Questions, We Have Questions

Good Days and Not So Good Days

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Back in May, I wrote a blog post about trying to settle into my end days in which I concluded: “I was so certain I had this end of life stuff under control. It's going to be awhile.”

No kidding. Sometimes I think I will get there only when I die.

Of course, I have no idea how to make peace with impending death. It's not like I took a class in school or that there is an instruction book. Well, actually, there is a lot of such advice written by counselors of various types. In general, it is bland or obvious or dependent on religious belief and most of all, it avoids the point which is this:

“Dear god, I won't be here anymore. How can that be?” It is the most sobering thought I can imagine - the world going on without me. How dare it.

The counselors mean well, but they haven't been here. They don't know. I have decided that it is like skydiving – you can read how it's done, watch all the videos and you still don't know how to overcome the fear until you jump out of an airplane yourself.

Everyone who has been or is in shoes similar to mine has had to work this out. Me? I muddle along not doing anything much differently than I did before they told me I am nearing my use-by date.

Writing for this blog along with preparing Peter's music columns and readers' stories are the central focus of my days. It's what I do, my job, and I have no less interest in it now than when I began although the focus has narrowed somewhat to more about my predicament.

That's the good part. Otherwise, I feel my energy level decreasing almost by the week. Following three days in a row of visits from several hospice workers, I spent a lot of the next day lying down, resting. One in-person visit a day is all I can do now, I think, and that will soon require a day off in between. Even too many telephone conversations tire me.

Also now, pain – or the anticipation of it – is my daily companion. Most mornings I wake with no pain and I consider it a good day when none appears within the next couple of hours.

Most days, I feel a “presence” here and there on my body sometime in the morning. I use over-the-counter pain medication which kicks in after an hour and I'm fine until late afternoon or evening.

But if I miss that “presence” and don't take the medication until the pain is banging at me – which happens now and then - it takes me to a dark place in my mind that is no fun at all and from which I can't climb out until I'm pain-free.

Then, fortunately, my short-term memory difficulty kicks in and I escape the black thoughts. (There are advantages, sometimes, to old-people problems.)

Once every 10 days or so, I go an entire day without pain. Those days are a joy. I forget the deadline I live under, I can move about with ease and in my now-limited, little world, I feel joyful just doing the everyday stuff of life. And laughing at the squirrels.

On those days, I know I can handle my predicament. I believe then I will be fine even without an instruction book and everything will be okay even if I don't come up with some answers for this last period of life.

And you know what else? I just figured out that there's no test at the end. No matter what, it's a win.


Not that we need it, but I think we mere mortals may be forgiven for going to a dark place when contemplating the horrible thought of the universe's going on without us. That is the question that haunts many of us from childhood: How can the world possibly continue to exist when I exist no longer?

P.S. For the first two parachute jumps, I was petrified by stark, raving terror when I let go of the airplane's wing strut; so, at least this person didn't learn to let go of fear on her first jump. Perhaps others do.

Sorry to hear of the pain you're experiencing. Part of hospice care should be pain management, including "emergency" relief meds for when the pain breaks through. No need to suffer silently, it may be time to talk to your doctor & hospice team about pain relief.

Whenever I think about death I remember the quote attributed to either Edmund Kean or Edmund Gwenn. "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Re Joy Jenkins and hospice...

My pain is being handled quite well by my hospice nurse and me. Please, please do not imply without knowing anything that hospice is not doing it's job. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Have you thought of a line of succession?

Just kidding, no one could replace what you bring into our lives. You are a bright spot in our days no matter the news because of the honesty and openness you share with us.

Skydiving, huh? A vivid image. I wish you peace and live, and hope you're pain free as much as possible.

There may not be a test at the end, but you are receiving an A+ for the essays you're submitting.
Hugs. Many many hugs for writing so well and sharing so much. You are loved.

I feel honored this morning to share your days, to hear and at least partially understand your well expressed thoughts and feelings, and to walk along side. Much love and appreciation for the beauty and dignity of your life.

I'm curious about the "presence" and wonder whether it is a physical sensation or a sort of "knowing." Like the inchoate not-quite-thought that becomes a poem.

