't want is advice about other treatments, getting second opinions and miracle cures. Too many of those have already arrived over the transom of my email account and so far, I have been polite to the writers.

But after a dozen or more of them, I'm done with politesse. If there were anything that could cure this cancer, the medical people who care for me work at a world-class cancer institute and they would know about it. If there were real miracle cures, believe me, they would not be a secret to anyone.

For as long as I can remember, I have been curious about dying. When I have explained myself through the years, I've said that I want to be awake, lucid, not drugged or in pain because I want to experience the event of dying as clearly as possible. It is the last great mystery of life and I don't want to miss it.

In knowing that, however, what I had never considered is the process of being terminally ill, the path leading up to that death.

This is a wholely different place from how we live before something like this happens. It changes everything. Not, perhaps, the acts of daily life (I don't intend to alter that much). Instead, it shades and colors everything in ways that are new to me.

I'm only just beginning to work with that and try to figure it out.


I came across this quote this morning and immediately thought of you.

"Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these."
~ Susan B. Anthony

Dear Ronni - What to say? Shit and a multitude of similar ************* Thank you for your honesty - I think it is useful for you but also for the rest of us - Terminal? We're all headed for the same terminus - just the timetable is different and never accurate - just know that we will all be travelling with you - and some will get there ahead of you - loads of loving thoughts - Jeanette

I was thinking as I write this how precious it is that you want to continue to include us in your journey. Thank you so much, what a gift. I was also thinking that I want to take this into all my meetings and relationships today (and perhaps longer?!) that sense of awe that I actually get to be with you and you and you.

I love the idea of puppies and kittens, inspired! I've had this once in my life...a whole litter of old english sheepdog puppies that my son and I visited to pick our next pup, Nikki. The look on his face is priceless....oozing cuteness and joy.

So here's to enjoying and if not, being with all of the moments. Love.

Check out the moon early morning, if possible, it's glorious, and with wispy clouds running in front of it, I totally expected a lady on a broom to cross in front, laughing away. Didn't happen. A privilege of being able to walk before dawn is the stunning, daily reminder of how vast and interesting nature is, and there's a new show every day.

We are all on the same path, only in different places. I refer to it as my ride to he great rainbow walk.

Thank you for inviting, or rather demanding, that we be honest and direct with our questions. Here's one: Are you angry about having this cancer? If so, about what/or whom? And how do you handle the anger? Well, since your diagnosis, I've decided a thing or two. I'll swear when I want, with some respect for others, like children. I yelped repeatedly when walking today, for no reason, it seemed natural and felt good, free, animalistic.

Keep taking care of all parts of yourself, including the cancer ones.

One more thing. I love you for being who you are and having taught how to grow old well.

Nice quote, Flo.

People have told me that once others find out you're terminal that becomes your identity, so you might not want to lead with that. At what point in conversation does your health status usually come up? I know it's on your mind, but do casual acquaintances need to know and do you want them to?
We're all terminal, aren't we? Viewed in one way, you may have an advantage over most of us. When I postpone a long-awaited trip or reunion I really have no idea whether or not I'll still be around for it in this lifetime. That's why I've avoided making a bucket list. If it's important to me I try to get it done while it still matters if it's important to me.
There are a number of animal rescues in your area, and I suspect most or all of them would welcome you to sit with their cats or dogs. Puppies can be a bit rough for people who aren't used to dogs. Older cats and dogs who have lost their people are often overlooked and will appreciate a visit beyond words.
Keeping good thoughts for you, Ronni.

