Twas the Day After Christmas
INTERESTING STUFF – 29 December 2018

Observing the End of Life

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

- Alice James in a letter to her brother, William

Isn't it comforting, even thrilling sometimes, to learn that others who came before you, especially those for whom you have great respect, have thought or felt what you are thinking and feeling.

In the past, before the doctors told me my cancer is terminal, I thought the minutes surrounding the moment of death would be the last great adventure of life. I hoped to be alert and unencumbered with pain so to be able to know the experience as it happens.

As I have come to see now, my former vision of the end is puny. Too cramped. Too small. There is much more to dying than a single moment.

There is, if you are fortunate enough to be made aware of your coming demise, the entire third act of life - the one we, in much of the western world, ignore - the period of dying.

Another who came before me, the late Scottish novelist, Muriel Spark, speaks well to what I have come to believe:

”Death, when it approaches,” she wrote, “ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.”

However short or long my remaining days may be, it is a great gift I have received, knowing my death is near. It led to what I think is the most important question in the circumstance: what do you want to do with the time that remains?

I had asked that question before but my answer then was not adequate. It has become more complex now that my sensibility about death itself has changed. (More about that soon but not today.)

What I realize now is that I like my little life just as it is. No bucket list. No great unfinished tasks to rush to complete. Just to continue what I have been doing these past few years:

• Keep up this blog for as long as I can or want (my work)

• Spend time with the people who mean the most to me (my pleasure)

• And, do what I have always done when new and interesting things turn up in my life: find out what others know about them, observe and learn (my satisfaction)

In this case, what most engages me for the moment is the question of what living is like when you know you will soon die.

One way I have been working on that is, from time to time throughout a day, to move my consciousness off to one side of myself and watch. Allow myself to do whatever I'm inclined to do without directing it and to observe how I become different, or not. To become both the observer and the observed.

What I am curious about is how does this knowledge of impending death change me and my behavior? Am I frightened? How do I help make that better? What do I believe about life and death? Does it alter my relationships with the people I know? Do I do things differently or do I do different things?

And about a hundred other questions.

Then, sometimes, when I think what I have observed is interesting enough, I will tell you about it here.

For 15 years, the subtitle in the banner at the top of this page has been the topic of Time Goes By: “what it's really like to get old.”

Without my quite noticing for awhile, that changed in the past couple of months and now I've caught up with myself: the subject of the blog has morphed into what most interests me in these days: what is it like to die - to know I am going to die relatively soon and how I am navigating that knowledge?

There is no greater mystery to mankind than death. How, finding myself in this place, can I possibly ignore it.

So I suppose we could now call Time Goes By an end-of-life blog. That may be difficult for some readers and I understand if it is. But you can believe me that I am fascinated to be in this predicament and if you want to follow along, I will be pleased to have you here and to listen to what you have to say about it.

One more who came before me, the second secretary-general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld:

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

I'm working on it.



Comments

Wow!

This is a keeper, Ronni, a guide to map out our own 'dying (ad)venture,' and hopefully with the ability and time to consciously choose and experience our own custom-made "This is the end, my friends...." (The Doors).

I like my little life as well. Those morning and evening rituals, to which I'm still adding more, that are mostly silent gratitudes for enjoyments unacknowledged but always near. And letting go of current and past recriminations and mistakes as they rise up, letting the corner pile of papers sit untouched.

This will be re read and dog-eared (??,hmmmm) by the end of January. Thanks to you.

This is one of your top ten postings, Ronni - and that is saying something. Like Linda, I say, "Wow!"

Amazing!

And I want to come along with you.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I am in awe and at a loss for meaningful words.

Shortly after finishing this year’s Christmas Eve dinner at my sister’s home, we were taking a picture of a beautiful Yule log cake and family photo-when my brother in law’s Dad seemed unable to look at the camera. That’s when we noticed one side of his face was drooping, he could not move is right arm and he could not speak. After the local fire dept arrived, then the ambulance- which took him to the hospital, he passed away the next evening. His passing just happened to occurred on the second anniversary of my Dad’s death-both on Christmas Day. What are the odds?

For the next couple of days, I was in shock. Many of us were recalling our last delightful conversations with him, the shared laughter, and our many years of knowing one another and growing together as family.

