ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities - Hollywood
A TGB READER STORY: The Sunflower Meditation

Living and Dying

Well, I've gone and done it again - read yet another book on dying when I said I wouldn't do that.

This one, titled Dying: A Memoir, by Australian writer Cory Taylor who died of melanoma in 2016, is a whole lot more autobiography than death but there are a few points that resonated with me.

Taylor's book is not the only one that speaks about working through anger as a universal response to a medical death sentence.

Most books about death do that but I've never experienced it and as I may have mentioned in the past, the one thing I have learned all on my own through 77 years of life is that if it happens to me, it happens to thousands, millions of others.

I'm pretty sure that just as we each find our own way to live our lives and no two are alike, that applies to dying too – at least for those of us who are privileged to be given some time to contemplate this monumental transition into the unknown.

I've never asked myself, “Why me?” That is not to say I'm more virtuous than anyone else; it just doesn't occur to me. I'm more likely to ask, “Why not me?” and perhaps that's related to the fact that everyone in my family dies of cancer. What else should I expect.

Another assumption in much of the writing about dying is that we-the-dying spend a good deal of time reflecting on our pasts. Really?

Once again, not me. I've been parsing my past for all these 77 years. I know my regrets, I've made as much peace as possible with my transgressions, learned what life lessons I could glean and moved on.

How I feel about the past is how I feel about an award I once won. I wanted it badly and was thrilled when my name was called. But the next morning I was disappointed that I couldn't summon the same feelings of joy and excitement as the night before.

Of course not, I eventually realized. Because it was yesterday. What's on for today is what I cared about that morning.

A third concern of death writers – amateurs (those who are dying) and professionals (reporters and “experts”) - is dealing with unhappiness and depression.

That can't be easy but again, not me.

Some of my attention nowadays is taken up with the anticipation of death in the relatively near future. I'm almost accustomed to it now as an appendage to most of what rolls around in my head.

Which is usually about the day's priorities. I'm very much a live-in-the-now kind of girl which is to say, death sentence or not, is there something yummy for lunch?

Have I told you that food is a great, good advantage of my personal cancer predicament? As the nurses regularly remind me, keeping up my weight is crucial to my well-being so that I don't fall into frailty. That means I can eat pretty much any- and everything I please.

The higher the calorie count the better and it should include a lot of animal protein, fats of all kinds and most other stuff I used to think is unhealthy for me. Well, in fact it is still unhealthy, but as one of the oncology nurses told me, “The cancer will kill you faster than the diet.”

So keep eating. (I'm fairly certain there are a couple more orange cranberry muffins in the freezer.)

What I am finding, at least for the moment and subject to change over time, is that dying isn't too different from living. Certainly that “predicament” is never out of sight or mind, but for now it doesn't matter much in day-to-day life.

Yes, I count out my pills once a week, I show up for chemo sessions and worry a bit about what a new scan will show about how or if the chemotherapy is working while ruminating on this ultimate existential quandary.

It doesn't feel too much different from life before diagnosis.



Comments

Have a Haagen-Dazs pint on me, Ronni. 😁
Faith

I must say I envy the ability to eat whatever you want when and as often as you want it.But how you got to that point is not desirable for me. I think you are a textbook entry on how to approach your future when you don't have much of it to look forward to.

I hope they are wrong and you will outlive us all!!

I am inspired by you, Ronni. As the writer and thinker that you are, you seem to be living an "examined life." A vibrant inner life. And my hope is that, by doing this, by having many years of "paying attention" to life all around you, this is beneficial at this part of your journey.

Thanks for saying this. Hope you're enjoying eating whatever the heck you want.

Keep on keeping on, and enjoy those muffins when you find them!

I'll be able to put more cream in my coffee?! Yes!
Have a good day Ronni. I wonder if you listen to a lot of music? Do you dance? Apple Music gives me the words to most songs - I can't carry a tune but every once in a while I belt them out anyway. I swear this is good for my soul!

It seems like you're ahead of the game in that introspection is not new to you. A dear friend, who represents so many, is stonewalling, in denial about a lot, including, especially, her own death. So I don't mention my own thoughts when with her. I think that for people who are closed to their inner lives, and the reality of death are in for a harder time when their death becomes imminent. May not be true................