People have told me that once others find out you're terminal that becomes your identity, so you might not want to lead with that. At what point in conversation does your health status usually come up? I know it's on your mind, but do casual acquaintances need to know and do you want them to?
We're all terminal, aren't we? Viewed in one way, you may have an advantage over most of us. When I postpone a long-awaited trip or reunion I really have no idea whether or not I'll still be around for it in this lifetime. That's why I've avoided making a bucket list. If it's important to me I try to get it done while it still matters if it's important to me.
There are a number of animal rescues in your area, and I suspect most or all of them would welcome you to sit with their cats or dogs. Puppies can be a bit rough for people who aren't used to dogs. Older cats and dogs who have lost their people are often overlooked and will appreciate a visit beyond words.
Keeping good thoughts for you, Ronni

My husband was told he had 6 months to live - a shock to me but not to him as he had researched his disease and had figured it out that time was short. The next day I went out for a run, tripped over a stone, fell and broke my elbow. I referred to it as my "stress fracture". It did not make our lives easier - in fact made it a bit more difficult as I had surgery and then therapy to deal with the broken elbow. But it made clear to both of us that we needed to get moving on organizing our lives - legally, fiscally, etc to make sure we were prepared for the inevitable - his death. That happened 16 month later.
We got our trusts and wills updated, pulled together documents need after his death to transfer things to me and explored hospice. Initially he was resistant to hospice as he thought it meant he could do nothing to improve his health but soon learned that was not the case. Some 9 months later we signed up for hospice - as I pointed out it would help me initially and later him. They took care of medications, talks with doctors, and when the time came all necessary equipment needed - oxygen, shower equipment, hospital bed, wheelchair etc. By the time he was in considerable decline he was comfortable with the hospice nurse who came first once a week and finally 5 days a week, the bath aid, and the massage therapist. Other services were available but he did not want them.
When he died (he did not "pass" - he died) the hospice nurse on duty that night was the same one we had known for over a year. Hospice also came (eventually) and removed all the equipment that had been supplied. For me hospice was a good comfort and very helpful in dealing with the increasing daily needs of caring for him as his strength declined and he neared death.
I urge you to sign up for hospice - it does not provide everything and other help probably will be needed as your illness progresses and your ability to help yourself declines. While my husband did not have pain (he had a respiratory illness) -your illness may and being able to count on hospice to deal with your medications will be a blessing. Do not wait until the last minute as too many do - and when you get to the point where you cannot be cared for in your home they can provide a place that will care for you. Medicare btw - pays for hospice.
You probably know all this but perhaps some of your readers do not - as far too many terminally ill people wait far too long to call in hospice. We had hospice for my husband for about 10 months. He was never hospitalized as his illness had no treatment at that time and he was not transferred to a hospice facility because he did not need pain control and his needs could be treated at home. He died quietly in the hospital bed in our living room in the home he had designed and loved just as he had wished.

I think I have told you this before, but my late husband had a 'near death' experience when his heart stopped for a few seconds in ER. He always referred to it as the great adventure after that. I like to think of it that way.

I was by his bedside when he died many years later. He was under morphine and seemingly asleep. As his body shut down I wondered if he was aware that he was entering the great adventure. I hope so.

I was told years ago that when I retired at 65 I should live as if the Doctors had told me that I only had 5 more years to live. I am now 77. My doctors have told me that as an always non-smoker I should make it to 80. Well, I have 3 years to go.
Well, at my doctor visit today, I was told that if I wanted to live to a ripe old age I should not smoke and always were my seatbelt.
Well, what is? 80 or 92? However, I was told that when I make love to my wife I should not use the trapeze anymore. Well, there goes my excitement.

Thank you so very much for writing.

Your post made me think, if someone I know told me they were terminally ill, perhaps I would just say, oh, I am so sad, and then ask them, but how are you?

Essentially trying to acknowledge my own feelings but them putting them aside to serve the other. I wonder.

I remember in graduate school that someone queried if we would rather die with a million dollars in the bank or a million dollars in debt.

The problem is always the timing. Obviously one can have much more (ADVANCE) fun if the plan is to die with a million dollars in debt.

Something to ponder.

As a hospice RN Case Manager, I totally agree with Mary's post. When we admit a person to hospice, we have to say if the disease progresses at the usual rate, will this person die within 6 months. Having said that, I have had quite a few patients "graduate" from hospice, or even on hospice for a year and more. Hospice organizations have so many resources - including social workers who are particularly skilled in guiding people through the sometimes complicated maze of resources. More importantly, hospice nurses are often the "sounding board" for our people - many people find it easier and better to talk with, yell at, and generally unload on someone who is not family or friend. We are there for our people.

