Living While Dying
INTERESTING STUFF – 23 August 2019

THINKING OUT LOUD: My End-of-Life Job

Not too long after a dire diagnosis such as my cancer, an unwelcome fact appears in one's mind (or, at least, in mine): “Oh, you mean I'm mortal after all?”

Once it appears, there is no denying it, no going back to that blissful state where all your life you kind of vaguely believed death would always be somewhere down the road.

Of course I knew that wasn't true, but when reality is too complex or too painful, humans are good at fooling themselves. I am not immune.

It has been awhile, certainly more than a year now, since this stark reality began plopping itself down next to me several times a day, poking me in the ribs to remind me that I need to prepare, to make peace, to be ready when the time comes.

Sometimes I pay attention, performing a mental check see how I'm feeling in regard to shuffling off this mortal coil. I've already done some fairly major preparation such as a magic mushroom (psilocybin) session last December (which you can read about in Part 1 and Part 2).

That “trip” was every bit as useful to me in reducing my dread as responsible researchers at major medical and academic institutions have been reporting for the past 10 years or so. And it continues.

Having been given this fairly lengthy reprieve from death – more than a year now - I have made it my job to get ready to die. I don't want to leave being terrified.

On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if giving one's death any attention at all is worth the effort. Like it or not, we are each going to die whatever we feel or think about it.

Nevertheless, it is in my nature to watch myself, to pay attention to what's going on in my mind when I'm not directing it, as now while writing a blog post.

I have discovered that without naming it or dwelling on it much, I seem to have believed for a long time that when people are nearing death, they lose interest in the world around them. I don't know if that's true or not but it doesn't matter because somewhere years ago I came to believe it.

And nowadays, when I have stopped doing certain things either because they are too physically taxing or, more likely so far, take up more time than I am willing to allot them anymore, I start to wonder if death is closing in.

When that happens, my mind takes off to my personal fantasy land telling me that if I instead keep doing those things, I will forestall the grim reaper.

What horseshit. Apparently, for some of us, there is no end to our ability to deny the inevitable even when medical science has been clear about what is next.

But maybe that's laying it on too thick. Not counting psilocybin, the best thing I've done for myself is to start meditating again. I had done so off and on for most of my life but even as I appreciated its effect, it was still more off than on.

Today, I think of it as, simply, my daily quiet time. A few minutes to be still and just notice what's going on around and within me.

When thoughts of death creep in, they occasionally feel as natural as the breathing to which I am paying close attention. I'm working on increasing the frequency of those feelings but there is no pushing that kind of thing further than it's ready for.

For now, I am trusting this “quiet time” will help me build on the good that the magic mushrooms did and lead me to welcome the wide river and drifting into the sea, as Bertram Russell describes the end of life. (See Wednesday's post.)

It's my job, or rather, the job I have assigned myself to make this time of my life and particularly its end as peaceful as I can manage.



Comments

Nothing makes any sense, really, in life, but you, Ronni, are doing a wonderful "job" attempting to sort it all out and document your experience, even though it's all one giant mystery and, again, makes no sense. Few have done it better and many are benefiting (I sure am). Hopefully, the secret will be revealed to you, and to all of us, when we all reach that large tranquil body of water. An afterlife might be awaiting you and all of us--we can only hope. But, we probably need to be open to coming back in one way shape or form because I have never been able to rule out the possibility of reincarnation. (Do you notice, the first thing that I do in the morning is usually check your blog?) John

Well I may have a different prospective than you, because I am a Christian and do believe in Heaven and Hell. I have put my faith in Jesus and have peace that there is something much better after this life. I hope you will find peace also before that final day. God bless you.

I am very healthy at 77. Looking forward to more USA travel with beloved spouse of 46 years. I think about death every day. I think about my health every day. I think about spouses health every day. I think about her dying every day.
Like you, I have no fear of death. Like you I have great fear of living horribly. I have had 2 close friends who had the Whipple Procedure and have died this past year. And I am Jewish and have no fear of the great beyond. My wife can’t decide if she would rather come back being invisible or being able to fly. Maybe she will get both. She hopes wherever she goes there will be books and great book discussions. She will just hover, she says.