Enjoy the cupcakes!

Blessings as always

Thank you.

Living, and dying, is what we make it. The daughter-in-law of my recently deceased sister came to visit this weekend. I said to her, "we are all going to die." I could tell, she really didn't want to hear those words. There are so many who think they will be the one to live forever.

I wanted to inspire her to live with joy and enjoy each and every day, because, as with my sister, it might just be the last one. My sister had shopped for gifts the day before she died. She had made a cup of coffee, turned on the tv, and put on her slippers, before dropping to the floor and departing this life.

Thank you, Ronni. You are a wonderful woman.
o/

Here at the A.L.F. often people that you spoke with yesterday are gone the next. And many of them are younger than I am. This made me think that it's much better when it comes fast rather than having time to think about it. Then, I read post's like yours which makes one's impending demise sound like a walk in the park. This whole death thing has got me very confused.

Very sensible, Ronni. I'd choose milkshakes though, not muffins.

Glad the chemo is not getting in the way of your appetite!
I agree with all the above posts: You are way ahead of the game. Seems most of the people who have reactions like anger, depression, etc. are not accepting the fact that death is part of life.
I just read that one of the things that differentiates us from animals is the knowledge that we are going to die (also that we look up at the sky and acknowledge its expanse and thus reflect on our relationship to it.) But our society, these days, seems to do everything to avoid the fact that "none of us is getting out of here alive!" And this, unfortunately, permits individuals to not prepare for the eventuality.
You, Ronni, are not only preparing but helping all of us, your readers, prepare as well.
Thank you. You are my kind of woman!
Best regards,

Yvonne

dkzody -- Wonderful story of your sister; that's how I would want to go.

Ronni -- enjoy all that guiltfree eating and thrive as you can!

Life goes on every day and to stop living because death is hovering is to lose what days are left to you. You are already dead.

We should strive to find happiness in each day, even though it is sometimes elusive. The remaining time is more precious as we realize it will end and dwelling on that spoils what joy we can have in the present. Enjoy a chewy chocolate, a big dish of your favorite ice cream, Ronni, or whatever sweet you choose to indulge in and I will join you.


One question...
Do you ever wish you didn’t have the knowledge that the cancer had returned.
Sometimes I just feel like I wouldn’t want to know because I’d worry myself to death. I could have it circulating in my body right now...and I just don’t want to know.
I’m 72, widowed and childless and definitely do not want to live many more years as even my friends start to die off.

I've read a lot of books about death since I got a terminal diagnosis and started living with that reality. I quickly learned that dwelling on it was an impossible way to live and a way to miss living. I am always aware of it, every day, and it affects all significant and some trivial decisions. It means I won't get another dog, even though my much-loved dog just died and I miss her beyond words. But I don't want to leave a dog behind and wonder where or how she'll live, and I won't be able to walk her as things keep progressing, which they are.

Of at least seven that I've read or partly read, the first chapter of the book called The Grace in Dying is the one that has helped me most. The rest is dense reading, and I will finish it, but I haven't yet. I'm living for my garden this summer.

I think I'm a very emotional person. Nothing wrong with that. I have distinct highs and lows in life and probably will have them as I'm facing my death. Just a little reminder that it's okay to be emotional, just as it is to be equaniminous. No?

I'm not a hugely introspective person. I don't much like drama and would prefer to exit without a lot of fuss 'n feathers--simple cremation, no funeral, no obit. It's all written down in my "Survivors Folder". I hope I would be able to continue my day-to-day life very close to the end.

I'm highly ambivalent about longevity beyond a certain point. That's especially true if I'm in serious pain all or most of the time (a distinct possibility) and my body is obviously failing. That said, I have no idea how I'd do with a semi-determined "exit date". As I've said before, I don't think I fear dying although how I get there is a BIG concern. A long, slow, lingering (expensive) decline would NOT be my choice--if I have one.

I rarely miss a look at your blog, Ronni. It's been many a year, and I echo all the thanks and praise, the blessings and good wishes posted here by so many.

Speaking of cancer, death and stuff like that.........hmmm, I just made an appt. to visit the surgeon who did my lumpectomy about 14 years ago. I think it's time that she look at a lump (same side) that recently caught my attention. I wonder what I'll be thinking as I exit her building after a bit of a chat next week.