I remember in graduate school that someone queried if we would rather die with a million dollars in the bank or a million dollars in debt.

The problem is always the timing. Obviously one can have much more (ADVANCE) fun if the plan is to die with a million dollars in debt.

Something to ponder.

I totally agree your comments about the"terminally ill" term, Ronni. Trying to remember of course, just being born is a sexually transmitted disease that is always fatal. (paraphrasing R.D. Laing).

I resist the need to use the big black stamp of disabuse such as terminal on anyone's personal assessment. We are always at risk in labeling anything...people, ideas, religions, countries, etc. Yes, many here are ill, but that "use by date" is still indeterminate, in my opinion.

A brief vignette about labels :
It brought to mind a friend in Nevada with a small delivery business. He was a large imposing fellow in appearance, yet a truly gentle soul with a young family, and I suspect it allowed folks to put off paying him for services in a timely fashion. He finally acquired a good sized rubber stamp of a hefty wrestler holding a club or sorts for the outside of the billing envelope . It stated in bold--" PAST DUE!" It worked wonders, by the way.

The word "surreal" comes to mind.

I recall when my mother was in a nursing home for several years, I would call her daily and she loved to talk about the old neighborhood and all the personalities and events we shared there. Then one day, I called and she said "I'm not interested in that anymore", and that was our last conversation before her death a few weeks later. Her thoughts and concerns had let go of this world, and she seemed to simply concentrate on the "great adventure" or the event before her. Some people have euphemistically referred to this as "I'm going to find out the secret". "Dead men don't talk" which has proven to be true through the ages. Sometimes, I think, if there is an afterlife, this is the rule--not to let the living know, so as not to spoil life's experience by confirming that it is just a phase or even some sort of high stakes game--or is it?

My family is, for the most part, an emotionally repressed, cynical group. When my father was dying of lung cancer, I was fortunate to be living less than an hour's drive away, and spent as much time as I could with him. I also took my young son with me, as he was so pleased to get to be a grandpa. We talked about everything under the sun, except the fact that he was dying; I admit that I just couldn't do it, and he only briefly broached the subject once (said he just wanted to get it over with). In the years afterwards, I felt somewhat guilty about that, wondering if he wanted to talk about it. Now that I am facing a variation on the same theme, I realize that was - in his case and mine (our personalities are similar) - the best thing that I could have done for him, and that is the best thing that old friends and what few family members are left can do for me - just spend their time with me talking about everything under the sun.

Dear Ronni,
As a 65-year-old woman on the journey through older age, I've been faced with issues, realities, and thoughts that I had no idea of when I was younger, such is the state of denial that we humans are about aging and death. So your honest and forthright writings have been incredibly helpful precisely because no one talks about this. When I read of your latest diagnosis, it was devastating because it felt like it was happening to a trusted friend. But I'm heartened by your bravery and spirit of curiosity, and I hope that I can embody those when my time comes. In the meantime, lead on, explorer! By the way, you and your readers might want to check out the documentary "Dying to Know," conversations between Ram Dass and Timothy Leary over the course of their long friendship, about the nature of consciousness, life, and, toward the end, death because Leary was terminally ill. He too was an explorer, as he and Ram Dass were their whole lives, and unafraid of what lay ahead. It's a fascinating, moving film.

Thank you so very very much for writing.

Thank you for your openess Ronni. "Terminal illness" is a handy for some but dried up label and I don't care for it either. I've decided if I get to that place where I am forewarned I shall say that I am dying in whatever time is guessed for me. For my family and friends, I will invite them to do some living with me as much as possible. Some may not care for it but you can't please everyone.

