Seven months ago, almost to the day, I wrote a blog post titled, What It's Like to Be Dying:
”You could say at this point that death and I are dating,” I wrote then. “I think we've made it to the holding hands stage. We're open to each other.”
That feels true to me for that moment in time. It's different now. What has changed is that doctors have advised me that I have fewer than six months left and since March, I have been living with body pains that while not of the screeching variety, require over-the-counter medication to get me through the day.
I know, we old people who are dying of this or that are supposed to be stoic about it and in general, people would be happier if we didn't remind them of what we are going through, what the outcome will be.
Well, bugger that.
I have always used writing to figure out what I think or believe and at this stage, there is a diminishing number of productive hours in a day. So here we are – an exercise in working out my thoughts and a blog post, all in one.
If you don't already know this, let me be the first to tell you: dying people – either me or any of those whose words about their dying I have read – have no grand insights to pass on to the rest of us. It's not like dying people can peek over the edge of the abyss and describe what's there.
When I can think dispassionately about dying, I understand that it is a law of nature. No one, no living thing escapes.
For many years, I have watched spring lilacs begin to wilt so beautifully it could break your heart, then droop and die – just as beautifully. Tulips and daffodils too, in their time. At the end of his life, my cat Ollie withdrew to a cupboard in the dining room hutch. He chose it on his own; all I did was supply a soft, warm blanket for him to lie on.
Sometime soon now it will be my turn. I'm guessing at this point that I am in the wilting stage. Dying is my daily companion.
It is almost subconscious that I keep an eye on myself, alert to new physical symptoms but more importantly, checking for new thoughts and feelings, wondering if perhaps as time grows shorter that I will find acceptance and (dare I hope?) even joy in letting go.
Two or three times a week, I am caught unaware, suddenly so terribly sad at the prospect of leaving. Life here has been good. Sure, there were difficult times although I see recently how I overplayed some of them to myself. But we do the best we can at the time.
Some days now I'm angry, shaking a metaphorical fist at the universe. I'm fortunate that I've never been a “why me” kind of person but I have a lot of “why now” inside me. Just as the world faces several simultaneous catastrophes like nothing else in my lifetime, I'm expected to go? Now? Really?
Adding them up, there are the physical difficulties, profound sadness, anger – and add in powerlessness.
I have no weapons against the inevitable except my own fortitude (unreliable, these days) and Oregon's Death With Dignity Law. I have always been in favor of it but only in theory. Now it's real and I will soon write a blog post about that.
But for the time being, daily life goes on and the larger amount of it is good – comfortable, interesting, even joyful. Just not every day.
I like living even with the restrictions of my age and health, and our stay-at-home life due to COVID-19. You could say that at this point death and I have had our first few kisses and are moving forward even if it is in fits and starts.