ELDER MUSIC: And…
A TGB READER STORY: I Am Guilty

What It's Like to be Dying: Take Two

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.

Comments

to wilt so beautifully it could break your heart ❤️

Your writing is illuminating--if not always for yourself--certainly for others.

There's poetry in this post. I hope I can face dying with such clear-eyed curiosity and compassion when death comes seeking me.

I think for some of us, our feelings about death tie into our feelings about the hereafter. I am a Christian and therefore look forward to a Heaven and being with the Lord. I hope you find peace.

As much as I appreciate your eloquence and candor Ronni, boy does this fill me up with sad feelings. You can say you’ve led a good life, and a reasonably long one, but the older I get the more I see that few believe they’ve lived long enough.

Don’t want you to be in pain, but I hope 6 months from now you’ll be shaking your head in wonder and blogging you can’t believe you’re still here, but stranger things have happened.

I loved Pilgrim's post - a beautiful message, and I hope the same for me. A thought that has given me comfort since my mother passed a few years ago is that of the continuity of life. A baby in the womb does not know what awaits him, and would probably be content to remain there forever, resistant to the change; but then once born gradually begins to experience the delights of life and eventually would prefer to remain there. My hope is that death is much the same. Unknown to us from our vantage point, but not necessarily a negative transition.


I read your column faithfully, but have nothing helpful to add. I don't have the ability to write that most of your readers have, as you can see. I hope I'm not over stepping by my comments, but here goes. I saw an interview with Senator Harry Reid, who has pancreatic cancer also. He talked about a new trial to fight the disease. A new medicine only available if everything else has been tried. Senator Reid believes it has made all the difference at this time. I just wanted to be sure you knew about this. I think of you often, and wish you the best.

So beautifully and affectingly put. I think that in addition to wishing to know what's over the edge of the abyss, we also want to know what it feels to be given an estimate of time when we know we're approaching that edge. You help and enlighten us so often on many topics. This is so important - the one that trumps all else.

As for not talking about it, yes, bugger that.

I hope today is sweet.

"Now? Really?" Oh, Ronni, that is so you. Love it. Don't love what you are going through.

Usually, I think we should complain to those who can do something about it; but, there are limits to the applicability of my thinking, dying being one of the subjects that is obviously exempt.

More hugs to you - soft ones, virtual ones that are not painful.

For someone with such a keen interest in what's going on in the world this is indeed the wrong time to leave, I very much sympathize with that! I hope you get to stay long enough to get some satisfaction in the current turn of events. And I wish you the best whatever the outcome. I will definitely miss you and your blog!

So beautifully put, Ronni.

But then again, I pondered, given some time to prepare and write about the inevitable is a great gift indeed and I believe you are so very much aware of that.

Taken suddenly, like many of my friends, leaves a more massive void. No time for their self-reflection on their lives, just a quick diagnosis followed by death a few weeks later.

You lead the way in showing us the process you are experiencing and sharing it so generously.

XO
WWW

We are so thankful you are truthful instead of stoic. You painted a beautiful bittersweet picture in this post.

But you do have wonderful insights and pass them on in this blog all the time.

The most important is telling, showing, teaching us that dying is part of normal life. If most of us could learn that early how very different life would be on this planet.

Thank you... again and again, thank you

Thank you for describing the journey we will all take. I will use your words as my roadmap.

With much love, Sandra

Wishing you more good days than not so good days! Please envision yourself in the middle of a circle, surrounded by love and caring on all sides.

Thank you for such a poetic and powerful view of your life right now. Kissing death—-the inexorable advance despite everything—-I think about this a lot. I love and appreciate your openness and courage, and your skill in sharing this most challenging of all passages.

Well dammit! Is the first thing that comes to mind. I so appreciate you recording your thoughts and feelings regarding end-of-life. It shouldn't be a taboo subject. You bring death and dying to life.

I wish you great moments.

Ronni, you write so beautifully. You know you're being the pathfinder for many of us - we're absorbing your description of your experience in real, practical, yet profound terms, as some kind of template of how to do this. Thank you.
May your affair with death have many lovely moments, with peace being dominent.

