The Day After the U.S. Midterm Election
INTERESTING STUFF – 10 November 2018

Writing and Coping Until the End

EDITORIAL NOTE: Judith Graham, who writes the Navigating Aging column at Kaiser Health News and who I've known for several years, interviewed me about my cancer diagnosis along with my decision to write about it for this blog. It was interesting for me to try to answer her wide-ranging questions as best I could and she pulled it all together in her usual excellent manner.

Oddly, although I wrote today's blog post yesterday before I read Judith's story, they turned out to be sort of companion pieces. You can read Judith's story here.

* * *

One of my oldest blog friends sent an email earlier this week noting:

”'s heartening to know that you're not going to turn your blog into a 'Watch me die,' fiasco but continue it as a 'Watch me live' play-by-play.”

My thought was then and still is, “Oh god, I hope he's right. I'm not sure.”

In this final life predicament of mine, I'm flying blind. No one is prepared for this and in my case, I am unwilling to read about how others, knowing their approximate expiration date, have navigated the remaining time.

Writing is how I help myself figure out things. I was doing it a long time before there were blogs, even a long time before there was an internet and when I decided to let you, dear readers, in on my cancer diagnosis, I also declared to myself that I would write whatever was on my mind - or as close as I can determine - as if I were writing in one of my old analog journals.

What is new on Time Goes By now is that there will be fewer reported and researched posts. Most will be like this one, conjured from the thoughts and feelings flitting around the synapses of my brain.

These are easier to write, less time consuming and I need the extra hours in a week now. One thing I have learned in this first month is that knowing death is relatively imminent means there is a lot to do to be ready. When not procrastinating, I am busier than before this happened.

My end-of-life documents are long-since prepared and appointments with medical people are arranged for the next couple of months.

But there is homework to do and decisions to be made about palliative care issues and assisted dying, cremation to arrange, many last letters to write, visits with beloved friends, cleaning out my home of what will become useless detritus when I'm gone and much needed quiet time with myself.

Surprises eat up time too – more time, it feels like, than when such things happened “before.”

A week ago, hot water disappeared from my pipes and it was determined that a new water heater was required. Wh-a-a-a-a-t? At this particular moment in my swiftly shortening life, when I have a last chance to ponder my soul's relationship (or not) with the universe, my water heater dies? Before I do? Who thought that was a good idea?

And dear god, have you noticed what it costs to replace a water heater these days? Geez.

A day or two later, while carrying a big bundle of dirty laundry to the washing machine, I tripped on a dragging towel or bed sheet and crashed to the floor, banging my knees and my forehead horribly.

Although I quickly determined that nothing was broken or bleeding, the pain was terrible - throbbing away. I lay on the floor for a bit catching my breath and after a couple of minutes burst into tears – heavy, deep, uncontrollable sobs that went on and on.

My wits were still enough with me that I could tell right away, it being my first cry since this diagnosis, that my weeping was not at all about the pain in my knees and head.

While I lay there and in keeping with my slighlty off-center sense of humor, a cartoon I had seen recently came to mind of a woman lying on her floor. Parodying that awful TV commercial, she says, “Help. I've fallen and can't think of a reason to get up.”

Nor could I. For awhile.

After 15 or 20 minutes that old, impossibly cheerful Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields song intruded on my misery: “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.” Really? At this point in my life I've turned into that much a Pollyanna?

Apparently so.


I’ve always thought Pollyanna got a bad rap. Somedays we need a little Pollyanna to balance the pessimistic, grouchy, whining, cynic we all experience with good reason upon occasion.


Reading of your water heater's demise and your subsequent fall, my facial muscles couldn't keep up with the alternating urges to laugh and cry.

Well, on this ship, we'll be listing from time to time.

You can't do anything 'wrong' - laugh, cry, be a Pollyanna when it helps, be in a rage. And keep dancing a bit, even when only in your heart and mind.

You are loved, tremendously so.

I discovered my hot water heat had died on the morning of my mother's funeral and I had to take a cold shower. Those kinds of things never happen when it's convenience. It's the universe laughing at us when we think we've got all our ducks in a row. I hadn't cried over my mom at the point in time but I cried over the damn not water heater.

I, too, laughed, while at the same time I was angry, reading about your water heater.

Go ahead and have a good cry whenever you need it, and I know you’ll pick yourself up as long as you can.

Just a practical comment -- I was told last year that I needed a new water heater and, after reading up on YouTube about water heater issues, thought there was a chance it could be the thermocouple and watched a video about how to go about replacing one. Having a gas heater, I was fearful of blowing everything to smithereeens, and called another plumber. After warning me that there was no way to know if this would solve the problem, and that it could just be an additional expense to the inevitable replacement of the whole heater, he replaced it (while I sat there watching the whole time, not that I'm skeptical or anything) for a tiny fraction of what a new heater would have cost. It has worked fine for more than a year now.