My father had cancer originating in the lungs but metastasized to brain. I had the great good fortune of being with him and my mom for a few months before he died. He took some kind of meds, likely a steroid, to reduce swelling in his brain. He knew that stopping the meds would mean he would die within a few days. He opted to stop the meds after the last of the family had visited, and three days later, he died, peacefully and with my mom, one brother and me at his side. So even in Nebraska where there is no law for dying by choice, he chose.
How he came to terms with the world going on without him, I don't really know, but I asked him whether he was afraid and he said no. He was a physician himself, so knew the process. Knowing the process though, I have learned, doesn't necessarily mean comfort with it.

What I wish most for you, Ronni, is peace and patience. Also humor, of course, but that seems irrepressible in you. May you also learn how to manage your meds so you don't have to experience pain. I am in awe of your willingness and ability to share this most magnificent time with us.
Blessed Be.

A psychiatrist friend told me that in his days as a resident in the '70s, when someone was near the end of life, oncologists called him for "a talk" with the patient. He said, "I visited an old man. I said, 'Hello, I'm Dr. S., and your doctor thought you might like to talk with me about what's happening, and how you feel about it."

He said, "The man looked at me with a beady eye and said, "Doctor, thank you but you can leave. Life's greatest mystery is about to be revealed to me."

As Lola says, peace and patience, dear Ronni, and may they get the meds right, because pain is absolutely not ennobling.

I've been a writer all my life, and the biggest question that always comes up for me is, "Who the hell cares about what I have to say? I'm nobody important." But here you are, just an ordinary person dealing with a process we will all experience in some form some day, and you are sharing it. That is so generous of you. Thank you. It helps me remember that no writing that is true sharing is ever in vain. I'm grateful you are using your limited remaining time to do that.

When I asked the great and mysterious Wizard of the Internet how many people have died in the world, the first response that appeared was 100,825,272,791 people, or 100.8 billion. That figure is from a 2015 reference based on estimates of how many people have come and gone since the appearance of homo sapiens and the number was attributed to Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit organization that studies population trends.

That number strikes me as being lower than I would have guessed, given that the current population of the world is 7.8 billion (as of July 2020). Still, nearly 101 billion is a lot of people (plus however man have died since 2015). It appears that approximately 330 million have died since then. You might think that with that many having gone before, we would know more about this process and its aftermath by now. And that number would be vastly larger if it counted all the little hominid and various life forms that were precursors to homo sapiens and may have been on the planet for many many (probably need to add a few more "many's" here) more years before the current version of humans appeared. The hubris of the anthropocene.

OMG, that last line was electric. “No matter what, it’s a win. “ what a great way to think of dying.
You continue to amaze me. I can’t imagine the world going on without you . Yet, I know it will, Just as it did when my husband died.

Nobody has ever failed dying 101. B

Dear Ronni,
I hope you can arrange with the hospice nurse to provide you with a prescription pain medication for those days when the pain creeps up on you and takes you to a dark place. There is no reason to suffer like that. I know that pain meds can make you kind of loopy in the mind, and I surmise you don’t want to go there. However, what’s wrong with having them on hand only when the pain is excruciating and you want it to just stop? Prescription pain meds take effect very quickly if I remember correctly. It would be your choice to take the pill or not take the pill, of course—but at least you would have something stronger than OTC meds just in case.

I wanted to share with you what happened to my mother and I after my dad passed away in December 1981. Neither I nor my mom were/are religious. But something happened during the first days and weeks after my dad died that really are inexplicable. As hard as it is to believe, I think my dad’s “energy” or “spirit” stayed around for awhile after he died. Please don’t think I’m nuts before you my story. I will share the story on a second comment so this doesn’t get too long!
Best wishes and take care,

Life may be pass/fail, but we all pass in the end. Sorry, my humor is a bit black this morning...and all too often during these days of limbo. Gentle hugs to you, Dear Ronni. Thank you again for sharing so much of yourself with us!

Yes, Ronnie, dying is the final adventure we take as humans. And we've either been preparing for it, or not. Living is the emphasis that you seem to be sharing...the moments that you can. I thank you for that...and wish that you can avoid the pain and dark mental/emotional places. Your legacy has definitely been this blog and all those who comment here.

Yes, thank you for sharing so much and writing so well. So helpful for your readers. 🙏🏻❤️

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us at this time, Ronni.

"Dear god, I won't be here anymore. How can that be?"

I don't know if this will bring you peace, but it does for me. Please feel free to ignore it either way.

