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In the Space Between Life and Death

Leafing through the notebook where I record information from meetings with various physicians and nurses, I found several estimates of the time I have left on earth. They have different shadings of meaning.

One tells me that if I had rejected the chemo I now take every two weeks, I'd have nine to 12 months. Another says six to eight months WITH chemo. A third thinks the chemo will give me up to a year. And so on.

Of course, these are guesses. But they are based on these professionals' experience with many cancer patients and the differences come in because each patient's body is different as is each cancer.

This only points out that however much we want to believe we have control over our lives, we do not. (Leaving physician-assisted suicide available in a few U.S. States and other countries aside), death will find each of us when he or she decides our time here is done.

Following my terminal cancer diagnosis, I have gradually come to spend my time now in a middle space between life and death. Or, sometimes, in both places at once.

Living has become both larger and smaller. Smaller in the sense that I don't much want to go anywhere. I have no bucket list and unless someone is paying for a first class ticket, I'm never getting on an airplane again – it's inhumane the way the airlines pack people into coach.

At home, I love spending time with friends and soon, with my newly-found son and his family when they move to a new home near me. I am also dismayed in the best possible way by the people who have offered to help. So far, I haven't needed it, but the time will come when I will.

Small pleasures I've enjoyed for much of a lifetime have become even more precious. Letting hot water flow over my body in the shower for longer than I should. The way the morning sun shines through the living room windows. The murder of crows (or ravens or blackbirds; I don't the difference) who yell at each other in the parking lot here most days make laugh every time.

I smile and laugh at a lot more things now than I did before this happened.

On a much larger scale, I am spending time with the greatest mystery of humankind, the one we try to ignore for most of our lives: that we all die.

Although the sense of peace about dying along with the understanding I gained in my psilocybin session that death is sort of like the other side of life and not something to fear has stuck with me, my mind sometimes wanders to the idea of my no longer being here.

“I” live in this particular building. “My” stuff is gathered in this space. “I” move around, “I” talk to people, “I” go places, “I” have an impact on others as they do on me. Can that “I” just disappear?

As hard as I try, I cannot imagine a world without me. The morning after my psilocybin session, I asked my guide over breakfast if s/he can imagine the world without being in it.

The guide thought carefully about this for several minutes and said no, couldn't do it. And this is a person who has been using hallucinogens and guiding others through sessions with them for a couple of decades.

I have dark periods when I think about the day I die and sometimes the thought gets really stupid. Don't laugh, but if I choose to use Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law, I have wondered what I would wear that day. What clothes do I want to die in.

Do I want to be in bed or in a chair or lounging on the sofa? Oh, come on, Ronni. Where do these thoughts come from? It's usually on the couple of days that heavy fatigue kicks in after chemotherapy.

Even with all that, what I have noticed about myself in the three weeks since the psilocybin session is that the peacefulness I now have in relation to dying has extended to daily life.

It shows up in that old phrase about taking time to smell the roses. I feel like an idiot saying that but I've mostly been in a hurry all my life. I'm not anymore. I'm more comfortable day-to-day than I've felt in most of life and its not too much of a stretch to say that this space where I am now between life and death is among the happiest of my life.



Comments

Yes - as the Stones sang "You can't always get what you want, but you can always get what you need," (close to accuracy), that of loving yourself and life is available to each person, regardless of our circumstances.

Kudos and appreciation to you for this telling of your feelings at this time. It's one of the best of life's 'lessons.'

I imagine your grandson is going to charm the socks off you. Soak it all up, Grandmother.

I'm grateful for these posts, Ronni. Thank you.

I'm so grateful that you are sharing here what your experience is like...smelling the roses is such an important thing to tell us. I think you've shouted it to the rooftops, at least that's the way I'm receiving it. I no longer will wish you well, but will change all my wishes for everyone to "smell the roses."

"Life's but a walking shadow . . . " (Macbeth relating to Lady Macbeth situation). Metaphorically implying that that life has no meaning.

Ronni - you have proven each and everyday life, in fact, has meaning. Your willingness and the willingness of your readers have had this opportunity to share a life . . . "full of sound and fury".

Though the future of our lives will always be an unknown it's not simply a " . . . tale told".

We will survive! " . . . signifying"?