I remember the grief I felt when you first told us you were dying. At that time it seemed imminent, but then you kept posting so faithfully—about your end-of-life experiences but also about other interests and happenings. Gradually I think, it started to feel like maybe you wouldn't die after all.

And now it's suddenly feeling again like you will. And I am grieving again.

I suppose in some very small way, this is a little bit like what you have been feeling these past three years. I'm not saying that as an assumption that I know how you feel; I'm saying it just to let you know that you are not completely alone.

Thank you for sharing your journey—your whole journey—with us.

Hi Ronnie - I love Rebecca Ann Magalhaes comment and second it. I hope you are videoing yourself as you write these columns. I will make it easier for us. A day at a time, a day at a time .....
Oh - almost forgot - If you don't mind I am going to post part of your post in my blog today If you do mind let me know and I will remove it.

Not to be flippant but it must be how young children feel when they're being sent to bed while everyone else is still sitting around chatting and having fun. Or being collected from a party by your dad when you're thirteen and he's stricter about schoolnight entertainment than everyone else's dad. Or having to return a fantastic book to the library without being able to quite get to the end, so you end up never knowing whodunit. Always too early. I hope you find the acceptance and, if possible, the joy you're hoping for.

Ronnie,
Maybe it’s time for another mushroom session? Maybe it will help with the sadness.
I think we will all have to take some, too, as we try to accept what is happening with you. I know I’m not at acceptance, but your writing opens the door.
Peaceful thoughts,
Linda

Ronnie, I can't put in words how much your posts mean to me. You inspire me every day to remember to enjoy each moment of the precious time we have on this earth. You have such a wonderful way with words that express feelings so beautifully.
Hugs, Diane

The generosity of this column brings me to tears. I hope sharing it with us all eases your heart. Thank you so very much for your honesty and openness.

I don’t have much to add, but I do want to write something to you, Ronni. I’ve been about six years now reading your posts. You are the only blog I’ve held onto. I’ve tried others even some people I totally agree with on political matters, etc. But yours is the only one I look forward to and have stayed with. Always have loved your interesting stuff on Saturday too.I read you all the time, but seldom make a comment. I’ve probably commented three maybe six times. Today’s post is so moving. Beautifully written, and poetic, as others have said. I thank you deeply. I’m 80 and doing OK for the most part. I try to be as healthy as I can, but I don’t always reach my goals. Sometimes, I seldom reach them. Thank you. I’ve loved at all.

SO powerful. For SO many reasons. Another TGB post bookmarked for re-reading and learning always more from. Thanks, as usual, to many of your readers' posts.
You do communicate so very, very well. Thank you, precious Ronni.
PS I know an-almost-98-year-old-lady who has popped two or more Tylenol daily for decades. So whatever helps you stay ahead of the physical pain, have it on hand! Wish there were a pill for the intellectual and emotional pain.

After reading this, I can hardly breathe. Having recently turned 75, with several health issues and a near death experience with a blood clot in January, I find myself thinking about dying frequently. I don't like doing it. I want to push it from my mind - from my life! I am afraid. But recently, I am starting to make peace with it. Knowing I am getting closer to the time I will die has changed my way of looking at life. So much that was important, or on my wish list, is gone. Now, I wish for days where I am a good person and have some value. I take pleasure in the simplest things...... usually Nature and love of my cat. Your article, like so many of them, has made me think and feel. Today's ... I am in awe of your honesty, amazed by your courage and saddened beyond words.

I've neglected to comment here in a long time. I'm still reading, just as I have for years. You and I are the same age. I'm still fairly healthy but I know something is coming for me just as it is for you.

I don't comment because I don't know what to say. I'll miss you or get well or stay strong or any other platitude seems silly. Here's the best I can do: I hope you find acceptance and feel at peace with life when the time comes. And, it's true, I'll miss you and want you to get well or at least stay strong. It's a privilege to know you, Ronni.

I admire the way you seize the day, no matter that the day is not all you would choose. Then you share your reflections, in spite of the difficulties in doing so. Reaching for the right words and arranging them for the most powerful impact are not easy things to do. Yet you persist. I "watch" you with interest, feel your struggles in my heart and want so much to ease your journey, as I'm sure we all do.