I can only hope that when I'm close to death that I can be as courageous, charming and lucid as you are in your friending death, Ronni. You are brilliant and an inspiration.

Good morning Ronnie - I think you may be as close to immortal as we humans can get. For how many years will how many people be reading and be soothed by your blog?
Speaking for myself I will remember how well you write, how good you were to your mother,
I will remember you when I eat ice cream and drizzle maple syrup over my popcorn and today I will attempt to remember to meditate ... if I succeed I will think of you.

I hope you live exactly as long as you want to. Take care.


good morning

I have no idea where that last good morning came from??!!

As for organized religious beliefs and exclusivity, such as "no god but one god" and there is only one way to heaven and so on, it's all beliefs and a way to get through life, hoping it pays off in the end but none us really knows for certain, no matter how much we preach our beliefs. Look at the "Book of Mormon" for example, a pretty well written and at worst creative document and at best another "truth". There are many approaches. We need religion, and faith for certain, but ones certainty and condemnation of those that don't believe the same, is just supportive behavior of a system that is based on faith, beliefs, hopes, and whatever keeps one's boat afloat--condemning "non-believers" to hell is misguided. We'll find out, as I said, when we reach those wide tranquil waters. I'll buy all of you dinner if it turns out to be as structured and as exclusive as the "good books" say. Meantime, let's be moral and kind individuals, hoping that it is the minimum requirement for a ticket to paradise. I'm out of here with this post because, it's nearly off topic--but, maybe it isn't?, and I can't bear to witness its removal. :)

Ah--I love this: "When that happens, my mind takes off to my personal fantasy land telling me that if I instead keep doing those things, I will forestall the grim reaper."

I think it's a natural impulse - that if we do everything we normally do, then things will continue as normal.

I have a couple of friends who seem to think, despite complicated health issues, that they can and should keep doing what they have been doing all their adult lives. From where I'm sitting, they are missing the chance to slow down and take a good look at what they could be enjoying. Of course, it's their choice and I have no idea what I will do - I hope to follow your example but it's entirely possible that sheer terror will have me struggling to maintain my usual routine.

Thank you again for your helpful example. I am very grateful for your blog, which has helped me immeasurably over the years - helped me find a way to "age mindfully," if you'll pardon the jargon.

Sounds like a good goal, Ronnie, and doable. You're used to living as a goal orientated person why not die the same way.

I was told death was inevitable, I would not live long enough to raise a family let alone participate in the real "life" everybody else enjoyed in front of me. My bucket list was complete by age 30. Then I waited. Never a pollyanna because of my forecast ,
I suddenly saw a future. Everything after 30 is gravy and must be savored. By 35 I had quit smoking (4 packs a day), by 50 I REALLY worked out, by 60 I stopped that quart of Vodka
a day. Now, over 7o, I enjoy every minute for the bonus it is. I once had such a dismal outlook on life that I attempted suicide at 16, I had left home at 14. Yes, mortality is real and the goal
we all eventually achieve. That quiet reflection time each day is the nutrient that gives me a
boost. I know that death is inevitable, but now every moment before it is a fresh smelling,
sunny, and entertaining, experience. B

I read recently that we should not worry about death. It has been around for a long time and has a lot of experience so it can take care of itself. Our task is to live as best we can. You are being a great example for us, Ronni.
I think most of us are better for having found you and include you in our circle of friends even if it is a virtual friendship.

Time Goes By - the book! Those who found you late in this project, Ronni, missed a lot of the brilliance and wisdom of the earlier days. Speaking for myself, I now hold on to your every word.

Sending you lots of light.

What Geordie said. And feeling prepared is part of living.

