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Letting Go When it is Time to Die

In last Friday's discussion here of physician-assisted death, reader Mary left, in part, this comment about who should have the right to use this service:

”I’d take this even further than if one is terminally ill,” wrote Mary. “I would definitely include Alzheimers. I would want the choice to be able to end my life if I was just old, tired, not feeling well and simply ready to go having had a good long life.”

This got me thinking about my Great Aunt Edith.

She was a fascinating woman, ahead of her time by miles but today isn't the place for her full story, just the end of it.

For 20 years or so leading up to Aunt Edith's death at age 89, I in New York City and she in Portland, Oregon spoke on the phone for an hour or so every weekend.

We talked about everything under the sun and although current affairs and politics were high on our agenda, there were books and movies and recipes and and all sorts of things to talk about. We never ran silent.

In between, Aunt Edith snail-mailed (no internet yet) me New Yorker cartoons, magazine and newspaper articles and other assorted information she wanted to share with me.

It was a lively relationship even at such a long distance from one another.

After many years, I noticed some slippage in her interests. Fewer snailmail envelopes came my way. Occasionally, she lamented that her old eyes got too tired to read easily anymore or even watch television sometimes. Her political opinions became fewer and more muted compared to the past.

This didn't happen all at once. In fact, by the time I noticed it, it had been there for months, slowly expanding – or, perhaps, I should say contracting. After a year or more, I realized that she was gradually letting go of the world around her.

Her interests continued to diminish until not too far short of her 90th birthday, Aunt Edith died.

Ever since then, I have hoped for a similar death, that when it is time to go, like Aunt Edith, I will have lost interest in the worldly things that engage me and lead me now.

Well, at least until the demise of the Trump era presents itself. I will be mightily pissed off to miss that.

Which brings me back to Mary's desire:

”I would want the choice to be able to end my life if I was just old, tired, not feeling well and simply ready to go having had a good long life.”

My first thought when I read that was, “Of COURSE that should be true.”

One of the things that is hard about being old in the United States, is that the “rules” - that is, the types of care and care homes, medical procedures, medications, health advice and government policy decisions affecting old people are made by people who are not old, who have no personal experience at growing old.

A whole lot of them think they know what is best for old folks. But aside from professional caregivers, they do not. The ultimate decision makers – politicians and corporate honchos – don't know and I don't think they much care either.

One example, pharmaceutical companies hardly ever include people older than 50 or so in drug trials so physicians have no idea how dosages should be adjusted for old people's bodies that function differently from younger adults.

And in the six or seven U.S. states that allow physician-assisted death, the politicians who drafted the legislation severely restricted the circumstances under which it may be used.

Why in the world should this be so? Whatever one's physical and health condition, why shouldn't people be allowed to end their lives when the time feels right to them?

Some have argued that people can shoot themselves or stop eating or chase down other means of dying. But why should they when there is a humane way to death not involving shocking violence or difficulty in carrying it out?

In monitoring myself since my cancer diagnosis 20 months ago, I've noticed a reduction in the intensity of some of my interests. I've dropped many political, current events and even health and ageing newsletters I've read regularly for years.

It feels similar to what I saw with Aunt Edith gradually bowing out of her engagement with life and the world around her.

I am convinced that I have been going through the early stages of this disengagement and I will know better than anyone when it is time for me to go. I've made all the assisted death arrangements with my medical team but I can do it only in one circumstance: when doctors decide I have fewer than six months to live.

Maybe that's not the right time for me. And anyway, why should the state care or regulate when an old person wants to take his/her leave?

A TGB READER STORY: Embrace the Challenges

By W. Christian Koch

We went camping this past week or, as one of my hardcore, outdoor friends calls it, "Glamping". (Glamorous Camping).

Whatever you call it, the family loves it. My adult kids and their spouses/fiance' all flocked back for our little excursion. We are members of a club, so it's something free we can all do together.

We started camping about 13 years ago. While all the trips sort of blend together, the overall sense we get is that of a loving satisfaction of enjoying each other.

Some of the trips didn't exactly go as planned. A couple tire blowouts, steaks falling in the fire, rainy trips, steaming hot trips, and getting lost.

One such event sticks out for me. It was the time we were lost, at night, amidst nothing but corn fields. Man, is it ever dark out there cruising corn fields! We were also low on gas and there was nowhere to turn the camper around. The dirt road we were on just kept going and going and going.

Tensions were running high. Suddenly my mother-in-law, Nancy, exclaimed, "Well, the corn's agrow'n".

The simplicity of her observation broke the tension and every last one of us laughed so hard, we couldn't breath. Eventually, there was a crossroad and we made it to our campground safely and no worse for the wear.

So, what has me recounting such tales? It's another odd moment as I practice the mindfulness technique I learned to manage the chronic pain.

I was spraying off the carpets and tarp we use camping. When I started, there was a familiar aroma that was present that I never noticed while cleaning it in the past. It was the smell of camping.

It was the smoky smell of the dozens of campfires. It was the stains of millions of raindrops, from countless storms, that mixed with dirt as it splashed back on the tarp after hitting the muddy ground.

There is a small spot where the tarp got too close to the heat exhaust and melted a hole and charred it a bit. I looked at the imperfection of that very old tarp (my dad made it for me when I was 14!). I stood there for a moment and concentrated on that smell and the hole. All those memories flooded back and I started wondering why those challenges were so defined while the thousands and thousands of wonderfully positive experiences are sort of lost in a sea of really happy family moments.

I wondered if I really wanted to wash that tarp for fear of losing that aroma that was stirring those memories. Well, I went ahead and washed the dirt off and I'm happy to report the smell that is so pleasant to me was still there.

But it got me to pondering. I look at the beat up, somewhat dirtied and holey fabric of my life and I know I need to wash the dirt of the bad times off so I can continue to be useful.

And I truly do have a sea of terrific memories of a very happy existence thus far. But I'm wondering if I shouldn't keep the "aroma" of those difficult and challenging moments around because they definitely help define who I am and overcoming them has made my life rich and worth living.

It's not that I want to wallow in any "whoa is me pity party", but just like those camping stories that help knit us together as a family, remembering my challenges that I've overcome has made my story more complete.