I'm sure you've heard the metaphor of how we are waves that are part of a vast, unending ocean. The "self" is when we poke our heads out and believe "hey, look at me!" "I exist!" And our lives pass, and we waves return to the ocean.

My readings about the human brain have correlated with the teachings of spirituality. The left brain is constantly creating, putting labels on things, including this thing it calls "me." Making "me" the center of the universe, and everything else separate from that.

The right brain (the one we routinely ignore in this culture) sees everything as connected. The "I" is part of everything, and everything is part of "I". And in other spiritual traditions, the "I" doesn't even exist. It's an illusion caused by the left brain. Either way, the only thing there truly is, is a deep, untouched awareness that sees, experiences all. You may have had a glimpse of this awareness, this interconnectedness, when you had your experience with mind-altering drugs.

Which side is right, which side is wrong? Or are those more labels too?

I wish you much love, peace, and contentment ahead.

Every post is a gift, and I thank you most sincerely.

My Dad Took His Time Leaving This Plane of Existence (Part 1)

My Dad, Roland Applegate, was from the Greatest Generation. He volunteered to go into the U.S. Army even though he was nearly 30 and had a job that exempted him from the draft. He was shipped overseas like so many other soldiers and passed the time on the ship playing poker with the guys, and usually winning. So many were so young, and looked up to my dad as he was so much older and experienced in life.

Dad ended up being a platoon sergeant in the 777th Field Artillery group, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge near the end of the war. His unit was stationed in the rear, and the German Army attacked from the rear, and all hell broke lose. Everyone scattered and ran for it as heading the German attack were Panzer Tanks and SS Troops, who took no prisoners.

Dad and some of his platoon ended up hiding in a basement in Bastogne, and watched the SS soldiers march through town. Then they were captured by the regular German Army, and sent to a POW camp in cattle train cars. My dad was 6’2” and only weighed 130 lbs when General Patton liberated the camp a few months later.

I wanted to share that story so you would know a little bit about my dad. After he was diagnosed with late stage lung cancer in early November 1980, he was stoic about it and said he could have so easily died in the war, all the years after that were a gift.

I spent all the time I could with dad during his final weeks, as he preferred me to assist him and take care of him instead of my mom. I also protected him as much as I could from the Kaiser medical system, who were terrible. I rescued him from the ER where the doctors had abandoned him for hours while my mom was helpless. I just barged right in there, found him, and demanded he be released. When I got to him he was so relieved to see me and just said, “Please, get me out of here!”

After that I have some good memories. Dad would read in between helping me solve crossword puzzles as I lay next to him on his huge king size bed. Then we had a hospital bed put into the living room, and we watched an ancient John Wayne Western together. John Wayne went to USC when dad was going there in the late 1920s. Dad hated John Wayne because he was a Republican, whom dad thought were all a**holes. He also hated Ronnie Reagan, whom unfortunately won the election. When Ronnie came on the TV screen, I cursed him and mooned his image. Dad got a kick out of that.

My brother arrived from San Francisco and gave me a break to go home for a day or two. I was completely exhausted. Not long after I left, that night my dad passed away in my brother’s arms. It was December 4, 1980. Dad had only lived one month after his diagnosis. He was only 68 years old.

Along with my mom and two brothers, I was devastated. It all seemed to happen too fast, dad died too soon. We held a memorial service, my mom received an American flag from the military. I went home to grieve in sorrow.

(Continued in my next comment)

Excerpt from “The Art of Dying” by George Harrison:
” ......But if you want it
Then you must find it
But when you have it
There'll be no need for it.”

Somehow this always brings me comfort.
Thank you for your contribution to my life. Peace by with you, Ronni.

My Dad Took His Time Leaving This Plane of Existence (Part 2)

Background: My dad was a “Honky Tonk” piano player. His favorite musician was Scott Joplin. His favorite Scott Joplin song was “The Entertainer.” Several years prior to his death, he received a gift of a small music box player piano. When you wound up the key in the back, the piano would loudly play “The Entertainer.” It was a novelty gift we all enjoyed, but as time passed, the piano music box just sat on the bookshelf in the living room, unplayed and gathering dust.

It was just a few days after dad died, and I was having trouble sleeping. It was about 2:30 am. The phone beside my bed suddenly rang. No one calls at 2:30 am unless there’s something bad that has happened, I thought, and reluctantly answered the phone.