I've loved Pollyanna ever since taking a closer look at the movie several years ago. Rather than a sycophantic Little Miss Sunshine, she was a strong character, who was kind and encouraging to everyone, in spite of her own great challenges and disappointments in her own life. Not a bad role model.

After my total knee surgery, I was assigned for a few days to a rehab center where my exercises began. Everyone is required to do as the other walker-based folks are doing, including an awful session in the "kitchen," assigned to get a bottle of not-milk from the refrigerator, toddle over to the pantry to fetch some cereal, and then move on to a table and take a seat.
I knew I'd be on the walker only a few days and then switch to canes. And my husband had outfitted my walker with a carpenter's apron that would allow me to carry the milk, cereal, and bowl (as well as a book and more!) in a very efficient manner.
None of this mattered to my therapists and apparently, it didn't matter to me either. I stood outside the refrigerator door and dropped a spoon, which caused me to weep for several minutes. I wasn't in pain. I was aggravated, frightened, and filled with anxiety that these people were preparing me for life as a disabled person.
When I came back to myself, I persisted in my assigned therapy. As you will persist in moving forward. I think tears can be therapeutic in these moments, especially when they take up minutes and not hours.
God bless you, Ronni.

‘Nuff said. Thanks for sharing with us, Ronni.

Ronni, I am such a lurker - but I have been following your blog for a very long time (have no idea how I was fortunate enough to find it - Next Avenue? I just don't know, but I am SO thankful). I have to tell you how powerful, helpful, loving, gracious and kind I find all your writings. I am in awe of your honesty. You are such a gift and your writings are helping us more than you could know. I am honored to be part of your crew, even if I am in the background. I must also add - wow, so many comments are beautiful expressions of how much you are loved. This is a wonderful group. Thank you to you, Ronni, and to all your shipmates.

So relieved that fall didn't do any damage. And I've found that a good cry now and then is really helpful. I even resorted to screaming in the shower once, but have forgotten why. Still, it felt really good at the time.

(Now I feel compelled to go look up the life expectancy of a water heater ... )

. . . . and, Ronni, . . . fling that 'dust' with careless abandon
as you
Start All Over Again! Polly

I laughed, I cried. The water heater... the fall... the cartoon... you're a superb writer, Ronni! But you know that. Now I'm off to click the link to Judith Graham's article about you...
* * *

Wow! I'm back. What a great write-up!
* * *

Beth and I have started a "beginners" chair exercise course. I thought: "beginners chair exercise, how hard can this be?" After three sessions of what is billed as a non-stressful exercise class, I want you to know that I get it about taking exercise off your must-do list.

I think it takes a long time to process devastating news and sometimes another trauma helps to release our inner resolve to ignore it.

I am so sorry for your fall as one of my many falls was similar giving me a whale of a shiner. It is such a shock when it happens that it's no wonder that it helped release the tears that you had probably been holding back. I suppose the moral of that story is that there is always something good to find in every bad thing that happens. Pollyanna?

Whatever the reason, you know that it's okay to feel all of the many emotions that you are having to deal with. The fact that you can find humor in the situation is so admirable and shows your innate strength for dealing with it.

(Enough of my "pop" psychology, amateur that I am. As one wise woman once told me "if youo don't know what you are talking about keep your mouth shut." Obviously, I never learned to heed her advice.)

I love you.

244 shares of this post are a very important reality. I'm always here cheering you on even when you are face down sobbing. Hugs.

I agree with Tamar, I love you, too! And, just for the record, we all have days where we cry over one thing but it’s really about something altogether different. You’re entitled and hardly a Pollyanna.

Oh, Ronni ... you are my home "improvement" inspiration!

Basically everything that breaks starts a despair cycle for me, but you have far more to deal with than most. I will never forget that story ... the hot water heater, the fall, the tears ... and the cartoon.

REALLY not for sissies, this time of life.

Really loved today’s column. Thank you so much for the laugh, cry, and everything in between.

Damn water heater! I love you! I love the "conjured from thoughts and feelings" way of working because really, I don't see us as being here to watch you live or die, but to share with you in the process of living and dying. Now, it's true, I can't reach out to hold your hand or fix you a cup of tea, I wish I could, but you know what I mean.

You fall, you get up, you cry then laugh and have a cookie.

You're keeping it real, Ronni.

Oh I just remembered something that happened in Cape Cod.

Four or five years ago, seems like yesterday, all pain considered.

Mister GPS pulled into the beach parking lot.

I got out of the car, yanked open the trunk, reached in, grabbed our picnic lunch, got distracted by the scenery and BAM!

Slammed the trunk down on my head.


Holy freaking **%%#%#**

Sacre Bleu!!