I just need to remember though, not to get so caught up in how difficult things are or have been, rather take a look around, chill out and say, "Well, the corn's agrow'n".

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.


On last week's post about Mary Oliver's poem, When Death Comes, my friend Darlene Costner, who is 93, left this comment:

”The more I ponder death and read what others think, the less I know how I feel. I was so sure that there is no afterlife, much as I wish I would be continuing on another planet or in another form here on earth.

“Now I am experiencing confusion about what to believe. None of us will know what happens until it happens; that much I know. I only know that I DO want to go gently into the good night. I agree with the last stanza of the poem.”

My psilocyben (magic mushroom) session, which took place five weeks ago now, continues to provoke new feelings and thoughts or, if not entirely new, has opened my mind to a re-examination of beliefs that, like Darlene, I assumed I had settled long ago.

Including afterlife.

I can give you all kinds of reasons to explain why I believe there is no such thing but that has not, over a lifetime, prevented me from enjoying speculation about what an afterlife might be. If there were one, of course.

One example: what if this, what we are living now, is the afterlife? What a (horrible) joke that would be.

In recent years, my favorite examination of afterlife possibilities is a 10-year-old book I've written about before, Sum, by neuroscientist, David Eagleman, subtitled Forty Tales From the Afterlives.

The description from the cover of a recent paperback edition explains its enormous charm and extraordinary creativity:

”In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people's dreams.

“Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.”

As many reviewers of this worldwide best-selling and award-winning book have noted, the book is “teeming, writhing with imagination.”

And so it is. I don't believe a word of the book; I don't believe in an afterlife. But it is still a delight to read and ponder.

During and after my magic mushroom session, I came to see that death is something like the other side of life; they are equal parts of the continuum, inseparable, each impossible without the other.

As inadequate as that and my previous attempts to describe the magnitude of the experience and related realizations are, one of the things I came away with is an important change: that I don't need to believe in an afterlife to entertain the idea of an afterlife. Both can exist simultaneously.

When I say that now, it seems so obvious that it shouldn't need stating. But there you are – sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn the simplest things.

Now it's your turn to take on the afterlife.

ELDER MUSIC: Chip Taylor

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

Chip Taylor

Even to music obsessives like me, CHIP TAYLOR isn’t exactly a household name. There are a few of us who appreciate his work and I hope that after today that number will increase.

Chip is probably best known, by those who know about him, as a songwriter However, he is also a performer and recording artist as well. We’ll play some of his well known songs as well as some of the others.

Probably Chip’s most famous song is Angel of the Morning. It was recorded by several people until MERRILEE RUSH got a hold of it and made it a hit.

Merrilee Rush

It was later a bigger hit for Juice Newton, but I prefer Merrilee’s version. Many others have had a go at it as well, from Nina Simone to The Pretenders. Dusty Springfield to Bonnie Tyler, and many more. Here’s the pick of them.

♫ Merrilee Rush - Angel of the Morning

Chip Taylor

Chip was born James Voight and is the youngest of three brothers. The oldest is Barry Voight, who is a geologist and a world-renowned vulcanologist and has been professor of geology at several universities throughout his life. However, when they were young, not yet teenagers, Barry liked to lead the others astray, especially Chip (or James as he was), as you will hear in Barry Go On.

♫ Chip Taylor - Barry Go on

The middle brother is Jon Voight. If that name seems familiar, you’re right: he is the actor and Academy Award winner. That also means that Chip and Barry are Angelina Jolie’s uncles.

Jon was mentioned in the previous song as well as this one, Hey Jonny. The song sounds like an extension of that previous one, as well as another more famous song. It’s really more a tribute to Bill Haley than to his brother.

♫ Chip Taylor - Hey Jonny

I’ll continue the story of sibling rivalry, and this should be familiar to all those out there with brothers and sisters. The song claims to be about how Chip got into the music biz, but perhaps not the way he wanted. Here is Bastard Brothers.

♫ Chip Taylor - Bastard Brothers

The song Wild Thing was a big hit for THE TROGGS in the sixties.


It gained even more fame when Jimi Hendrix performed it at the Monterey Pop Festival and set fire to his guitar and parts of the stage. The song has also appeared in films and, well, just about everywhere.

♫ The Troggs - Wild Thing

For 20 years Chip gave up the music industry and became a professional gambler and a professional golfer. I assume he was successful as 20 years is a long time.

Since his return he has recorded a number of well regarded albums. Some of those were in partnership with CARRIE RODRIGUEZ.

Chip & Carrie

They also toured and performed together. One of the albums they recorded is “Red Dog Tracks”. From that we have Private Thoughts.

♫ Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez - Private Thoughts

Chip Taylor

From really early in his career, before the Black Jack and the golf, Chip was essentially a country performer (in spite of being born and raised in Yonkers, New York). His main gig was writing songs for others and he was very successful at that.

The song Getting Older, Lookin' Back sounds as if it could have been a hit for many singers, but as far as I know it wasn’t. I can see Merle Haggard nailing this one.

♫ Chip Taylor - Getting Older Lookin' Back

Chip Taylor

The same could be said for Clean Your Own Tables. I’m surprised that these songs weren’t covered more extensively. Another one for Merle, I think, but here’s Chip.

♫ Chip Taylor - Clean Your Own Tables

From the album “Cimarron”, an excellent but underrated album, EMMYLOU HARRIS gives us Son of a Rotten Gambler.


I don’t know if the song is biographical (Chip’s biography, that is) or not, but it’s a really nice song.

♫ Emmylou Harris - Son of a Rotten Gambler

Chip Taylor

Coming right up to date with his latest album, released quite recently, Chip performs the song, The Light in Your Eyes.

♫ Chip Taylor - The Light in Your Eyes

Chip Taylor

I’ll end with another song about sibling rivalry and respect. It’s obvious that the brothers still like each other and get along but, of course, there’s always that brother thing. The song is Little Brothers from Chip’s album of the same name. I think it should have been called Little Brother, but that’s just me.

♫ Chip Taylor - Little Brothers

Chip Taylor

That wasn’t actually the end. I thought you might like to hear what Chip does with his two most famous songs. First, Angel of the Morning.

♫ Chip Taylor - Angel of the Morning

And Wild Thing. Chip and Carrie have recorded a live version that owes much to Hendrix, but this is the way Chip first recorded it.