My heart swells with grace & gratitude that you have moments of such deep comfort and unhurried pleasure. Do you think we can get to this place in health or is it designed for the precious moment you presently find yourself?

A wonderful piece of writing and sharing! Thank you for that.

Thoughtful and thought provoking Ronni. Again I thank you. Sometimes when I wake in the morning I just lie there feeling grateful. One more day, that's really all we ever had.

As seems the case every holiday season, there has been a spate of deaths surrounding us again this season. Some of the those who have left were younger than me. Causes me to pause. The world goes on without them. Yet, here I am.

I miss some of them very much. Like my sister who died just days before Christmas. She wasn't sick or suffering. Just gone. Dying in a very old pair of pajamas, probably on her way to bed. She would have been pleased with that outcome, and I wish she were still in the world to tell her about her sudden demise!

Can you share how I can find a guide that can help with a hallucinogen experience like you had? Thanks for sharing your journey. My mother died of lung cancer and chose not to have treatment and I watched her become very accepting and peaceful with the process her body was going through.

I love that last paragraph, it says so much! I think that should give us all hope. I’ve been rushing, too, and have really tried to slow down these last few months.
Thank you!

The one fear I have always had in regards to me dying, is that I will not be around to see "what's next." As you said, I cannot imagine a world without me. The thought of all the rest of you able to experience the future just makes me angry. It's like reading the last chapter of a great mystery story and never finding out who done it.

The space between life and death. A perfect title as I sit at my dying mother’s bedside. Holding her hand, stoking her head and cheeks, talking and talking to her of her life’s events.

Friday she could respond to me. Not much, said my name, request a song, made little comments.

Saturday, the strength of the drugs and dying had begun in earnest. Now just shallow breathing moving the bundle of bones my mother had become. There was, could be, no response. My heart was broken. The little girl in me cried, wake up mommy. But the big girl, rational adult, knew that would not be.

And as I sat there yesterday by her side for hours and hours saying what I hoped to be comforting words I thought of you Ronni. Your bravery and courage. What would you say to me if you were there? What would you say to my mother?

I drew strength from remembering things you have written about your journey. Things that calmed me and made me stronger.

Thank you.

You are such a gift to us.
It’s almost like death is desirable but not quite.

Thank you so much for articulating your feelings about your impending death. You have become like an old friend in my mind, candid and curious yet just not knowing what will come. I love that you share that evasive experience of your magic mushroom trip and that it brought you peace. I too found a sort of peace (that One Love thing) when I dropped acid so long ago. It has stayed with me all these 53 years. That you express an open sense of wonder at the prospect of dying is just 'enlightened' to me and helps alleviate some of the fear. I just want you to know how valuable I find your words. Thanks, Ronni.

Ronni,

I have just turned 86 years old a few days ago. I share many of the interests ( and lack thereof) that you express so well. I know that I am doomed to death, who knows when, but surely not too long in the future.

I have always said through my life that I believe it is "lights out" when we die. So far I have not seen-heard-experienced anything to change that view. I think that when we die we are done, and I doubt seriously that there is any time for us with harps and robes, no visits with old Saint Peter, etc. But that's just me, and who knows!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in facing death and that I think about many of the same things you talk about. Thanks for your continued sharing! I hope you live long and surprise everybody.

With kind regards,

John in Indiana

Thank you Ronni, you've helped me wake up and pay attention to today and not yesterday. I'm on my way to dying but still with a few years to go, but I feel more prepared to face this in-between time and ready to make the most of it thanks to you. You are a wonderful woman.
from
o/

I'm not so sure that you will not be in this world after you leave it. Your wisdom and courage and grace will remain with everyone you touched for a long time to come.

I have been reading along though not commenting often. But I am so moved by your recent posts including this one. It is a scary event to face. I love it that you took LSD or whatever it was. How amazing. I am moved by your reuniting with your son. And he is moving nearby. You are such a thoughtful woman, so articulate about something many have difficulty articulating about. I too along with others thank you. You words hold a lot of meaning for me. I hug your long distance. Blessings, Susan/Suki

I haven't posted since the time you told us about your cancer coming back. Back then it was too hard to find words. Now, I see more clearly. I just became 79 last week and I truly enjoy all the things you tell us. I have enjoyed your posts for about 4 years now, and, like so many others, this is the only blog I have followed. I did add Robin Morgan's blog a couple of months ago. Wonderfully feminist and political posts. I just want you to know I'm out here with so many other delightful people (yes, I read comments a lot) cheering you on as you navigate and negotiate your path.