My husband didn't witness the whack.

I was crying -holding my head with both hands.

"What happened?"

"I don-wanna talk about it."

Big hug from Your Montreal Fan


Nothing better than a good cry to clean out the blockage and BS from the old brain! I used to go into the bathroom, wrap my head in a towel to muffle it, and cry my eyes out. Just never wanted anyone to see me cry. Never figured out why. Nowadays I don't give a hang! Have at it, dear lady, let it rip!

Last letters to write. Oh my. I hadn't thought of that. In my case they'd be last emails -- I've lived much of my recent life online.

What do you say? How do you say goodbye gracefully to someone you've maybe fallen out of touch with, but who shaped your life enough that they deserve a farewell? It's kind of a thank you note, I guess.

Ronnie, You are precious beyond words and gallows humor? I don't know but life is, as they say, absurd and oh so poignant. We are with you on this journey.

Lots of love, and gratitude gratitude graditude and I can't say that word enough.


That 'first real cry" of yours brought me to deep sobs myself. Your predicament reminds me of the sister I lost so recently. It's a bumpy ride on this ship of yours Ronni, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Your writing skills are incredible.

So you tripped yourself physically and emotionally! About time for a good cry!

Have those ping pong balls slowed down at all?

I am at least 50 lbs. over weight and put most of it on during the last couple of years my husband was sick and the first year after he died. Just didn't care. I was very depressed. Now I discover I have low thyroid, and that taking a replacement really helps. Still, when I fall (and I seem to much more often than in the past) I scare myself so badly I feel like crying. I did fall and hurt my knee and my jaw (!) a few months ago. Intimations of mortality provoke the weepiness, I'm sure. Visions of old ladies with broken hips and dementia in a nursing home. Shoot me first!

Anyway, I saw a new ice cream flavor and bought it yesterday but haven't tried it yet. It's McConnell's Turkish coffee ice cream. I don't know if you can get it up north, but I'll let you know if it's as good as I anticipate and you can check it out if you like.

Life certainly does suck sometimes.

Awww, Ronni. My mother wrote during the four months it took for her to die from lung cancer. She wrote because writing is what she had always used to guide her through her days. Writing is a gift my mother gave to me. My pen and paper remain my most trusted friends.

My quirky sense of humor is why I sent you that cartoon in the first place that a dear friend here sent me -- it was not my intent that you actually act it out! Let's not have any more of that falling nonsense in the future as you have quite enough other on which to focus.

Using positive language to oneself should not be confused as being a Pollyanna, I've always maintained. I have always said here, and to you from the very beginning, that I strongly believe the words we use to ourselves are important health components. They do not mean that we do not recognize reality or have unrealistic views any more than if we laugh at the irony of an occurrence in our life means we don't recognize the seriousness of the situation. So, have at it -- laugh, cry or whatever and give yourself any motivational language that keeps you going. I'm sending positive thoughts that you continue doing so.

I haven’t known what to say to you, but I’ve wanted to say something. I feel much closer to you than reading your blog consistently would warrant. That is your superpower. I know I’m not alone in this. I’m very grateful you are still here. Stay as long as you can. You are important to me. I wish that were enough but it’s all I have. Take care.

Absolutely love your report about the water heater and falling. That is EXACTLY how my emotions evolve.

If you as a being are in compete control of manifesting things in your life...(one viewpoint that many people have) then the water heater was a really good metaphor for your breaks and sometimes can't be fixed. Having that good on the floor cry sounds very healthy to me. Mental health-wise. It was my cat's death that I cried over rather than my mother's. No clue, except her long decline which meant lots of "long-goodbye" grieving before her actual death. I'm actively talking to myself today, which is the only voice in my home.

This is my first time of reading one of your posts. I love the switch from that sad tv commercial to the existential question in the cartoon. Big fat sigh for the dead hot water heater. I will be following your story now that I've found you.

Sorry about the dratted water heater. When I first heard about how puny my lungs are I walked out to my car a little stunned but feeling "pragmatic" and then I cracked my head on the door as I got into it and sat there and cried for a very long time. I realized I wasn't that pragmatic but I did feel better and I hope crying gave you some relief dear Ronni. Love you.

I love your writing so much - you make me laugh, sigh, then laugh again.
Thank you so much for being you.

After one reaches 65 or 70, thoughts about the end of life become more frequent if not more real. I have decided to think of my end-of-life period, from now (I'm 73) until.... , not as a person who is dying a little everyday, but rather as a great city whose columns are crumbling, whose walls are in need of paint and whose infrastructure is badly in need of repair. There's still life here, there's traffic in streets and we're still in business, but time is no longer on my side.

What you are feeling is exactly (almost) what I would feel. You are sharing what we all would share. I'd use a handyman to find a used heater and install it. Please keep writing.

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