♫ Chip Taylor - Wild Thing

INTERESTING STUFF – 26 January 2019


Would that Facebook would be so diligent with the opposing political point of view.

Marvin's Facebook page is here.




It's a new product that isn't widely available yet and hasn't yet been thoroughly reviewed, but it is worth encouraging since recycling as we do it now is massively ineffective.

”Enter Loop, a program with a mission to "eliminate the idea of waste," says Szaky. Loop takes up the first part of the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" by creating returnable, reusable packaging for common consumer items.”


”TerraCycle looked at how to solve the root cause of waste, while still maintaining the virtues of disposables, like affordability and convenience... “How does Loop work exactly? You order from the Loop store, and your stuff will be shipped to you. On the first transaction, there's a deposit for the container — say 25 cents for a Coca-Cola.

” “Once it's returned to the store, or sent back in the reusable shipping container, no matter what state it's returned in (even if broken, because the container is the manufacturer's responsibility), you get your deposit back in full, says Szaky.”

Read many more details at Mother Nature Network.


So cute and brave. Oh, yeah, and smart too.


This quotation from reporter Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone> magazine sent in by TGB reader John Gear. It's about newly elected Congressional representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“That [Not having big campaign donors] doesn’t make anything she says inherently more or less correct. But it changes the dynamic a bit.

“All of AOC’s supporters sent her to Washington precisely to make noise. There isn’t a cabal of key donors standing behind her, cringing every time she talks about the Pentagon budget.

“She is there to be a pain in the ass, and it’s working. Virtually the entire spectrum of Washington officialdom has responded to her with horror and anguish."


I knew they are smart. I think I even knew, a long time ago, that they do this. It's amazing to see.


Off the coast of southern California earlier this month. What a thrill for the surfer.


For the past month or so, the nurses and medical assistants at the hemotology center where I get my chemo treatments at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) are wearing this teeshirt. I'm doing my best to find a way to buy one.


* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Physician Assisted Death

It's also called “Death with Dignity” and “physician-assisted suicide” among another name or two. What is important to know is that it is NOT the same thing as euthanasia which is, by definition, understood to mean that a physician acts to end a patient's life.

Generally, I use the phrase “physician-assisted death” rather than “physician-assisted suicide” because “suicide” is such a loaded word. Also, “Death with Dignity, which is catchy, seems pretentious. Better to just say what it is plainly and simply.

Physician-assisted death, by whatever name, refers to a physician supplying the means of death but with the patient administering the lethal medication. This is legal in seven U.S. States: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, Hawaii, California, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

Oregon, where I live, was the first state, in 1997, to legalize physician-assisted death and I'm grateful to have that choice which I will use, depending on circumstances, when the time comes.

In Oregon, it is called the Death with Dignity Act (DWDA). You will find the full statute here.

And these are the are the most salient points of how the law works, from the website:

”The patient must make two oral requests to the attending physician, separated by at least 15 days.

“The patient must provide a written request to the attending physician, signed in the presence of two witnesses, at least one of whom is not related to the patient.

“The attending physician and a consulting physician must confirm the patient's diagnosis and prognosis.

“The attending physician and a consulting physician must determine whether the patient is capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself.

“If either physician believes the patient's judgment is impaired by a psychiatric or psychological disorder (such as depression), the patient must be referred for a psychological examination.

“The attending physician must inform the patient of feasible alternatives to the DWDA including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.

“The attending physician must request, but may not require, the patient to notify their next-of-kin of the prescription request.

“A patient can rescind a request at any time and in any manner. The attending physician will also offer the patient an opportunity to rescind his/her request at the end of the 15-day waiting period following the initial request to participate.”

As you can see, the requirements are fairly strict. Further:

”The law does not require the presence of a physician when a patient takes lethal medication. A physician may be present if a patient wishes it, as long as the physician does not administer the medication him/herself.”

You can find pretty much everything you want to know about Oregon's DWDA here.

TGB reader Elizabeth Kurata reminded me this week about an Oregon couple who, in 2017, chose to use the state's DWDA law to end their lives together. As Time magazine reported:

”On the last morning of their lives, Charlie and Francie Emerick held hands. The Portland, Ore., couple, married for 66 years and both terminally ill, died together in their bed April 20, 2017, after taking lethal doses of medication obtained under the state’s Death with Dignity law.

“Francie, 88, went first, within 15 minutes, a testament to the state of her badly weakened heart. Charlie, 87, a respected ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician, died an hour later, ending a long struggle that included prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease diagnosed in 2012.”

The couple had allowed one of their children, Sher Safran, to make a documentary about the end of their lives, Living and Dying: A Love Story. Here is the trailer:

You can watch the full 45-minute documentary at Vimeo.

Is physician-assisted death a choice you would make for yourself?

Poetry of Dying

Last week, well-known American poet, Mary Oliver, died in her home in Florida at age 83. She had won both the Publitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

In Oliver's obituary, The New York Times reported:

”Her poems, which are built of unadorned language and accessible imagery, have a pedagogical, almost homiletic quality. It was this, combined with their relative brevity, that seemed to endear her work to a broad public, including clerics, who quoted it in their sermons; poetry therapists, who found its uplifting sensibility well suited to their work; composers, like Ronald Perera and Augusta Read Thomas, who set it to music; and celebrities like Laura Bush and Maria Shriver.

“All this, combined with the throngs that turned out for her public readings, conspired to give Ms. Oliver, fairly late in life, the aura of a reluctant, bookish rock star.”

Many TGB readers noted Oliver's passing - so many that it feels like every one of you sent this particular poem of hers. I thank you all and can't imagine how I have missed it all these years.

When Death Comes
By Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence

and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

A TGB READER STORY: What Will You Share in Your Last Lecture?

By Brent Green who blogs at Boomers

The sad news finally arrived in July 2008. Millions had been watching and waiting. Professor Randy Pausch succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer after a noble fight and a noteworthy battle to make the world aware of the disease that killed him.

As he wisely observed, pancreatic cancer does not have a celebrity spokesperson because its victims do not live long enough. So, during the final ten months of his life in 2007 and 2008, he had become an accidental national celebrity for an engaging "last lecture" and as an intrepid crusader to fight this disease, even though his demise was inevitable.