Another woman who cares deeply about you,
Judy

I'm so pleased to hear the psilocybin relieved your anxiety and terror. It was painful, although understandable, to know you were going through that. And I've thought of you often as our Denver headlines talk of psilocybin being legalized here. I've no experience with hallucinogens, but who knows what the future will bring.

How interesting that you've thought about what to wear when you die. I've never once thought beyond being in a gown (mine or the hospital's) in bed.

As for the world without me, I've pictured life going on as usual and me not being missed at all -- except by my son, an only child. If only there were a way to make my death easier for him ...

Hugs, Ronni. I'm thrilled that your son will soon be living near you.

I so enjoy, feel so informed by Ronni's deep writing, and also by the writing of each reader.
It is a blessing, another reason for gratitude. It amazes me now that I am old enough and go slowly enough to feel blessings throughout the day, how many there are! Even on a "bad" day. Many blessings for Ronni, and each reader.

You are still my hero. Check out my blog Ethel Swamp speaks. I have been learning from you all these many years. Please stay strong and keep your sunny side up....xo your friend Sheila

It is really so sad Ronnie. To think we all die and turn to dust. On the other hand I find it so hard to imagine I was once a small baby who grew into an old woman. I don't know what else to say - probably because my good 79 year old friend just discovered her lung cancer has spread to her bowel. She is in hospital with a broken hip - waiting for the oncologist to tell her her options. God dammit!

The 'I' of you will live on as a part of 'us'. In the end, we're all one big us.

So grateful I found you, all the way from across the oceans. I have found a guide for the psilocybin experience! Haven't picked a date yet, as there's a lot of practical things etc, but very relieved I know where to go.

Wish I knew you before. Happy I know you now.
Love from Amsterdam
Adie

I have been reading your blog for a couple of years but have never commented before. But today's post just touched me so much that I had to write. I am 74 and am blessed to be in good health, but even though I know that some day I will die, I struggle to really comprehend the idea of a world without me. My futuristic ruminations often take the form of my grandchildren talking about me in the past tense -- as they do my husband, who died three and a half years ago. But me? It all seems impossible to grasp.


When my husband was dying, he used to say, "I don't want to leave you." I know he meant a lot of things by that: he didn't want to leave me alone; he didn't want to "miss" what good things were still to come; and of course he simply didn't want to die. But your beautiful post has made me understand that he also meant that he didn't want to imagine a world without him in it.


Ronni, you are truly a remarkable woman in too many ways to count. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for your many readers. And, how perfectly glorious and fitting it is that you will spend this time "between life and death" with your newfound son and family nearby.

This was probably your best writing and deepest. And I thank all the people who wrote in response.

I have an incurable type of a rare uterine cancer. Diagnosed 17 months ago and had an 8 month remission but now the cancer has returned. I am several years or more away from being terminal, I hope, but I have found your writings about living in a liminal state amazingly helpful. Your words speak to my own anxieties, calm me, and help me see an alternative way of living, even in the course of dying,whether that is sooner or later. thinking about dying only helps us bring clarity to how we want to live. Thank you so much for your willingness to share what is ultimately the most private and personal experience.