This, from my beloved Colette The Blue Lantern " We should not be unreasonably perturbed when our precious senses become dulled with age. It keeps me in a state of vigilance, of uncertainty ready to accept whatever may fall to my lot. The prospects give rise to little that is reassuring but I have no choice. More than once of late, turning my eyes from my book or my blue-tinted writing paper towards the superb quadrangle that I am privileged to view from my window, I have thought ‘the children in the Garden are not nearly as noisy this year” and a moment later found myself finding fault with the doorbell, the telephone, the whole orchestral gamut of the radio for becoming progressively fainter. Discoveries, ever more discoveries! Things always explain themselves in the long run. Instead, then, of landing on new islands of discovery, is my course set for the open sea, where there is no sound other than that of the lonely heart-beat comparable to the pounding of the surf? Rest assured, nothing is decaying, it is I who am drifting…The open sea but not the wilderness. The discovery that there is no wilderness! That, in itself, is enough to sustain me in triumphing over my afflictions. "

Just---thank you Ronni for all this.

No one knows about the afterlife and every religion thinks their beliefs are the only correct one.

In all likelihood, we are simply part of the natural world, as is everything else and the cycle of birth and death is a constant. It is all connected in some sublime way, but that doesn’t mean we are conscious of that.

My own feelings about death are this.

Would I rather cease to exist or go on to an endless afterlife?”
My answer: Life has been an incredible experience, and I have loved my life. I would rather just be grateful for having had 72 years of intelligent, expressive consciousness to experience life on our cosmic rock. To ask for more seems an inexcusable ingratitude.

Thank you, Ronni, for your honesty and insights that always help to reflect on the inevitable. Permit me to share a parable that I have never forgotten on this subject:

An unborn set of twins are having a conversation in their mother’s womb.

“Tell me, do you believe in life after birth?” asks one of the twins.

“Yes, definitely! In here we are growing and gaining strength for what will face us on the outside,” answers the other.

“That is utter nonsense!” says the first one. “There cannot be life after birth; how is that supposed to look, may I ask?”

“I don’t exactly know myself, but it will certainly be much lighter out there than in here. And perhaps we will actually be running around on our legs and eating with our mouths.”

“I have never heard such nonsense! Eating with your mouth, what a crazy idea! That’s what we have umbilical cords for, to feed us. And you want to run around? It would never work; the umbilical cord is much too short!”

“It will work for sure. It will all be a little different.”

“You are crazy! Nobody has ever come back from after birth! Life ends with our birth and that’s it! Period.”

“I must admit that nobody knows what life will look like after our birth. But I know that we will get to see our mother and that she will take care of us.”

“Mother? You are trying to tell me that you believe in a mother? Well, where then is our mother?”

“Well, here! All around us. We are alive in her and through her. Without her we could not exist!”

“Rubbish! I have never noticed anything of a mother. Therefore, a mother cannot exist.”

“It’s true! Sometimes when you are really quiet, you can hear her sing or you can feel when she lovingly caresses our world!”

I'm in denial that at some point I won't get these marvelous writings.

After turning 90 I no longer have an interest in some things that I used to be passionate about. It waxes and wanes depending on my physical state. When I am going through a period of not feeling well I lose all interest in what's going on in the world 0f politics. Those who know me well would label me a political animal during normal times. When ill I simply don't have the energy to deal with the crazy world we now live in.

However, once I am feeling better I am interested again. If my interests fade when I am sick but returns when I feel better that's my explanation for no longer giving a hoot about much of anything.

You may be on to something Ronni about retreating from things that used to be meaningful as a forerunner of dying. Or perhaps it's just lack of enough stamina to give thought to the outside world.

It's hard for me to grasp the concept that there is nothing after our lives are over. The one thing I fear is eternal boredom. I hope they at least have cable.

And WiFi and good restaurants

And cats. I'm not going if there's no cats.

((xx))

Ronni, what a gift you are. I knew you many years ago here in Houston. I wish I'd known then what I know now about you. I would have never let you move away! Your words light my path, my energy, my tasks on this earth. Without a doubt, I will see you again.
Much love to you, ol' friend.
Rob Landes

Agree with Katie--there MUST be cats!

As a chaplain who learned much about death and dying, grief and loss during the early days of the AIDS epidemic... It is my experience and awareness that death is both natural and mysterious. People seem to die better and more peaceful deaths when they know it is coming and can talk about it. (before there is a health crisis) And their survivors do better also when they know how their loved one felt about death.
Therefore I trust that it will go well for you and yours, Ronni. And for many others whom you have given permission to speak openly about their own ending. You are a gift to many. I hope I can do as well with my own work.

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