Thank you, Ronni, for your honesty. It's almost overwhelming but so needed. LIke you, I've been an avid follower of news all my life, so the idea of not knowing the "ending" of our current crises is hard to accept. And your image of the wilting flowers is tender and beautiful. All winter long, I look forward to spring and blooming flowers, but already the flowers are wilting. I take comfort in the fact that the plants still exist--just underground waiting for life to emerge again.

What a gift you are to us!
Thank you from my most grateful heart.

Dear Ronni, Your post feels especially intimate among the increasingly intimate ones you have been publishing in recent days, weeks, and months. I slowly read each one, pondering every thought, description, word, and punctuation. And, suddenly I jump up, abandoning the keyboard and rushing into another room. Overwhelmed with sorrow, I briefly shut down distracting myself from your steady, promised, necessary authentic voice. I am crying with my friend whom I have grown to adore somewhere between reading your first TGB post, in 2004, and this one. Your sadness is palpable and profound and I "hear" that you know we are fully present and listening, respecting, honoring, and aching.

It's hard to read beneath your comments here. Some readers seem to be perceiving sadness, and if that's what you're feeling, I'm hoping it's not constant. Psychic pain can be as bad as (or worse than) the physical. There's at least almost always something to relieve the physical, and so little that can be done for the other.

But maybe it's not so much sadness behind your words as acceptance of the inevitable. As Linda has mentioned, maybe another mushroom suggestion would be helpful. Or maybe you just prefer to experience what you're feeling with consciousness and awareness that it's a natural part of the process. Miserable, but natural.

Whatever you're feeling, again I wish you as much relief as you want and need. Stoicism is highly over-rated. I never had much use for the "that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger" philosophy.

Mentally sending you sunbeams in which you can sit for a bit and soak up their radiance.

I have only recently "met" you. A friend introduced me to you about a year ago, so you are a new friend. I so enjoy your blog and wish it would go on forever, or at least until I am no longer here. We too have death with dignity in the State of Washington and I have signed all the papers, just in case. I don't know if I will use it, but I know I can if I wish. I have a number of friends who have and it is so peaceful. Keep writing in the meantime. I look forward to each and every column. Stay safe.

Beautifully written, so sad and so powerful. So dignified in its honesty. Brought tears to my eyes

Well, bugger that. Love that expression for your frustration suffering fools.

I just lost 7 or 8 brilliant lines I had written to you; got pulled away for a moment, came back having lost my thought, swept to a new page, and "bugger that." In this case, I am the fool. You'll have to trust me it was very thoughtful and caring.

Simply for now, I'll send more of the sunbeams Cathy J. mentioned, thank you for your in the moment musings, and wait for more from you, Ronni.

Your comparison with a love affair reminds me that in France an orgasm is called " le petit mort" a small death, so death itself is "le grand mort." I'm not sure if that's encouraging, daft, or inappropriate! Well bugger that.
with love
o/

I echo SusanL: Thank you... again and again, thank you!

I am glad you can accept that prognosis. I guess you have to.
But I don't have to. Six months from now you will still be writing.

Please God, inshAllah, Yirtzeh Hashem.

Peace.

And Bugger that!

Ronnie,
I don’t even recall how I found your blog @ 3 years ago, but am so thankful that I did. You are incredibly honest, courageous, curious, and a wonderful communicator.

I know you know this, but so often doctors are wrong with end of life estimates. I am an RN, and many times hospice patients dare to live beyond their 6 month time frame, and we are always happy to still have them around! Someone with your curiosity and appreciation of life certainly, hopefully, will be around to write “ What it’s like to be dying: Take 3” !

I look forward to every word you write.

Thanks Ronnie for your post and for your life. An easy passage into spirit for you. Please keep working for peace and love in the midst of all this turmoil and keep at it after you pass into spirit. Love to you.

Each of your blog post, Ronni, is a gift to your readers. You are so open in your feelings that you inspire us all, as this is usually a taboo subject. Knowing of your own demise gives you a special perspective that is difficult to imagine. It is easier not to know, or not wanting to know. On a 13-hour flight from Singapore to Paris once, after heavy smoke in the plane the captain told us there was a fire in the cargo and we had to attempt an emergency landing. Unfortunately we were over Afghanistan’s mountains. People started screaming. The guy next to me, who worked in the aircraft industry, told me that if we were successful in landing, the aircraft would explode on impact anyway, and just be prepared for the end. I felt just surprise and thought “is that it?” So I believe when it is a sudden event there is no time to think and prepare.