Two comments about your great column today: first, when my mother-in-law, who had been a nurse, was diagnosed as being terminally ill, she promptly told the other nursing home residents she encountered that "I am dying." The nursing home administrators asked her to stop, however, because some residents were "upset". She died quite peacefully several weeks later. Second, your wish to be fully present at the moment of death reflects, as I understand it, the Buddhist teaching that to be mentally fully present at the moment of death is of enormous benefit. I hope you can realize that wish.

For a cat love in, you might try the cat cafe in Portland, though I see it is closing at the end of the month. I enjoy going to one in Seattle.

My girlfriend loves hanging out at cat cafes in LA, so maybe you can get to this one before they shut down. It's exactly what you described.

Sallie Tisdale is a nurse who mainly cares for the dying. She knows a lot about how people die.

In her excellent, beautiful, unflinching book, “Advice for Future Corpses *And Those Who Love Them,” Tisdale writes about preparing for our death and for those of people around us. A “good death” is something different for everyone, but she says,

“We spend our lives creating our future, by creating habits, learning from experience, examining our weaknesses and strengths. Our lives as we live them day by day create the person we will be at the moment of death. With every passing day, we create the kind of death we will have.”

When you say you want to be awake, lucid, not drugged or in pain…to experience the event of dying as clearly as possible, I think you are preparing for that very well.

And I hope you find batches of puppies and kittens!

I'm with you -- dying in my sleep isn't my ideal, I might miss the biggest moment of my, er, life.

Ronni, I just read your blog after not reading for a while. Shit...! Not much to say I guess, except that I love you and Yaakov sends his love. I was sick for the past 3 months and just using the computer as little as necessary. I love the ship idea. We are all in the same boat. Time to have as much fun as possible. Playing with kittens and puppies sound like a great idea. You are leading the way for all of us. Love your down to earth and matter of fact attitude. You give me strength and set an example, not that that is so much what you want, but in any case. Lots of love and hugs. Sali and Yaakov, all the way in Israel

At times of crisis, I have found it very hard to be around people who can't or won't talk about it. That would surely apply to your "crisis." It is so very lonely. So it is with my cancer diagnosis--not fatal, I presume, but I will lose my larynx. I will not waste time with people who cannot handle this.

Not long ago, a friend died of pancreatic cancer, not long after her husband died suddenly of something else. Said she, "Jack has upstaged me again!"

My animal dream is to nap in a field surrounded by sleeping, snoring dogs. Yours is clearly more attainable!

You are a powerful presence, Ronni. So glad to know you, for however long.

It is a difficult thing to talk about - dying. And for most people, I suspect, an even harder thing to write about. I am thankful that you have chosen to do so.

Since my stroke, and other increasingly complicated medical conditions, I think about dying a lot. It often keeps me up at night. And periodically, on some days, it interrupts my thoughts. I have come to realize that for me, it's not dying itself that is so frightening. It's how I will die. Will it be painful? Will I linger? And because I have no family, live alone, and most friends in the last few years have either died or moved away, will anyone even care or visit me as my time ends?

Reading this post and those since you began to talk about your impending death, have helped me. I know they will continue to do so. How ironic! To be learning from someone who's writing I have loved for so many years, so filled with vibrancy and life, is now teaching me how to die! I wish with all my heart this was a lesson you did not have to teach. But since you have chosen to do so, I will be an earnest and grateful student.

I'm hesitant to address this, because I don't want to cause extra distress, but Ronni, since you have most generously invited us to ask *any* question... The wish you expressed above--a wish we all share, I guess--to die "awake, lucid, not drugged or in pain," is where I always get hung up when I come to thinking about my own dying time. Because so often, when nearing death, to be pain free (or at least pain-bearable) IS, absolutely, to be drugged, not lucid, not awake. I'm not sure how one manages to be pain free without drugs at that point. Barring an accident or a single medical event, the medication v. pain issue will be part of the dying experience of most of us. If you or any of your knowledgeable fellow readers have insight on this, I would appreciate your thoughts... Ronni, there are no words to appropriately thank you for being here, always and especially now. Love and gratitude.