Dr. Pausch finished his career as Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2006, and he undertook aggressive chemotherapies and radiation treatments, but a year later his cancer had metastasized to his liver and spleen.

According to his doctors then, he had merely three to six months of functional health remaining.

Carnegie Mellon, as well as some other universities, has a tradition called “The Last Lecture.” The context is simple but inspiring: What if you have but one last chance to share your experiences and wisdom with others in the form of a lecture? What enduring values, lessons and ideas would you communicate if this is your final chance?

Professor Pausch, who I will refer to as Randy, gave his last lecture in September 2007, but of course, it was not a hypothetical lecture framework in his case. It was reality; he was dying.

But the lecture recorded that day is not about dying; it is about achieving childhood dreams. Randy presented his lecture with enthusiasm, humor, humility, and clarity.

A video recording of this lecture ended up on YouTube, and millions have watched it (approaching 19 million as of this writing). Randy appeared on Oprah's daytime television show and gave a condensed version of the lecture. Jeffrey Zaslow, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, who had attended the live lecture, worked with Randy to write and publish a small book of wisdom and motivational encouragement entitled, The Last Lecture.

The book topped bestseller lists for weeks following its release in April 2008.

Defying the odds against him, Randy nevertheless lived long enough to see his lecture become a worldwide phenomenon, to watch his book soar to heights of publishing success, to appear on ABC network in an hour-long special with Diane Sawyer, to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show with eleven precious minutes to communicate his powerful messages, to testify before Congress about the need for research into preventing and curing this horrific disease, to fulfill one of his dreams through a cameo acting role in J. J. Abrams’ 2009 cinematic release of Star Trek, to give an address in May 2008 for the Carnegie Mellon graduating class, and, finally, to keep his growing list of admirers informed about his journey through a personal website and blog.

Randy wasn’t just a dedicated professor, a father of three small children, a husband very much in love with his wife, Jai, and a valiant crusader for those afflicted by fatal diseases. At 47 in 2007, he was also a young Boomer man who gave members of his generational cohort a glimpse of how an optimistic generation may tackle the final challenges of mortality and eventual dying.

Through his brave journey, he demonstrated the many ways that this next generation of aging mortals will confront the inevitable: by communicating new narratives about the value of human life, by showing how one’s final months can be dedicated to sharing timeless wisdom with children and young people, and by not going quietly into that dark night.

Randy spent his last days under hospice care, a charitable organization that gives the truest context for reconciliation, remembrance, communication, acceptance, and dignity.

When pondering how the Baby Boomer generation will change dying in the most constructive ways, I realized that those Boomers who address the challenges of a slow dying process would likely choose to die the way they’ve lived: idealistically, intensely and intently focused on creating a legacy for those who survive.

Some will follow in Randy’s footsteps. They will give new meaning to the end of our mortal journeys, leaving behind a wiser nation.

Maybe they will help our fragile species finally understand and accept that human life is precious and each person, given the proper context, can contribute meaningfully to our collective journey, even during the final days of life.

* * *

[RONNI HERE: Here is Randy Pausch's Final Lecture. It has received close to 20 million views and that's on only one of the posted videos. Others of the same lecture have been collecting viewers too.

The lecture runs one hour and 16 minutes and it's worth your time. Here it is:]

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.

Cancer and Mood Changes

Did you ever wake up in a bad mood that affects you all day? Was it a dream that caused it? Hormones? Something you ate? Who knows?

Other times you can – sort of – identify the cause: you're frightened about something or worried or sad or unhappy for reasons that are generally obvious. Aside from chronic depression (which news stories tell me is widespread), dark moods eventually lift and we move on.

Nowadays, since I was diagnosed in October with inoperable cancer, I can easily identify the cause of black moods: it is the aftermath of chemotherapy, those days when I'm physically unwell that produce grim thoughts and feelings.

That's when I become convinced I will die before the day is out, before I have finished notes for my healthcare proxy and beneficiary to help her find all the information she will need.

It's when I imagine I will die before anyone thinks I will and lie rotting in my bed until someone wonders where Ronni is.

It's when I can't read or watch television because my deep, dispirited mind tells me there is no point to doing anything because I will be dead soon.

Yes, I know I have told you about how much I believe death is part of life, about how curious I am about these last weeks and months, and how lucky I am to have this have time.

But I also have days with dreadful thoughts that drag me down below where I think I can ever crawl back out again.

At the time, this always feels more real that the good times - until...

Like Saturday morning when the chemo fuzziness and fatigue lift and I'm a normal person again. (And no, I don't need any advice - I'm just reporting the weather from the frontier.)

ELDER MUSIC: A Good Year for the Roses

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *


Recently, as I write this, the Melbourne Cup was run (in Melbourne, big surprise). This is a horse race and the good people of Melbourne actually get a public holiday for it. Imagine that, a public holiday for a horse race.

It’s held on the same day as America’s elections. I bring this up because each year Flemington race course (where it’s held) is awash with flowers and most especially roses.

To my eyes (not being a gambler) this is the best part of the whole thing. It inspired me to write this column.

ÉDITH PIAF remains the singer against whom every other French singer is judged.

Edith Piaf

Her songs became world-wide hits and this is one of them, La Vie en Rose. Édith wrote the song herself, but due to the arcane copyright laws at the time she didn’t profit from it.

♫ Edith Piaf - La Vie en Rose

BRODERICK SMITH is one of the best, if not the best rock singer Australia has produced.

Broderick Smith

He first came to general notice as the singer for the rock group, The Dingoes. They were a fantastic live band but the quality didn’t really transfer to their records. Pity.

I’ve met him a couple of times and in person he is retiring and modest to the point of shyness, quite unlike the persona he projects on stage. This is Faded Roses.

♫ Brod Smith - Faded Roses

EMMYLOU HARRIS has seven rose songs that are worthy of inclusion.

Emmylou Harris

I had to choose one, of course, and settled on I'll Be Your San Antone Rose. That was Norma, the Assistant Musicologist’s choice as well. The song was written by Susanna Clark, the wife of the great singer/songwriter Guy Clark.

♫ Emmylou Harris - I'll Be Your San Antone Rose

While we’re on roses from that area it’d be remiss of me if I didn’t follow that song by an obvious one from BOB WILLS.