It has been said You Only Live Once...but if you do it right, ONCE is enough. Did you do it right Ronni when you think back? I had cancer last year and today I had labs so I am riddled with anxiety as I wait for the results however I sit here thinking that I have done so much wrong in this life. I am not talking about bad ...I am talking about just walking through it without realizing how much there really is that I could have done. I am 65 and I got married at 19 and I had children at 21 and I was a grandmother route 42 and that is something I don’t regret except I wish I would’ve done it a little later. What the hell does a 19-year-old know about life about marriage and about relationships? However 45 years later we are still together and we still have nothing in common and unlike my friends who love to say their husbands are their best friends, my husband is not my best friend and although I love him I am not sure I like him… And were we not married I am not sure that we would even be friends but at 19 he was gorgeous and exciting and I knew I could never live with him without being married because my parents would not have allowed that so we got married but I really didn’t realize how different we were and continue to be. This is something I cannot change and at this point I don’t think I want to because one thing he really did was step up to the plate when I had cancer and he was the best nurse ever! I would have never thought he would’ve been as thoughtful and helpful as he turned out to be so in that he is certainly a blessing to me. I guess what I mean is that i’ve never done anything I really considered great fun. I have never gone away with girlfriends or done much traveling outside of taking the kids to sports events. I never got to go to college which I always wanted to do and my dream was to go to nursing school which was put on the back burner once I had my own children. My parents started getting sick in their 60s and passed away in their 70s so I worked 40 hours a week and my sister and I always always helped with our parents which was a wonderful thing because they were great with us. I worked for 37 years in the same job and I spent the last 11 Sitting in a cubby with no windows so I never knew if it was sunny outside or storming unless I got up and walked to the other side of the building. I hate that I allowed that for myself and I tell my grandchildren never ever work in a cubby. I never rock anyone’s boat because I never want to confrontation. I worked outside of the home, I took care of the kids ran them around, I cooked every day I did all the laundry and paid all the bills. My husband worked and went hunting and went fishing and took our son to the ballpark. I guess if there is reincarnation I’d like to come back as a man and have my husband’s life which has been pretty darn good. Lol.... I guess my regret is that I played this life so safely that I don’t have my own story. Not to say that a lot of drama has not gone on but it was things that I was caught up in, not things I caused because I guess in order to cause some thing, you have to shake things up and I just never did that . It’s funny that you say what would you wear when you died because when I was going through chemo and surgery and radiation I made out a list of music I want played and pictures I would like in a video and I did not pick out a dress because I wrote that I wanted to be cremated and no service… Just A celebration of life at my little church with lots of good food . You don’t think of dying on a daily basis or at least you shouldn’t. I don’t think you can live each day thinking about it or how could you get through the day? However when you are faced with a disease like cancer you do think about it. I hope your treatment leaves you on this earth and doing this blog for a long time yet to come . I hope my blood work comes back good because I need to get started doing ME! As a matter of fact tomorrow I am driving myself to Disney World where I plan on spending the day with Mickey and just fantasizing about being 10 years old again when things were easier ......

Thank you for this one, Ronni. It hit very close to home for me.

My joy and my solace now as I too am nearing the end is that as long as my sons and daughter, and their's live, some of me continues to live. I see glimpses of me in their bodies and their minds and their hearts, Just as my parents did with me. And I am almost content.

I think the rest of it is a bit of vanity and a fear of the unknown, to be perfectly honest, and that's OK, too! After all, we are only human! We have a built-in alarm system going off when we are threatened with being put in danger! You can't really ward off or reason with those instincts! It's what has kept the human race alive for eons!

Britt...

As you probably know, in the U.S., psilocybin is a schedule 1 drug, highly illegal. I cannot give you any direction on how to find a guide. A friend tells me that just bringing up the topic with a couple of friends led to help finding one, that more people than we would have guessed have looked into this.

As usual, I'm late to the scene and everything I would say has already been said in other, largely more eloquent, comments. TGB attracts some super-articulate readers. As far as me not being here, well. . .I just won't be here. I'm neither religious nor metaphysical.

I totally agree with Meghan O'Flaherty's comment.

I am also an avid reader of yours who rarely comments. But today's post hit me right in my heart, and I need to let you know how much it means to me. I was a hippie for years and took uncounted acid trips and the occasional magic mushrooms. That was then, but I will never forget how different the world became to me afterwards.

Still today, I remember moments that are timeless. On one of those trips, I wrote myself a note, which I still have tucked away with my precious things. It says, "An old friend, You and I." Not sure exactly what that means, it's always calmed my fear of dying.

In my own post yesterday, I quoted Albert Einstein: "Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life." I'm getting ready to travel to Florida, my annual trip to see my sister. I'll be in the Florida sunshine and rejoicing while I am still in the beautiful land of life.

Sending you many heartfelt virtual hugs.

DJan

All I can think of is, what a great guide you're giving us!