Ronnie, We all are terminal in a sense,You are acutely aware of it.
Have you ever taken the train ride Rocky Mountaineer?That might be fun if you are upto it.It is not too far from where you are.
Thank you for all the wisdom you have imparted over the years to us-fellow riders.

A book that offers suggestions on what words to say to others is
Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lives I've Been Told by
Kate Bowler. The book itself is not great, but the suggestions in
the appendix are very good.

Since you are a writer Ronnie, how about telling people you are
writing/living your final chapter.

I wonder if you're aware of the existence of "Death Cafes". Maybe you even told us about them, I can't remember. Any way, there may be others who aren't aware of this international movement designed to take the fear out of talking about death.

"At a Death Café people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.

PDX Death Café is part of an international movement. Visit DeathCafe.com to learn more and search for a Death Café near you. Check our schedule of upcoming Cafes in the Portland metro area."

I also echo the prior sentiments of admiration and respect, as well as your honoring us by taking us on your journey to the Unknown.

Yes to all that has already been posted.

Puppies and kittens are the ultimate, but rolling in a big pile of leaves this autumn also ought to be fun! Also bubble baths with about a foot of bubbles. Ben and Jerry's coffee ice cream with toffee bits blisses me out, too. How about massages?

I'm so glad you are not having any unpleasant symptoms yet, and hope that this phase lasts a long time. Being who I am, I would use it for lots of self-indulgence. I also would urge you to connect with Hospice, if for no other reason than to not have to do it when you are not feeling so well. Also, some people like to plan their funerals and burials. I think "Advice to Future Corpses" is a wonderful book for that kind of thing

Listen to the band Chicago's version of Laura Nyro's "When I Die". And please keep telling us how you are so we can lift you up.

Whoops, it wasn't Chicago, it was Blood, Sweat and Tears. I love them.

A quick question: Do you think we know we have died?

I'm so glad I took the time to read your post, and all the comments before mine. What a great community! I postponed it because 1. my computer couldn't download your post at all the first 2 times I tried, and 2. I wanted to give extra respect for whatever you might share. I've been with several dying people in my life, and I think of it as the big drama that can be played out in different ways by the choices of each of us. I have enjoyed so much how Hospice people help and am amazed that some people shy away from them. Their choices. Yep, I'm along on that big old boat you're floating in/on...merrily down the stream of life and death. I am reminded of sitting here in the museum and looking across the street at the funeral home. Some guests came in and said, that must be disturbing to look at all the time. I said, "it's just part of life."

Steve Jobs's final words: "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." I hope the revelations you may find are amazing.

Hi Ronni, The medical world with your diagnosis makes you a statistic in their world. How you move forward living is not, you write that script. Huggzz

My mom made a pact with her childhood best friend.

That if one of them died before the other, the dead one would appear to her BFF carrying a bouquet of sunflowers.

I asked mom if this happened yet.

No, but that friend could still be alive.

Unfortunately removing pain sometimes means drugged up.
Pain would be my worst fear and second would be lingering on too long.
Since you are in Oregon, would you ever consider assisted suicide?
I don’t believe in an afterlife and I hope I’m correct. Anything, no matter how wonderful at first, would eventually become exhaustingly, depressingly boring and meaningless.
I do wish I could check back in occasionally just to see if the world ever gets its act together or trails off into oblivion.

You. Are. Amazing.

Ronnie, you are so brave. While I like your attitude and of course, respect this choice, I am like Woody Allen who said, " I am not afraid of death I just don't want to be there when it happens!" To me, horrific pain would make it an unbearable final few moments of life. Better to be in some drug-induced state. But, again, that's my outlook. Call me chicken! I also agree with the one writer who suggested self-indulgence now. Oh yes, this the time to really use Amazon and all that can come to your doorstep. Have fun! Again, I echo those who have applauded you for your honesty and openness. We are all in this together and like it or not, that old bell will toll for each of us someday.


I'm hoping for a Stave Jobs ending. "Oh, Wow" seems like a wonderful thing to say at the end. It promises more to come after the experience of death.