I am still a bit numb from the unimaginable suddenness of this man’s passing, so condensed, reduced to a 24 hour period. Yet, as I continue to read (and learn from) your life blog, I see the vastness of the dying experience and am grateful for this very precious moment.

I've always believed it would be better to know how our end-of-life comes rather than dying with no forewarning. I know that's true when losing someone important in your life. To be able to say what needs to be said, to be able to mend any fences that need mending appeals to me about the position you are in now. I got to do that with my dad after we learned of his cancer. Some of my most meaningful memories happened during his seven months of dying when I got to give to him unselfishly like he'd given to me my entire life. He died with no regrets and I predict the same will be true for you.

I have no doubt you will make it a fulfillment!! Thanks for helping us see how it is.

Like others here, I am gobsmacked by this message. As Simone said, it will be dog-eared; I had already printed it for ease of future reference. My own sensibility about death itself was changed as I spent lots of time with my mother in her final years, and I recognize that it will change again when I am in your predicament. I am very grateful to be along for your journey.

My dear Ms. Bennet,

With each blog post you have either, expanded my horizons, made me laugh, made me cry and/or made me ponder.

Thank you for making my life richer.

With Unending Admiration,
Much Love,
M

A wonderful reflective post Ronni. And, yes "a keeper" that I will reread again and again. There is so much depth in your words. Thank you again for sharing with us and being so transparent with your journey. As I read this post I thought that I want to be mindful daily in these ways Ronni is writing about. I, too like my lifestyle and I want to embrace it more. Thoughts are with you and all of you readers.

My 83 year old sister died last Saturday, in her pajamas, in her apartment, by herself. She did not see it coming. She was not seeking death. But there it was. None of her family or friends were expecting any such thing (I had a hint, but brushed it off) so it came as a shock to many. I am very saddened by her death as she was the last of my family and just a fun person to talk to.

My sister did not seek death, but it found her, and I believe it found her just as she would have wanted it to, at the end of a day, doing what she had wanted to do. Our dad died in a similar manner, and I have said I want to die at the end of a productive day. My sister did just that. She has always been a role model for me.

You are amazing. I'm sitting here with my hands on the keys, stuck. I'm feeling so much, it's so hard to put the words together - how to thank you for sharing so much, to tell you what a difference it has made to my attitude to ageing and dying by reading your essays. Thank you so much.
o/

I can't imagine being where you are without having made sure of your eternal destiny.

Dag Hammarskjöld was one of my childhood heroes and I mourned his passing at the time.
I join others in thanking you for sharing this experience with us.
I think I've always been a "memento mori" kind of guy but still find myself occasionally putting off something important until a "better time" or "next time" forgetting that we are not promised a "next time".
You've already enriched the visit with my siblings last week in Tucson.
Thank you.

I read your blog every day though I don’t reply to posts much. This one.... allow me to say how much I will miss you when you go.

Ronni,you are lighting our Way as you navigate your own....to what my pastor Father called Perfect Peace....thank you..infinitely.Marena

That is profound.
Thank you so much.
Mary

Wow! You never cease to inspire and amaze. Thank you again for sharing your insights and journey with us all.

Following you, my friend -- feeling full of love.

This is your gift, Ronni, to be so clear-eyed, so curious, even in the face of a process that human beings spend much of their lifetime effort in trying to ignore.

Thank you. You give me hope.

For most humans, we go through life constantly searching for the answer to the question, "Why was I born?" We look for the meaning and the purpose for our existence so we can eventually write on our little piece of the fence..."Kilroy (Patricia) was here!" Your little piece of the fence, dear Ronnie, is written in CAPITAL LETTERS. Thank you for impacting our lives by sharing so deeply and authentically, yours.

Thank you.

You are such a wise woman, Ronni, I am honored to be a reader. And, as so many times before, I feel supported in my own attempts to accept being old, and the process of death and dying. For many years, (while unbeknownst to myself I harbored some ageist thoughts) I have felt that death, aside from being necessary, is a worthwhile endeavor.

It is indeed comforting and sometimes thrilling to find others of the same mind, those who have the courage to step out and reveal their mind/heart knowledge. You are that person for many of us, deep, ongoing thanks. Prayers and blessings also.

Thank you so much for your post and those words and your posts will stay in my mind. Thank you for your honesty, your words make me think about how I want to both live and die and they stay in my mind long after reading them.

Others have said it much better than I but thank you for the gift of sharing your journey with us. I hope you find comfort in knowing you are not traveling alone.