But you do know, and still share your thoughts with us. Be assured that your honesty and wisdom are valued by us all. You are making a difference in our lives. Hugs.

Love the parable with dating... and hope each moment brings you into a calmer and more loving time together, and that your Soul someday is reincarnated back... I too don't know how I began getting your link and blog, a memory is a terrible thing to lose, but life is precious, so all of you sharing this today, have a little drink at 5 PM. in honor of our friend Ronni, our spiritual guide.

Absolutely! As I've said many times before, you are a writer without parallel. You're the best, and I wish more people knew about TGB. I've spread the word to the extent I can, but being an introvert without a lot of social contacts, my circle is limited.

I'm hoping (and praying!) that old Monsieur La Mort doesn't make it to third base until after the election. We really want you around for that event, and with your curiosity missing it would not be fair. Keep those knees together missy ;)

Ah, Ronni, I hope you can 'go steady' with death for a long time, getting much pleasure in whatever time you have left! Thank you for being so 'real' with us! Thank you for your openness and your honesty. We love you dearly and will miss you so much if you go before we do. I wish you a happy celebration with us in November! Above all, I wish you serenity!

This is very sad news. I had hoped that you would beat this thing and be around longer. I will miss your blogs - as others have said - they have been the highlight of my day for several years.

Go with dignity - I would expect nothing less.

Bugger that is right! You're the one, a long time ago who said to practice using the word "old." I thought that was great then, and I think this is great now. I am so glad that you live where Death with Dignity is available to you. I'm sorry about the physical pain. And yes, the sadness..............how could you not feel that some of the time? My prayer for you is that you "be well," "go well," in the 14th century way......that whatever be your condition, your mind and soul are well.
Since the pandemic, I've been bringing up death with friends, with, of course, different responses. At least now they know it's okay to bring it up with me. You have definitely been an influence on me in this regard, and I'm ever grateful. Thich Nhat Hahn writes beautifully about birth and death being "continuances" rather than bookends.

Ronni, today you speak with such a powerful voice. What bravery. What compassion for life. What a life you are living. You are a gem!

All of us have traveled roads that lead to a fork. The one most traveled; the one less. Each day we choose. It's our choice.

Then the inevitable. We come to a decision point that is not ours to make. A road we must all take - the one most traveled.

Throughout this beautiful and sometimes horrifying journey of yours, we have always been by your side. We share your joy and your sorrow. Always remember you are not alone.

Let's stay for a while longer- - OK?

My thoughts are with you. I hope that you can find peace and balance at this time in your journey

Whatever happens, whenever it happens you will have left us with valuable legacy. Rarely are we permitted a glimpse into what is perhaps the most personal of all human thought. Our own demise. Unlike some others, I am not so sure that dying with dignity is the way I want to go. Kicking and screaming is more my style. But you have, if anything, shown me there is no shame in going gracefully.

Dear Ronnie, Remind away...your blog, your decision. Guess if people don't want reminded of the inevitable, they can go read someone else's blog. Anyway, am praying that you find "the narrow road" (if you haven't found it already) that leads to life eternal.

I echo Virginia: It is a privilege to know you, Ronni. I know I’ve said it before, but you have given — and continue to give us so much of yourself, for which you have my endless gratitude. Ollie’s exit seems perfect to me — chosen in his own way and time. May we all be so lucky. And, I choose to believe that if you don’t feel acceptance yet, it’s not quite your time. Soon, maybe (or maybe not), but not quite yet. We have no choice but to live each moment until the last. Maybe, who knows, at the very end it will be with a sigh: At last. Sending you love.

It is the great joy and the great sadness of life, isn't it, how daily life goes on. It goes on regardless.

I witnessed Dad's dying process. He survived a stroke and a heart attack. Six months before he passed away, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was angry. And, then he was very sad. He didn't want to go. He loved music. He listened to the theme of "Chinatown" over and over and over. The dying process was not something we could share with him.

Ronni.
You are sharing your journey with grace and dignity. Yellowstone has a way with words. I am blessed to know both of you
Hugs.