It's funny. Dad got hospice services. We had to lose his great internist. She was terrific. She was board certified in geriatric medicine and had owned her own home health agency for 10 years. When Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, she talked to me for 40 minutes. But, even with witnessing the deaths of mom and my fiance, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't care for the meds they used, either. One was too strong and put Dad in kind of a trance his last weekend.

My cat is elderly. When she dies, I think I will foster or volunteer at a cat and dog shelter.

I like information. A book by Sherwin Nuland called How We Die was a big help to me. I'm sure there's many others since his came out.

Ronni, how do you deal with your feelings about terminal illness? Do you see a counselor?

Ronni, perhaps there is some contentment in all that you have accomplished and given to others through Time Goes By and Elder Storytelling Place.

You have given us a way of sharing - your life and times, your stories and memories. Our own stories and memories. And enriched our lives with music from decades before our time and decades during our lifetimes.

And you have continued to share no matter how serious your illness was or how ill you felt.

You have, in short, given us friendship and a voice, as you shared your friendship and your voice through the work that you love.

So you will exit gently. Embrace each day because it is one more day of joy and giving, and sharing and receiving joy from others.

And know that you will never be forgotten by any of us. And that you will be missed by every one of us. No one can take your place. You are a unique and gifted individual. What you have shared with us will always be with us. It will not fade away.

Your questioning mind often raises questions mine mirrors. So, I’ll be content with whatever crosses your mind you wish to share here. I went down this road for a couple years not long ago with my only then still living friend I had known all my life. There had been others who had died, especially beginning when I was young in college, then some later in life, including family. In almost every instance, except with my mother with whom I was present, our interactions were by letter, phone call — the few with digital capability chose not to use such systems, though I could enjoy video interaction — perhaps a generational preference.

I concluded what was best was to allow each of them to take the lead in what we discussed — what subjects were on their mind — eliciting what information they wanted from me, or introducing matters they wanted to talk about — often they eluded to memories rather than speculations about the future’s unknown despite any curiosity. They expressed interest about the future of others for whom they cared who would remain, what life here would be like after they died, and spoke of missing knowing all that.

This also proved to be true with individuals I worked with professionally and a few with whom I sustained contact long after completing our therapy relationship. One such person was someone whose reaction toward me was initially contentious . She later realized her attitude was due to her denial, then became a person I was asked to intervene with several times over several years. At one point. she became a hospice patient, then finally left that service having long since exceeded her life’s duration’s expectation. Long afterward her condition resulted in re-assignment to hospice again.

Her status changed again for a lengthy time, during which she was back to eating and we laughed and talked together. Eventually, her health once again declined (100 yrs age by now). She chose palliative care this time to be her path until her death. So life’s actual termination can prove to be quite unpredictable. Perhaps the path one chooses to follow might best be made as one goes along, altering the route based on judgements and preferences at the time — pretty much how earlier life has been lived.

Do seek what gives you pleasure, enjoy friends, perhaps wrap up any unfinished business, personal or other, if that suits your fancy. Just be comfortable, doing what makes you happy seems to me, but you’ll become the expert on that topic which I gather you will generously share here.

Ronni, you are one awesome person. What I hope for you is a Niagara Falls trajectory, as explained in this article: A stage IV cancer patient discusses what it means to live well with serious illness.

I have enjoyed your perspective for many years.

Thank you for all you have written with such grace and openness. And as a gesture of solidarity, I will be your companion in eating more ice cream.

I'm glad you're feeling good.

I've never liked the idea that people can learn from another's misfortune but it is true. Your openness will have positive repercussions that resound long after your journey is over. Thank you.

“shades and colors”, indeed. Eloquent and profound on so many levels. Have saved this post and comments, as I have many others, for future re-perusal and to keep you with me as long as I live. I understand what you mean when you write, as you said in your chat with Alex, that you “still don’t fully believe it”. I’m still trying to digest it, too. It is the Damocles’ sword that always dangles over our heads but just shifted close enough to touch. You are and always will be a very significant part of my life.
Wish I could send you some gelato from the shop around the corner ... or knew of some other little treat you might enjoy. Do you still have some of the soy sauce?