It was my mom and she was terribly upset, anxious, frightened and crying. I tried to calm her down as best I could and asked her to tell me what happened that made her so upset.

She told me that she was having trouble sleeping, kept tossing and turning, and couldn’t stop thinking of dad. Then while she was laying there in her bed in her bedroom, she heard something. It was a tinkling sound like piano keys. She listened some more and started to recognize a song. The song being played was “The Entertainer”— dad’s favorite song. She got out of bed and went into the living room, and there it was, the piano music box in the bookcase, playing the song “The Entertainer.” She watched and listened until the song was finished and then the music box stopped.

How could this be? How could this happen? She was home alone. No other person was there. The piano music box hadn’t been played in years, and could only be played if someone picked it up and wound the key on the back of it. That’s the only way it could have played dad’s favorite song. Yet somehow, some way, the music box’s key has been wound up and it played all on its own! Or did it?

Mom immediately picked up the phone and called me, and after she told me what happened, I was astounded. This can’t be real, but she would never lie to me, or make something like this up. My mom was usually as calm as a cucumber, but THIS really had her extremely upset.

I tried to calm her down and said I thought the only explanation I could think of is that dad’s spirit and/or energy was still there in the room where he died. I told her that if that is true, somehow his spirit energy must have started the music box playing his favorite song. The music box can’t wind it’s own key, and the mechanism can’t play the song if the key is not wound. So what other explanation is there? “Maybe dad’s spirit sensed that you were grieving and distraught, and playing the song was a kind of message to let you know he was okay,” I told her.

I also told her I think what happened was a good thing and nothing to be afraid of. We talked some more until she was sufficiently calmed down and relaxed, and we said goodbye and both went back to bed.

I didn’t get much sleep that night, as I was completely astonished by the story my mother had just told me. But I was also in awe of it and somehow comforted to know that my dad’s spirit, his energy, was still here before going onto another plane of existence.

Several other unusual occurrences happened in the next few days and even later; one in particular that also involved the sudden playing of “The Entertainer” (this time on a jukebox). But that’s a story for another day.

All I know is that since the “spiritual” visits by my dad to me and my mom, I strongly believe that somehow, in someway— our existence continues after our physical body dies. There is another plane of or type of existence that is unexplainable to us as humans.

Please don’t think I am crazy! I am still not religious as I still believe religion is man made and was invented by ancient men to explain the unexplainable, and to control the masses. No, this is something entirely different, and we are incapable of knowing or understanding it (until we die).

Ronni, I’m sorry this story ended up being so long, and I hope you have found time to read it. I sure wonder what you think about it.... Please don’t think I am complete looney toons.
Best Regards always, Melinda

Actually the sky diving one was good, our son's first full time job was packing parachutes, now he's the father of four, and a teacher during Covid19, anyway, it isn't something usually done alone, most have someone with them on those jumps. esp. at our age. and you have all of us, and the Hospice crew, a Win Win.

A French author of some centuries ago wrote that we should not be concerned about our death. (He wrote this after a near death experience.) He wrote that death will instruct us as to how to proceed. That was very comforting to me until I realized that he did NOT die!
Like one of the previous readers, I have felt contacted after someone I loved died, within the first several weeks. Why not?
Taking a phrase from a book by Father John O'Donohue about death being an invitation to liberation, I made one of my favorite pieces of art.
I am sorry you are having so much pain.

Thank you, Ronnie. You are a blessing to us.

I don't want to add to your reading because I imagine it can take some time to get through all these notes...but...I can't stop myself. Thank you as always for your authenticity. You inspire me to be real and to be honest with myself and others. Carol

Thank you so very much for these posts at this time in your life. Not only does it make me think about my own life, at 63, but also my father's, at 89. I think he doesn't want to die, but I know that day-to-day the issues like having his lungs drained of fluid, being short of breath (congestive heart failure) cause him far more annoyance than the inevitable and inconceivable thought of his own ceasing to be.

So I will try to stay with him where he is. To focus on his discomfort with the small things rather than my own sorrow at the day that's coming.

Thank you Ronni, your reporting from the front, so to speak, is a gift of the highest caliber ✨

And to Melinda, love the story about her dad and his gift. Have heard many such stories and believe as you do, it was her dads gift to her mom to ease the loss.