You are a terrific writer.

I read this post to my husband. He said, "I can only hope, that if I know death is close, I can meet it with such grace and dignity." Amen. And again, I say, Amen.

I hope you make it into Nov. at least.
If decency and normalization wins, you can then be at peace in your mind that America will recover from the past 4 years. It will make going easier.

And if the worst happens, you probably wouldn’t want to be alive anyway and see the further damage and destruction and just plain awfulness that will then increase.

So hang in there! Do whatever it takes!

Dear Ronni, Your generous honesty helps us all. We grieve with you as you take this journey. You are helping us to consider what it will be like when our time comes. Your writing helps us to appreciate the time we have and will help us and our loved ones in the future. I hope that knowing you have made such a contribution gives you peace and comfort. Wishing you love and happiness.

One of the scenarios I’ve entertained is that after our death our spirit is able to see, or at least be aware of what is going on with life on earth if we choose to know. That helps satisfy one of my major laments about dying — that I would miss not getting to know what happened with certain important matters to me after I died. Of course there are other scenarios — to each his or her own.

So, the waters on which this ship floats are beginning to get a little rougher with the waves higher at times, but I’m still aboard.

Thanks for all your sharing and you know how much I have valued your writing all these years — the laughs, thoughtful ideas, moments of anger, just as friends experience, and of course, caring and affection.

I just found you and your blog. You are amazing and eloquent and smart and I’m missing you already. Most of all, thank you for sharing all this. I wish I would of started to read you years ago. Now I’m with you to the end. Love & Hugs to you❤️

I want to thank you for sharing these intimate experiences and thoughts. I admire your bravery In your candid statements about something we rarely share. That I know you is such a gift. I feel closer to you than many people I see in person. You are enriching my life and I’m so grateful for all you have written and for all that is to come. ♥️

Blessings Ronni for many smoother days. Statistics are what they are. Totally discounting one's uniqueness to not be one.

A close friend of mines husband passed away very suddenly a few weeks ago . They were sitting on the sofa talking and he just touched his chest and said "something is not right" and then his head flopped back and he was dying. His breath became ragged and then stopped all while she was frantically calling 911 and attempting CPR. He was 63 with no previous heart symptoms.
It has devastated her because of the unexpectedness of it.

My own husband is dying slowly from congestive heart failure. It is hard to watch him decline from the once very energetic person he used to be. It is hard to watch him struggle each day just to walk across a room and have to rest every so many steps. We don't know how much time he has left. I imagine not too long due to his worsening symptoms. He is 67 years old.

I don't know which is worse. The unexpected death or the slow decline. It is all terrible for us. I pray you have peace during this difficult time and that you last longer than expected. Blessings.

Ronni--

If you ever have one of those days when you really feel you are not "ready" for death and want to wallow and wail and feel like someone understands, turn the volume up and listen to this song.

It is called "Flirted with you all my Life" by Cowboy Junkies. She's telling death she is not ready. She even says like you "I've even kissed you once or twice"

Live life to the end as best as you can!
You are so alive and feisty, I can't see you going out quietly and stoicly unless you are ready.

What can I say that hasn't already been said. I am sorry that your body is letting you down. But glad that you can share your thoughts about all of this darkness that will soon happen when the lights go out.

I am 80, in good health, but I still think about death and how it will happen for me. What would I chose ? My younger sister just collapsed a month before her 73rd birthday and died. That would be preferable, I think, rather than lingering over several years beset by TIA's like our mother before she died from a major stroke.

Yes, I have aches and pains from arthritis, but I can keep moving, gardening, exercising. I stop more to smell the roses, both literally and figuratively, and believe me, I am grateful for all I can still manage to do. physically. You've given us all, your fans, Ronni's groupies, much to ponder. Thank you.

In my self-absorption, I can only say that I will never find it a right time for you to leave us. Although you are not aware of this, you have been my inspiration from afar and shall remain so. I continue to stand by, holding your ethereal hand in mine throughout this journey. Sending love.

I am sitting here absorbing the impact of your words, "dying is my daily companion." You have such a courageous heart to both own and share this knowing with we, your fellow travelers. You continue to inspire and enlighten me...and I am forever grateful.

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