"What it's like to get older" is what you billed, and I am so fortunate that you're willing to share this going-to-the-end part of the journey. We learn the most from people who are dying, and this post today epitomizes that fact -- lots of lessons based on your experiences. I cried as I read but mostly I took notes. Yes, these are only YOUR experiences, but they are indeed valuable. Thank you, again, for being willing to share as much as you are able. As with all the others here, I wish I could make it easier for you somehow.

I'll be selfish here --- Damn, I'm going to miss this blog. You tell it so well, so clearly and accurately . Now you are telling us what it's like to actually be aware of death -- not as some nebulous thing, but as a real palpable event. Thank you for all the good stuff you published, all the truth you've told, all the great insights that made growing old "better". None of us really know what aging really means, our society tells us these falsehoods about life. The 60 is the new 40 stuff. So, is 70 the new 50? I'm 79 -- should I feel like a 60 year old (whatever that means)? Or, am I allowed to embrace being almost 80? Can I "allow" myself to accept my infirmities, and "act my age"?

You have dealt with all this stuff, and done it well.

Thank you so very much -- looking forward to more of your writing, for much longer than expected. In any case, once again THANK YOU.

We love you Ronnie, and we hate this disease that will take you from us. Some day we will figure it all out.

Just a hug from a middle aged lady with a left adrenal nodule..

Thank you, Ronnie, for everything. I first "met" you when you wrote about your mother and the end of her life. I hope you have someone to be with you and help just as you were there for her this next while.

One of the greatest privileges of my life was being able to sit quietly and close to my mother in her final moments, to study those hands that had done so much for me, and to know she was safe and warm and comfortable when the time came. How I miss her.

The puppies, the kittens....YES! Buckets of them.... Why not?!

I recall reading in a college textbook about the five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance make up our learning to live with loss and rejection. Perhaps if we all define and identify each of these stages as Ronni makes this journey we can then understand what our own feelings are as they develop.

Living life more intensely, being more aware, being right in the moment. Abandoning the insignificant, celebrating the minute, tiny details of that which you enjoy.

I wish you all these things and more as you share this final journey with us.

It hurts my heart to know you are leaving but I will always remember you in whatever time is left to me.


thank you for being so open and candid. I too dislike that label. I know you will live the best life you can each day...as we all do.

I appreciate your columns and I pray that you get lots of fur baby love, and I will be thinking of you....with love. Kathleen in Vermont

Wow, you seem to have such a positive attitude towards it all! I especially like that you don't mind questions being asked. Personally, I've experienced a close relative being announced terminally ill, and he wasn't up for any questions.

Thank you for bringing up this topic and talking so bluntly about it!

Dum Vivamus, Dum Vivimus
“While we live, let us live”
Epi”curious” ?

A couple of years ago, my best friend of over 50 years and college roommate told me in a phone conversation that she had decided to discontinue further treatment for her cancer and was ready for the arrival of her 'end date'. We talked for a long time about how her family was adjusting to her decision and made a few old college crude jokes. I made plans (via conversations with her partner) to surprise her with a visit on her 70th birthday. I also made a little video of pictures of us from our college days forward, set to the Simon and Garfunkel "Old Friends, Bookends". We laughed, talked, joked, looked at the annuals of our college days, had dinner with her kids, and crammed as much as we could in the time I was there. Before I left, we watched the little video and cried together. Then she asked me if I would speak at her funeral. Of course I would...and did, two weeks later. To be a part of her journey will always be a deep and abiding joy.

How about replacing 'terminally ill' 'on the home stretch'?

Just found your blog and feel enriched already.

Adie, from Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Thank you. Just thank you.
And....sunsets and sunrises.
And the ocean, if it calls to you.
And hospice. It helped our Mom, and us.
Thank you.

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