Again...I so enjoyed your post and people's comments to your posts. I too am aging, a pancreatic survivor for almost 3 years, experienced fears, anxiety, joy and wonderment. I hope that I can continue to read your blog long after you pass.
Your words say so much...a map so to speak through our ending years from whatever takes us. Peace to you ronni and thank you.
G

Melinda, thank you for your meaningful stream of thought.

While you have regrets, you did what you could with what you knew then. Don't be hard on yourself for that.

Ronni, you're touching a hell of a lot of people, and, sometimes, in ways not anticipated.

Not too many years ago I thought I had firm beliefs about my death and how I would feel. I now realize that I had simplistic answers to a profound question.

I do not believe in a hereafter and that hasn't changed, but I do know that I will not know how I will feel when the bell tolls for me until it happens. My near death experience was the beginning of becoming aware of a surprising reaction to believing I was dying. I was not afraid of dying and the only regret I had was that I would no longer be. Is this a universal thought? I am sure we are not alone in having that sadness (or whatever it is), Ronni as it has been mentioned in one of the comments.

I do hope that I am more peaceful when my time arrives because that was one surprising thing that occurred when I thought it was time for me to go. I did not feel that great peace that I had expected.

It is so easy to say, when death is thought of, that you didn't know anything before you were born and wouldn't know anything after you were dead so why fret; but not so easy to grasp when death hovers.

I so hope that the feeling of peace that you are now experiencing, Ronni, stays with you and takes away the terrors you experienced.

One of my three sons has had an interest in psychedelics, especially entheogens, for many years, and it has apparently been fairly easy for him to acquire and experience 'shrooms as he sometimes refers to them. Although I've never experienced them, my son has educated me about their history and cultural use, including their connection with the Santa Claus story. I can't say whether what he's shared is all true, but it's certainly interesting and much of it makes sense to me. I think my son's experiences began with the Rave scenes about twenty years ago. That's also something I've never experienced, but from what he's described, it sounds similar to the "love-ins" of the hippie days.

My understanding has always been that experiencing ego death is really the primary purpose of using entheogens, however I've never felt a need to seek that out. I find it very easy to imagine the world without me. It was here for millions of years before my molecules were assembled in the pattern that they were, and it will continue on for who knows how long after they've disbanded. I've mostly enjoyed the ride, despite having gone through some dreadful times, too.

What I'm not at all good at is comprehending what happens to my consciousness. I mean, if you're having a lousy time with life at your end of it, how will relief from that be experienced? That seems to me the rawest deal -- to perhaps have no sense of something transcendent afterwards. I suppose all we can do is our best to make sure that happens in the one life we're pretty sure we're having in the here-and-now.

In the past eight years, I've been present at the very end of life of two people very dear to me, whose deaths were a few years apart. Both were in their early 90's and both seemed to be experiencing something more than I could perceive see in their last hours, and neither was in a medical setting. They both made cryptic comments that they were "going", but that only so many could go, and was I going, too? Both seemed calm and matter-of-fact at the time, and okay with the fact they were "going," This left me more curious, than fearful, about death and what comes after. I still tend to believe that nothing comes after for the deceased person, but being asked by both individuals a question that seemed to be more of an inquiry into whether I was embarking on the same journey as they each were, at a time in their lives when coherent communication was otherwise challenging for them, has left my mind more open to other possibilities. To paraphrase the Bard, there may be more things in life and death, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Thank you, Ronni, and readers/commenters for the fascinating discussion. I'd love to hear more of this in an episode of the Alex and Ronni show.

Thanks for your post, Ronnie, I pray for an easy passage into spirit for you.
Ellen

Ronni, I am just delighted that you are still feeling so calm and accepting, and even more delighted that your son and his family will soon be closer to you.

I am struck over and over again at how the whole health care system is fueled by anxiety about death. And aging. And all the weird things that are going on with botox and implanted buttocks and rejuvenated vaginas and so on. There was an old ad jingle from my murky past: I don't want to grow up, I'm a TOYSRUS kid. That should be our national anthem.

A few days ago a young woman police officer was ambushed and killed by some psycho. It all happened less than 15 miles from where I live, and like most people around here, I was very saddened at the waste and the downright wrongness of her murder. Why couldn't it have been someone like me? Almost 70, quite rickety, grown child, dead husband, etc.