Dang, now I'm hankering for an orange cranberry muffin...

Thanks, Ronni. If I ever find myself in your situation, I hope I can live each day as you do. Until that could happen, I hope to live each day with gratitude and without regret as you do.

In the meantime, I'd like to imagine you having a large slice of banana cream pie with a nice burnt sienna colored merengue topping like my mother and I used to make for the harvest crew. Yumm!

I think your demarcation of the "amateurs" and the "professionals" might justifiably be reversed. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a contrarian thinker I very much enjoy, reserves his admiration for those with "skin in the game."

P.S. Milkshakes AND muffins, please.

“I'm very much a live-in-the-now kind of girl which is to say, death sentence or not, is there something yummy for lunch?” I’m going to miss you.

Oh, Ronni, I love you, your blog, and your commenters!

Hi... new to your blog and just happened upon this post. Our family has a history of cancer too. My dad, brother, and sister all died from it. I was diagnosed and had surgery and radiation 18 years ago. I refused Chemo and Medication. So far, so good. I'm 73 and often wonder what I'd do if it came back. Possibly nothing... don't really know or want to think about it. But my philosophy has always been, "it is what it is... and hopefully I can handle it".
Since the original diagnosis though... I've often thought how one is well until someone tells you that you're not. Whenever I go for my yearly checkup, my Oncologist says, "How are you?" And I always respond with "I'm fine!" (almost daring him to say that I wasn't)
As for the actual thought of 'dying'... all I can think is that my parents and siblings did it, surely I can too. And I do appreciate the fact that I've been given these 73 years!

Congratulations, Ronnie, I think your current emotional state really speaks to how you have examined yourself throughout your life, as well as your basic attitude of facing the facts. So much of our suffering in life comes from trying to avoid them!

My old lady bladder has been giving me problems lately so I saw the doctor last week. I told her that my current approach to my medical care was to not go to doctors unless I didn't feel well or was bleeding, so that screenings and various meds that help 8 percent of people with whatever were not in the plan anymore.

She was taken aback and thought I was awfully young to have this attitude but allowed as how I was in charge of myself. So I am hoping to exit like they did in the old days, with little fretting and wondering. I'd love to fall over in the garden with a massive heart attack. I could die in my favorite place, doing my favorite things!

Or if I know in advance that death is coming, being encouraged to eat would just be heaven! I wish you a nice New York Strip steak with a side of mushrooms sautéed in butter and a hot fudge sundae for dessert!

You are the greatest!

Sharon (Rian) Hartdegen...

You've reminded me that one of my favorite moments in this now 20-month-long cancer odyssey is shortly after the original diagnosis, my primary care physician said to me, "Ronni, except for the cancer, you are remarkably healthy."

And then we both had a fine ol' belly laugh.

A great post. A I read it struck a chord with my own thinking. One day at a time as it were. As I see my wife of 53 years now in memory care I don't see death lurking near by we both smile and laugh and plan something fun for later that afternoon. :)

I am so glad that I happened upon your blog a couple years ago, as I have not been a reader of blogs! I feel as though I know you, that we are friends, even though we have never met. Because I envision you as a friend, it has been hard to read your postings, starting with the initial diagnosis until now. In spite of this, you have encouraged me to think about death and dying. Not too sure how I would react or act if I were to hear a terminal diagnosis. I do know, though, that memories of a brother-in-law and a good friend would be uppermost in my mind - both who decided not to pursue treatments and lived until they died. My BIL was diagnosed with liver cancer and went from walking to being in a hammock where he died, surrounded by his wife, his mother, and many of us. Actually, his home was FULL of people as he drew his last breath - friends, neighbors, colleagues. It was in Brasil - an experience that will live forever in my mind. I was there, in the room and saw when his spirit left his body. The other person was a friend and fellow church member, who, already dealing with COPD, learned he had cancer. His journey to death over about 8 months came with visits from friends, a hymn sing-a-long in his home with church friends, rides through the country (he was a farmer) and his wife and sons by his side to the end. I think I want to know that I am dying. Thank you, Ronni.

Robert Hall gave an impressive talk on The joy of dying. It's on the web.

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