I’m not only along for the ride, I’m riveted. Lead on, Ronni.

My friend Tracy Calhoun is a hospice nurse as well as the “driver” for a wonderful hospice dog named JJ. A year ago, JJ died of lymphoma, but
not before treating us all to an understanding of “Barkediem,” the process of just rolling, enjoying day by day as best you can. I’ve embraced it as my own philosophy as I enter my 70s.

Deep. Powerful. Best of your writing, in my opinion.

Thank you for opening your soul to us.


Wow! seems to be the most apropos comment. Thanks for it, and for sharing with all of us.

Today’s blog entry is one for the ages, Ronnie. You write just as I would have expected you to write at this time, although your observations are unwaveringly your own. Your wisdom increases day by day. You are a wonder.

I wish that I could be there to hold your hand on your journey. Thank you for your wisdom.

Thank you Ronni, love you bunches. Every day is a gift for many of us writing here and your posts keep me grateful for each one.

You are such a brave woman. I'm glad to have known you even for the short time I have. Let us stay by your side, if you can.

Bless your heart.

This one is beautiful, Ronni. It moved me to tears and shouts. Edmund Burke once defined the sublime as "beauty bordering on terror." Your writing has become sublime.

Beautifully written. I am deeply touched. It made me think of my experience with Dad, Steve Jobs who said "wow" before he died and a woman I volunteered with. Her husband had liver cancer the year before he passed away. He told her it was the best year of his life.

Living as I do on the West Coast, and not being a morning person, I always come upon this blog and all your comments late, when there is really nothing left to say.
I too will read and reread this post and many of your comments.

It is dark and rainy today. I am in hibernation mode, and it feels absolutely right. Thank you Ronni, and the rest of you for these profound thoughts and for sharing them.

Ronni, we will miss you so very much!

I second what Denny posted - I will miss you when you're gone! Also what Salinda said - thanks for supporting our efforts in growing old and facing death. You are a leader!

You're an amazing writer! What a legacy you will leave.

Like Anne, I'm a West Coast resident and not a morning person, so much of what I might include in comments has already been said by the time I read TGB. I hope to die like dkzody's sister without fuss or feathers at the end of a productive day, as much as my days can be "productive" in an 80+ Y/O body. It's never been a secret that I'm not a huge fan of old age (yeah, I know, how ageist is that!), but I am a huge fan of TGB. It is what it is. . .

From me, too, many thanks for this great piece, Ronni.

Like others here I have immense gratitude that you share your journey with us Ronni.
We are following in your footsteps and you are our guide.
You give us the gift of yourself, your time, your thoughts...
There is nothing more precious.

AT THE END OF THE YEAR
As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.
JOHN O'DONOHUE

Your authentic self has come through in this post Ronnie.
And I for one appreciate your honesty and will be traveling with you through this time but I suspect as the end grows nearer this blog will lose its importance or meaning. As perhaps it should.
Thank you!


Ronni every post I read just deepens my respect and admiration. You are helping me turn my gaze toward the inevitable end of life. In many ways it is life’s last adventure.
As someone noted in another comment I will truly miss you when you are gone. You will join the group I carry in my memory and who will live there until my own death which as I approach 70 I know Can come at any time.
My wish for you is that you are free from pain and can leave gently leaving behind beautiful memories.

I haven't cried in a long time, but this post really got to me. I wish I had more words.

I am really late in reading this moving post and I am trying to absorb the many different thoughts that it provokes.

I completely agree with those who have praised your writing and agree that it is the most profound and best of your prose. It has given me new insight into my attitude toward death. I now must take my shallow attitude and re-examine it.

Thank you, Ronni, for sharing your innermost thoughts and for inspiring others to do likewise.

Thank you, you really are a blessing!

Live is never boring, now death is not boring either.

Elegantly done and said. Thank you.

I feel so close to all of you. We're sharing a beautiful experience.

This has to be one of your most thought-provoking writings I’ve experienced reading here — prompting some of the emotional reactions I experienced when first encountering TGB, coincidentally at the time of my husband’s sudden death, though dying was not the topic at the time.

What do we do with the time that remains — though a terminal pronouncement does make the question a must more imminent thought to ponder?