As you are finding, real peace is in accepting that death can be around the next corner. We all have appointments in Samarra. And really living your life means that the smallest sweetnesses are important, like the drop of nectar you lick from a honeysuckle. So enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, Ronni!

Bless your heart!

I have to agree with Bruce about wanting to know what’s going to happen next, and being angry that I’m not going to find out.

Sometimes reading your posts are very hard for me, it hits too close to home. It’s not that I’m relying on denial to get through the day, but I am still able to give myself a break by not thinking about it. My cancer (CLL - bad markers) is incurable; it - or more likely, a secondary infection, will get me eventually. My first treatment started to fail last summer, and after a rough couple of months, the new treatment appears to be successfully buying me more time. I hate that my only son and two very young grandchildren live 2 hours away, and that I will have such little influence on their lives, other than my genetic contribution.

I was very interested in reading about your experience with psilocybin; I did experiment a bit back in the day, but I don’t believe I ever tried that; I did enjoy peyote (shades of Carlos Castaneda) but it was pretty calm. It is so tempting to try something that could bring about understanding and peace, but I am also tempered by fear, having experienced two psychotic breaks in my lifetime (unrelated to experimental substances). I have been places to which I do not want to return.

I like to think this is one of many lives. I was here before and will be back again. Actually kind of anxious to see what the next one will be like.

Your wondering about what clothes to wear reminded me of my grandmother. When she turned 90, we decided to have a large family party in a restaurant. She asked me to take her shopping for a new dress, white polka dots on navy blue. "I haven't had enough polka dotted dresses in my life."

Needless to say I did the ground work first rather than having her have to go all over. So I found a dress (without telling her) and suggested that we start at this store first when the appointed shopping day came around. She fell in love with the dress. She turned around from the mirror and said to me "And I want to be buried in it." And so she was, two and a half years later.

Thank you so much Ronni. ✨

I love Jean's story about her grandmother's dress selection. I could see me saying something like that. Hopefully, I will find the right thing before the time comes.

As a retired RN at 69 years old & a hippie through the '60s & 70s, I feel I can relate with your trip to death. My husband of 45 years and I already do many of the things that you do, Ronni: not rushing anymore, noticing our wildlife in our backyard, being more in the moment & grateful for the day-to-day small pleasures. I want to Thank You for your bravery and warm words to everyone, of your adventures to the spiritual world. -Joannie

Ronni,
Do you remember back when you received your diagnosis, and you wondered if writing about your life now would be boring for your readers?
You are sharing with us the most important story of our lives—not how to die, but how to live.
I am grateful.

I've been changing my mind over the years about what to wear as I lay dead in my coffin. I will be cremated, so my attire must be easy to burn/remove, whichever takes place. Finally I've decided that I shall wear my lawyer robes, simbol of my beloved profession, that will be removed before I go into the furnace! And that is that!
You are fantastic Ronni .

This is the best post yet. I’ve followed you for years and hope there is some way for your blog to continue and the archives available for a long time. There has been so much valuable information and feelings that we can all relate to. I can’t explain how much I appreciate all of them.
I am 72 , widowed, childless and all of my family gone but an older brother. I have friends, but I’m still alone at the core.
I don’t believe in an afterlife unless there is something to this quantum mechanics and consciousness thing which is over my head.
I’m saddened over not ever being able to know what goes on in the future, like Bruce. That really bothers me more than any of it. The just ceasing to exist forever more. I just can’t wrap my head around that for some reason.
I’d love to be able to have a guide for a "trip". Oh how wonderful and kind that would be for people, as our time comes up. It would be the greatest gift to not feel fear and sense some peaceful feeling.
Thank you for everything.

Thanks for being you Ronnie -your words will be your legacy and I have no doubt you are changing lives - making the days easier for many of us.

Ronni, you're like a brave scout who is going on into uncharted territory ahead of us and coming back to report on what you see before you take off again to go a little farther, and then come back and tell us what you saw, and then go back out there. You're our guide, giving us the lay of the land. Thank you a thousand times.

Yes, Ronni,you are a guide and have created such a wonderful group that just adore you for all the best reasons. there is joy amidst the laments and gratitude for your honesty and courage. Write on lovely lady.

<3

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