Bob Wills

He recorded a song called San Antonio Rose and then later updated it as New San Antonio Rose. It’s this latter one we have today, as it’s superior to the first one. The singer, as he is on most of Bob Wills’s records, is Tommy Duncan. Bob just makes those irritating comments throughout.

♫ Bob Wills - New San Antonio Rose

Due east of San Francisco you’ll encounter San Joaquin County. It’s the home of the city of Lodi, referenced in one of Creedence’s best songs. We’re not interested in that one today. Someone who sings about that area (and many others) is TOM RUSSELL.

Tom Russell

Tom is one of the finest songwriters around at the moment, and there’d be few others in the last 30 years who could equal him. He also sings really well, as you’ll hear on Rose of the San Joaquin.

♫ Tom Russell - The Rose of the San Joaquin

Getting back to Texas, where we were earlier, we stumble across MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY.

Michael Martin Murphey

The Yellow Rose of Texas was almost certainly written by a black American soldier about his mulatto gal back in Tennessee. This man, whose name is unknown, was with Sam Houston when, along with an army of “Texians”, Tennesseeans and others, attempted a large land grab (of Texas) from Mexico.

Of course, the Mexicans had already accomplished a land grab of their own (as had the French and Spanish previously). The Texians were pitted against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

Surprisingly, we know the name of the Yellow Rose. She was Emily West, later adding Morgan after her slave owner. Although from Tennessee, or possibly Bermuda, she was brought to Texas by that owner, James Morgan.

Unfortunately, the town where he set her up was overrun by the Mexicans (James had skedaddled leaving her behind) and the comely Emily caught Santa Anna’s eye. Now, Santa Ana thought he was God’s gift to women; only two weeks earlier he had married another captive, in spite of having a wife back in Mexico.

A couple of days later, Houston was up a tree spying on the Mexican camp. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that this was military rather than voyeurism for Santa Ana didst sport with Em and a champagne breakfast was the order of the day that morning.

Houston ordered an attack and the Mexican army was caught with their pants down, literally in the case of Santa Ana as reports from the time attest.

The Texians won and Emily was granted her freedom for her crucial service and given a ticket to New York. This is the song about her, as close to the original as is possible these days.

Michael Martin Murphey - The Yellow Rose of Texas

I’ll continue the theme of the previous song with DAVE ALVIN. It could be called a companion piece.

Dave Alvin

To my ears Dave has about the finest (male) voice currently in country and roots music. Actually, some might suggest the previous two singers would be in the running as well and I wouldn’t disagree - after all, it was I who brought that up. Anyway, here’s Dave with Black Rose of Texas, a song he wrote himself.

♫ Dave Alvin - Black Rose Of Texas

At the time everyone was surprised when NICK CAVE had KYLIE MINOGUE along to sing on his album.

Nick & Kylie

That album was called “Murder Ballads” and the combination worked well for the song Where the Wild Roses Grow. You can probably guess from the album title that Nick bumps off Kylie. Just because he can, it seems.

♫ Nick Cave - Where the Wild Roses Grow

THE STATLER BROTHERS don’t perform any more, more’s the pity.

Statler Brothers

At their best, which was the entirety of their career, they were the finest harmonizing band around. Certainly the best in country music. Here they perform Bed of Roses (or Bed of Rose’s, take your pick).

♫ Statler Brothers - Bed of Roses

From out of left field, or to be more precise, out of the fifties, I give you FRANKIE LAINE.

Frankie Laine

Listening to the words of the song, I’m struck by the parallels between it and the story of Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly). In this case we don’t know if Rose topped herself after Frankie left. We hope not. See what you think about Rose, Rose I Love You.

♫ Frankie Laine - Rose Rose I Love You

The BLACK SORROWS are the brainchild of, and yet another band started by that musical national treasure, Joe Camilleri.

Black Sorrows

Joe first came to most people’s notice as the main man in Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons; that is most people in Australia. Since then he’s started half a dozen bands, all of which he keeps going. I don’t know how he does it. The Sorrows are the best known of his groups, and Harley and Rose is their best known song.

♫ Black Sorrows - Harley And Rose

I’ll end as I began with an iconic (and I use the word advisedly) singer, PATSY CLINE.

Patsy Cline

As with Édith, she is the one every subsequent country (and many other) singer is judged, and most are found wanting in comparison. I know this is unfair, but it happens.

Fortunately, we still have a lot of music that Patsy recorded. One of those is A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold).

♫ Patsy Cline - A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)

INTERESTING STUFF – 19 January 2019

This is an extremely short Interesting Stuff today. I don't know if the internet is just less interesting this week or I'm behind in my regular rounds to see what's out there. So here are three I like.


Zeus is a Husky. He doesn't want to get out of bed. As the YouTube page says,

”He likes to sleep in, which isn't always a bad thing, but when it's time to get up and go outside, he protests. He generally likes going outside in the morning and smelling for any critters that might have passed through the yard during the night. But this morning, he struggled to get motivated to get up. Can't we all relate?!”


Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Baby Boomers sent this video. Technology has come a long way in our lifetimes and what's obvious to you and me, isn't so to two teenagers.


My friend Hank Berez sent this kitty video:

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Fighting Cancer

Is cancer, do you think, the most dreaded word in the English language? If it's not, surely it is in the top five.

Nobody wants to hear that – cancer - about themselves or anyone they love and in my case, when they first told me about my pancreatic cancer in June 2017, it took awhile for me to believe it.

People may not have noticed before but once they are diagnosed and weighing potential treatments they hear a lot about “fighting” cancer. On television commercials, at websites for support groups, on teeshirts and from other patients too. “I'm going to fight this thing,” they say. “I'm going to beat it.”

A year and a half later I'm still wondering what that means, to “fight” cancer. I can't punch it in the nose. Or chase it out of town. Perhaps I'm supposed to be extra vigilant in some secret way to keep it from killing me.

Early on in my cancer odyssey, I rejected the ubiquitous vegetable diets that promise to cure cancer, along with suspicious clinics in other countries. (Do not ever forget: if there were a cure for cancer, we would all know about it.)