I love it. I’m so glad you are sharing such a deeply personal yet universal experience. Thank you

Thank you Ronni. Ever since I came across your photos and stories of Greenwich Village I've followed your writing. I hope, when my time comes, I will be able to face it with the same courage you are displaying now.

Ahhh, yes. I've spent the last few years realizing that the purpose of aging is to learn to approach death with curiosity and let go of our fears. And along with that to write my own instruction book for aging, which includes death. So I've decided the moment of death (for me) will be a long, slow orgasm. Why not? No one tells us what it feels like to leave our bodies... why not an orgasm like exhale?

I look forward to the unfolding of your wisdom in these blog entries. The unwrapping of your gifts to this community. Thank you. ✨

I'd like to know when my exit was imminent, rather than be taken by surprise. I've never liked surprises. I plan for my holidays, including 'packing' up the house - and would like to similarly plan for the end journey.

My husband had a terminal illness. We were separated, and somehow I believed he was exaggerating to blackmail me into going back to him. I wish I'd known he was on that final journey. His death came as a shock. Seven years on, I'm still tearing up with the things not said. It's ironic that on that final day that I planned to talk with him, he died. By God's grace, I was there when he took his last breath.

We're all dying. I, for one, don't want eternal life. Just want a painless and quick exit.

Peace be with you.

I’m late with this comment and haven’t read the others (lots) yet. I wanted to say that what gives me some comfort when thinking about my own demise is to think on the numberless people who have gone before me, for eons. It’s not that I’m religious and believe we’re all going to some party in the sky — I’m not and I don’t. But more that I take comfort in knowing that I’m part of the masses — one of the many that rise up, for awhile, in the light, and then take my place with everyone else in the earth. Dust to dust.

Still, if we’re not to meet in this life, Ronni, I’d like there to be another where we do.

Like the old movie "Death Becomes Her", you are moving the black curtain.
Not having a bucket list is no surprise. Life seems to supply surprises enough!
I do have a regret in your upcoming passage, Ronnie (very selfish): I will have
to find a new blog to follow. Your blog has replaced the morning paper I used
to read, before it was replaced by modern technology. I am following your
journey and only hope suffering is at a minimum.

You've been a guide and an inspiration and a source of new friends. Your honest voice, your willingness to share, your insight, and the strength of your personality will live in my head and my heart long after you've she's this mortal coil. How lovely for you to be happy with your little life and how lovely for us to be your readers.
a/b

Your life is not "little". It is huge. - in depth and in reach. You are the greatest of teachers in this greatest of lessons - how to live until we die. I understand those who are already anticipating the end of your blog, but I refuse to do so. I will continue to savor each post as long as they last, And rest assured that I will not need to look back on past writings - they are seared into my mind and soul.

It is not only your wisdom,. It is your authentic self -- unique, curious, observant, and grateful - that lifts your writing into what one reader aptly calls "the sublime'

Thank you.

I just listened to a radio program about a Canadian writer, Paul Quarrington, who died 9 months after being given a terminal diagnosis in 2009. One of his friends said that "he took a death march and transformed it into a parade."

I think that what you are doing here is like that. It is fortunate for all of us that you have this time, and maybe some of us will be lucky enough to do something similar when the time comes. Thank you.

I read your post aloud so I could savor your presence in your writing. And what I heard was the counsel of a wise friend.

The last few days of 2018 were busy for me, but your posts are so very authentic that I save them to read when I can savor them. You always exceed my expectations. You are blessed, Ronni and you bless us with each post. Lovingly~Thea

God Bless you as you leave these final times of your life. I learned about dying gracefully from each of my parents. One can look forward to each day and ability. Or one can dread each day for the loss of what was.

Your decision to live each day and stepping aside to "watch" is wonderful. Your generosity in sharing thus teaching is admirable..to give of your time to us.

This post came right when I really needed it. My dear friend, like a sister to me, died yesterday. I had shared your posts with her these past months knowing her cancer was progressing and she said she benefited from your views on dying. She too wished for a conscious end of life and I believe she achieved that. She sent packages of her favorite things to her friends and arranged for meaningful (an inadequate way to put it) good byes. She, like you, has showed us the way to finish a beautiful life well lived and full of love.

Thank you so much for being a writer, for making the effort to articulate your journey with its curiosities, uncertainties, observations and profound heart. Having deeply touched so many people, you will live on in so many ways, not only in your words but in the delightful voice of your spirit.

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