I was (and still am) being treated at a world-class cancer center and I figure these doctors, nurses and surgeons know a whole lot more about cancer than I could ever learn on the internet.

So I listened to them. I still do. And I do what they tell me.

The massive Whipple surgery gave me about 10 cancer-free months before two new cancers showed up. There is nothing to help, the doctors tell me now, except chemotherapy that may delay the growth of the cancers for awhile to give me some more healthy time.

So as long as the chemo gives me more good days than bad, I'll continue with the doctors' advice. But “fight” cancer? Not me.

I still don't know what it means I should do but it sounds like it would wear me out or make me unhappy. I feel healthy still most of the time and I want to live the time I have in the best possible ways. Fighting doesn't fit that.

I'm still curious, however, about what people mean when they say that.

Reasons to Visit Australia

By Peter Tibbles, the TGB Elder Music Columnist

In this country we don't have any mammals that'll do you any damage. Okay, none that'll eat you, at least. No lions or tigers or leopards or bobcats. No bears. Nothing like that. Although, I wouldn't want to take on a big red kangaroo in a fair fight, or any fight if it comes to that.

There are some birds, though. Well, a bird. The cassowary. It's related to the emu, but it has a 6-foot long spike on each foot it uses to disembowel anyone it doesn't like. Mainly dogs and feral pigs, but people have been known to be attacked.

Then there are the snakes. This is probably what we're most famous for.

There are the prosaically named black snake and brown snake (but don't let their boring names fool you), the brown snake is especially venomous. Or the wonderfully (and appropriately) named death adder.

These all pale next to the tiger snake. People always say about animals that they won't attack you if you leave them alone. Not so with this bugger. They're just naturally aggressive.

They are also the most dangerous snake on the planet (talking about the venom), although some say the Taipan (another one of ours).

In the interest of this missive I looked up my book on dangerous things. It said there are more than 85 varieties of venomous snakes in the country (and 27 known venomous sea snakes). It's a wise thing to treat any snake as dangerous (even if you encounter one of the rare ones that isn't) as most of them are.

Okay, a topic I like to avoid – spiders. There's the red-backed spider and the funnel web spider that have both caused fatalities. And there's the white-tailed spider, which, although it doesn't cause fatalities, I believe those bitten by it wish it had.

There are others but I don't want to dwell on them.

There are many species of box jelly fish. They're all very nasty (and virtually invisible). Some can cause cardiac arrest in about 15 minutes. They've recently found another jelly fish that doesn't take anywhere near that amount of time to do the same.

Fortunately, for us folks down south, these only occur in northern waters, off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory and the north part of Western Australia. It means you can't go swimming there between about November and April. Well, you can but you'd be pretty stupid.

We folks down south don't have that problem. Okay, there are sharks (and sting rays) down here, but they don't attack too many people so it's all right (apart from the people they gobble up, of course).

Let's not forget the stone-fish. These are found all around the coast and, as their name suggests, look like stones. They like shallow areas of the sea and remain stationary on the bottom until someone steps on them.

I defer to the book again. It says

"The stone-fish is the most venomous fish known. It immediately causes fearful pain and a person can become almost demented and thrash around in agony. A number die."

It also says that they can live out of the water for surprising lengths of time.

There’s the blue-ringed octopus which is very pretty. Its bite is painless and may seem harmless. However, the neurotoxins begin working immediately causing muscular weakness, numbness, cessation of breathing and death. This happens in minutes. There is no antidote.

Then there are the irukandji, sometimes known as “killer jellyfish”. There’s a good reason for that nickname. The problem with these is that they are tiny and essentially invisible. According to reports, irukandji jellyfish's stings are so severe they can cause fatal brain haemorrhages.

I won’t dwell further, you can look them up if you’re so inspired.

There are crocodiles, of course. Again, only in the north. It's only the salt water crocodiles that are a problem. They are protected, so they're having a fine old time breeding like mad.

They've been known to turn up in swimming pools in Darwin. That'd rather startle you, I imagine: wandering out of the house, diving into the pool and half way down thinking, "Oh shit".

The fresh water ones are vegetarians (okay, not really, and smaller – the salties are BIG buggers) and won't attack unless you annoy them, unlike the salties. Now, of course, who in their right mind would think "Lordy, I'm bored, I think I'll go out and annoy a crocodile"?

Ah, let's consider the plant kingdom. Not those poisonous berries and the like that every country has. No, we'll travel north (yet again) to FNQ (far north Queensland), somewhere around Cairns. I didn't know about these until about 20 years ago when I was up there.

We went for a trek through a national park. This had to be with a ranger. She pointed to a plant and said "Take a good look at this and don't touch it. I mean it. DON'T TOUCH IT".

It seems that it's an interesting evolutionary product. Its leaves are covered in tiny silicon barbs and you only have to touch them and they stick into your skin. They are apparently extremely painful. As they are silicon based rather than carbon they don't rot away and over time some people have been known to have them stuck in their skin for years, driving them crazy with the pain.

It's been said that it's a wonder that any Australians manage to live to adulthood.

After all this, I can see you packing your bags, ringing Qantas and winging off to try the wonderful adventures in the land of Oz.

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.

ELDER MUSIC: 1950 Yet Again

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

Here I am, turning five years old this year and starting to take an interest in music.

The GUY MITCHELL song, The Roving Kind is the first song I can consciously remember having heard.

Guy Mitchell

Naturally, I'd've heard other songs before, but this is the one that has stuck in my memory. I was visiting the next door neighbors, the Harringtons, and we were in their kitchen and the song came on the radio.

As I mentioned, I turned five in 1950, but that was later in the year, so statistically it's most likely I was four when this occurred.

♫ Guy Mitchell - The Roving Kind

I certainly didn’t notice MEL TORMÉ at the time.

Mel Torme

It took a little while for his style of music to seep into my brain, but it eventually did. Back in 1950 though, we have Mel singing Careless Hands.

♫ Mel Torme - Careless Hands

Anticipating what was going to happen in only a few years, AMOS MILBURN seemed to be quite prescient.

Amos Milburn

Perhaps it was something else entirely, as back then rock and roll meant something else from what it later became. See what you think with Let's Rock a While.

♫ Amos Milburn - Let's Rock A While-2

I’ve always associated the next song with Bing Crosby, but I thought I’d try a different version for you. This time it’s DINAH SHORE.

Dinah Shore

I really liked this song until I listen to the words, and then it creeps me out. It sounds as if she’s singing about the Midwich Cuckoos or the Stepford Wives. Maybe that’s just me; make up your own mind about Dear Hearts and Gentle People.

♫ Dinah Shore - Dear Hearts and Gentle People

When I saw the name of this song I nearly gagged. However, I noticed that it was the INK SPOTS, so I'll forgive them.

Ink Spots

It's still a cheesy song but the group just about makes it listenable. The song is Who Do You Know In Heaven (That Made You The Angel You Are). I don’t always include songs I really like.

♫ Ink Spots - Who Do You Know In Heaven (That Made You The Angel You Are)

Band leader JOHNNY OTIS discovered Esther Jones in a talent show when she was 14. He was really impressed and made a recording of her and added her to his traveling troupe, renaming her LITTLE ESTHER.

Esther later took the name Esther Phillips. The song we have today is a duet with Esther singing with MEL WALKER, backed by Johnny’s band, of course.

Esther, Mel & Johnny

The song, Cupid's Boogie, made the top of the R&B charts.

♫ Little Esther - Cupid's Boogie

LESTER FLATT AND EARL SCRUGGS were a bluegrass duo who also fronted the band The Foggy Mountain Boys.

Flatt & Scruggs

Some of you may think you’re unfamiliar with their music, but I bet you know at least one of their songs: they recorded the theme for The Beverly Hillbillies TV program. That’s not what we have, that one came much later.

Instead is probably their most famous tune Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Anyone who wants to play this style of music must know how to play this one. It has also been used in TV programs and films, most notably in “Bonnie and Clyde”.

♫ Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs - Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Around this time, Doowop was very popular. For some reason, many of the groups had bird names, and the one we have today is no exception. THE RAVENS were formed a few years earlier by Jimmy Ricks and Warren Suttles.


The group was considered the standard against which all other similar groups were measured, particularly Jimmy, their bass singer. Count Every Star was the group’s biggest hit.

♫ The Ravens - Count Every Star

Although he thought of himself as a jazz singer, to most of us FRANKIE LAINE seemed to make a career singing themes to western movies and TV programs, and songs of a similar bent.

Frankie Laine

We have one of those today, Mule Train. This was featured in a film (“Singing Guns”) but was performed by Vaughn Monroe in that one. Frankie’s version took it to the top of the charts.

Frankie Laine - Mule Train

1950 was the year that my grandmother from England came out to visit us. She arrived by ship as people did back then. We lived in a country town about 400 kms from Melbourne and she was dumbstruck about the distance we traveled to return home (by train).

"We're still in the same state", we told her, "and it's the smallest one on the mainland".

Anyway, her name was Lucy and there was a song popular at the time called Put Your Shoes on Lucy that my sister and I would sing to her. Well, you know how kids are. The singer on record (rather than us) was RUSS MORGAN.

Russ Morgan

When I noticed this song on the 1950 list, I knew I had to include it, if only for my sister and me (and gran).

♫ Russ Morgan - Put Your Shoes on Lucy



At least that's what comedian Lachlan Paterson says. Some of his routine made me laugh – ageism is a tricky business. What do you think?


For several years years, one of the finest reporters at The New York Times, John Leland, has been hanging out with six old, old people in New York City to report on their lives in a series of excellent stories. (Here is a page with links to the individual stories).

The series also resulted in a book, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old.

Leland's latest update on his subjects was published last week. One of them, 95-year-old Ruth Willig,

”...gave thanks for larger gifts this year: as she stayed mostly the same, her family changed around her.

“'I dare not talk about not surviving,' she said one afternoon in her apartment, where balloons in the shape of a 9 and 5 held their last whiffs of helium. 'My children, my son especially, say, “Oh, Ma, you’re going to keep going forever.” 'The thought of my passing is very upsetting to him.'

“Ms. Willig could not help noting the passage of time, especially the absence of her three siblings. Once the youngest, she was now the last of her generation. 'It’s weird to be the only one left, it really is,' she said. I can’t really call anyone: do you remember this? It was not easy at first. I’m getting used to it.'”

Here's a short video from early 2018 of John Leland explaining what he has learned about facing death from his series subjects:


TGB reader, Celia Andrews sent this video of some ideas to get the grandkids off their tablets and other screens:


...and way too many places are reporting this change as a disaster: From The Daily Beast:

“It may not be all doom and gloom, said Donna Strobino, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 'I think it may stabilize once women who have been postponing pregnancy have the births they are planning to have.'”

Doom and gloom? It's a huge part of climate change that there are way too many people for our poor ol' stretched-to-the-limit planet to support.


...since its peak of 215.1 American deaths per 100,000 people in 1991, the cancer death rate dropped steadily by about 1.5% per year to 156 per 100,000 people in 2016, an overall decline of 27%.

The is good news for individuals but also probably wipes out the gains from lower birth rate. A more detailed report at CNN.


Well, the headline is a bit of a misnomer – it's more just a history cat and human interaction through the eons.


Wow. And I thought it was a struggle to lose 40-odd pounds in one year a few years back. This guy had lot further to go than I did and his progress is remarkable. Take a look:


I knew Ben Franklin invented a lot of things we still use today but when I bought my new rocking chair, I had no idea that Ben Franklin invented it.

You can read a list of lot more interesting stuff he invented at Mental Floss.


This video is longer than I usually post – 17 minutes – but I think it's worth your time. It will make you feel good.

There is a follow-up video one year later here..

* * *

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog.

Some Things I'm Finished With Forever

It's not just shopping, as I mentioned on Wednesday, that I can give up with this terminal cancer diagnosis. There are a bunch of other things I never need to think about again and I'm pleased as punch to let them go.

Back in early October my oncologist, the chief hematology nurse and a social worker gathered in a room to tell me that my two new cancers could not be cured but that certain chemotherapy might extend the amount of “healthy” life I would have before symptoms of the cancers begin to take over.

My first thought then was, “A-a-a-ll R-i-i-ight! I just went through my exercise routine for the last time ever this morning.”

For years and years, at least five days a week, I had hated every moment of every workout and I'm happy to be done with it.

Here are some of the other things I have ditched:

I don't need to worry about getting dementia anymore.

I can eat anything I want. In fact, that chief hematology nurse has impressed on me more than once that I need to keep my weight up to avoid frailty.

So I can eat all the high calorie, high fat food I want and in fact, she told me not to worry that it may be unhealthy, that the cancer will kill me long before the diet would.

No need to bother to learn the metric system now.

I can stop feeling guilty about not texting. It's just not my thing.

No more major dental work.

I can stop worrying that I am hopelessly behind in keeping up with new music and movies. I have no reason to care now.

Think of all the time that list frees up. If you've got any suggestions of what else I might give up, I'm eager to hear and will consider them all.

Shopping With Terminal Cancer

It's impressive, I've discovered, how a terminal diagnosis simplifies one's life. Today's little change in how I now spend my time was a surprise. It snuck up on me having been in effect for awhile before I realized it.

In fact, it might not even be worth mentioning except that I think it could be one of the ways people in my predicament (and possibly others) begin to disengage from the world around them in increments to be able to leave peaceably when the time comes.

For starters, in the past few weeks I've been clearing out my email subscriptions so that many fewer show up in my inbox.

One category is news and politics. Do I really need four newsletters from The New York Times and an equal number from the Washington Post? Hardly. Headlines are enough.

That applies to 40 or 50 other publications I've now pared down to one email each and unsubscribed altogether from about three-quarters of them that are duplicate points of view.

It was a shock to find out that I had 103 Google Alerts on a variety of political and ageing topics, each one of which dropped an email on me at least weekly and often daily. I certainly didn't read most of them.

I've kept only 11.

Gone too are computer- and internet-related newsletters. I don't need to know that stuff anymore. Also music, TV and movie promotions. I don't spend much time with those now. Besides, I have access to more than enough to keep me entertained.

But the biggest category of email I've dropped is shopping. Undoubtedly you know how that works: every place you ever bought anything online, even once 20 years ago, emails adverts forever and sells your email address to a bunch of other retailers who also email you and sell your address and so on – it piles up over the years.

Worse, retail may be the biggest category of website I've noticed where many do not honor unsubscribe requests. I got fed up trying and now I just label them all junk so they don't land in my inbox.

Here's what I've learned about shopping while terminally ill:

The only things I need to purchase now are food and bathroom tissue. You can quibble over such items as toothpaste but you get the idea: Necessities only. I've never liked shopping in general and now I've lost all interest.

I don't need to buy clothing ever again. Books too, unless wildly compelling; there are already too many unread ones in my house that won't get read before I die.

The computer and related paraphernalia will last until I'm gone. There is no reason now to replace bedding, towels, kitchen equipment, worn furniture, carpeting or any kind of decorative item.

I'm done with all that and happily so while thinking it would have been smart to have applied some of these measures for the past 40 or 50 years. Oh well – too late now.

But wait. My shopping abstinence is not total and I cannot explain why this happened:

Long before my cancer diagnosis – maybe four or five years ago – I saw a rocking chair online I wanted. Then I thought better of it. Until I didn't and I stared at it on my computer screen from time to time. Years went by in this manner.

The rocking chair came to mind again shortly after the doctors told me there is no treatment for my cancer. For reasons I haven't worked out, I still wanted it – strange when your personal sell-by date is imminent - but there you are; we humans are nothing if not inconsistent.

And so it arrived yesterday.


And now, having reduced my computer screen time by ridding myself of hundreds of emails a day, I'll have plenty of time to use the rocker of an evening by the fire.


By Mary

My husband turned 78 in the spring and as the weather warmed and the garden burst into bloom he got weaker and weaker. He was a man of great accomplishment.

He was illegitimate, born to a poor orphan who often couldn't take care of him and so would leave him with her older sister. Then she married an angry alcoholic who beat her and her children.

My husband longed for his real father to come save him from his poverty, from his loving but incompetent mother, from his shame at being a bastard, but to this day we don't know if his father even knew he was born.

So my husband battled his circumstances and used his sharp intelligence and his strength of character to drive himself through college and graduate school and into the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

But his family history took its toll, and he was a heavy smoker and at times a compulsive eater. After two sons and a divorce, he decided to take a diet drug that ended up damaging one of his heart valves. And so began over 20 years of surgeries and worsening health.

Almost 10 major and minor surgeries and steadily worsening COPD and heart symptoms led to many hospitalizations and even more trips to the emergency department over the years. He started using oxygen all the time. His judgment showed some deterioration.

He refused home health care. He refused to discuss hospice. He hid worsening symptoms from me and his doctors. He developed occasional incontinence. Then he began to fall.

He wouldn't use a cane, much less a walker. "I don't want to look like some poor old guy", he said.

"But you ARE a poor old guy", I replied. He was not amused.

So he fell, and fell, and never hurt himself much until one night he hit his back on a wall on his way down. He had dreadful pain, but wouldn't go to urgent care until over 24 hours later when he just couldn't stand it any more.

We were the last ones in urgent care when they took him to be x-rayed and by then all the offices were closed. I sat in that huge waiting area watching a housekeeper empty trash and wipe off tables in front of the various departments. And I thought about what was coming.

I try not to cry in public. But I put my face in my hands and wept in that empty, echoing room. I tried not to make much noise so the housekeeper wouldn't know, but when she got close to me she said, "Señora, you ok?".

I answered her, saying for the first time, "My husband is dying". A few minutes later a man came by and asked if he could help me. I told him no, my husband was going to die a miserable death from COPD. He said that I was probably right.

My husband and I went home that evening and I tried to help him get comfortable in bed. The doctors would not give him any opiates for the pain of his broken vertebrae because they might adversely affect his breathing.

And so he suffered, and I suffered, and after two more ER visits he ended up in a nursing home, terrified that he would be neglected. But they took very good care of him there, fortunately. And I went to see him twice a day. He never wanted me to stay long.

He had another ER and ICU stay while he was in the nursing home, and then went back. In less than a week he called me saying he had begun to bleed rectally. I told him I would meet him at the ER.

As I stood outside the entrance waiting for him, I heard sirens as they drove up with him. They had never used them on any of his other ambulance trips. I stood aside as they unloaded him and told him I would see him inside.

Ten hours later he was dead.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.