When I think of death I see it as flight through the universe amidst that amazing colorful images sent back to us by the Hubble telescope... it comforts me. Who knows if that story will stay w me in the years until I leave.

After Dad had his stroke, I was online searching for support. One of my resources for support was a weekly NYT column about elder caregiving. The writer mentioned a woman in Oregon who chose to die. An Oregon newspaper followed her story with online videos which I viewed.

She was at peace with her decision but there was still this outward sense of loneliness and isolation. Dad's last few days seemed that way, too. I played music and read to him a poem the hospice gave me about death. He waited until we were all there when he let go.

I am so grateful for you, Ronni, your blog and your honesty. Your heart and mind are strong. I wish you didn't have pain.

Yes, thank you very much for this post and many others. No matter what you have already created your legacy. I am grateful for your honest and direct feelings and thoughts about your life and death.

I appreciate you sharing your journey with us. Your musings are honest and insightful. The only thing I could think to compare is aging. I am turning 70 very soon, and feel like I spent my 60's coming to terms with getting older. I am not sure I ever fully came to terms with it, but I'm still turning 70.

Thinking of you Ronni, and again I so appreciate you sharing your insides with us.

Dear Ronnie,
Somehow I came across this poem via Twitter and it is so beautiful I thought I would share it with you.

Although I’m not religious, when I come across references to God in poetry, I do not think of a God as defined by religion, but instead the ultimate power of the universe, which cannot be explained or defined. I think this power and energy is inexplicable to us. But it does exist, it is real.

Here is the link:

NOTE FROM RONNI: Links are never allowed in comments at TGB because although most are innocent enough, too many are commercial websites or pornography or something else I don't wish to promote.

I have learned over the years that the more links there are, the more people leave the objectionable ones. So I don't allow any.

You can find this poem by searching "If Tomorrow Starts Without Me".

For Ronnie - and how will we, your audience get along without you to lead the way. Will we carry on with our own stories or will this site die too. What do you want us to do and how do you want us to do it? Do others have this question?
I had a very strange experience many years ago. I was in Paris at the Louvre , about to leave when my Father, my Grandmother and my Brother appeared. There they stood side by side, in a little nook at the back of the church, looking at me. Not saying a word, not moving an inch - Waiting? Waiting for me? Just making sure I was OK and letting me know they were OK. They were my favourite people and all of them had died many years earlier and I wasn’t thinking of them and never did think of them as a group. This is my one and only Vision.
I am agnostic leaning heavily towards atheism Ronnie but I have no explanation at all for why or how those people were there.
I have been reading “How we Die” by Dr Sherwin Nuland. I expect you and your readers know his work but if anyone doesn’t do get his books and/or watch him on youtube.
Savour every day Ronnie - for me it is my coffee, my showers, and writing, writing writing. I wish you love and strength, BB

Dear Ronni,
I have always admired people with such intelligence, quick wit, clear vision and humour of which I have little, but you obviously, have bucket loads.
You are such an inspiration to me and many others, and I fear in the future, that we may lose all your knowledge and introspective accounts of the journey you are on.
How wonderful it would be to have your views placed into a memoir, to provide insight to others as ‘TimeGoesBy’.
Hopefully someone has approached you, to enable your writings and presence to continue, through such a memoir.
I wish you peace as your journey continues.
WLP Australia

I’m sorry Ronni about the link. I didn’t know. Though I should have. My apologies.

Thanks for the great story about your dad, Melinda Applegate. Really enjoyed it.

And I don't think it's crazy at all. I've heard hundreds of stories like it, told by utterly sane and grounded people. Why wouldn't they be true?

Personally I don't believe for a minute that the gutsy, generous, expansive energy that makes up Ronni Bennett (with her Aries Sun and Leo Moon), is disappearing from the universe when her body does.

I have no clue how to do the "end of life stuff", because I'm not there yet.
But the "what-comes-after-death stuff" has fascinated me since forever. I love those stories and have a few of my own.

Thanks for sharing yours.

Ronnie, thank you for your grace and humor in this and many other posts. As someone who uses humor as a coping mechanism, I share this, seen on a poster 25 years ago.
" When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather did, not screaming and panicking like the passengers in his car."
Sending you gentle hugs, courage, and laughter!

You, my dear lady, are writing the how-to book for the rest of us. I, for one, will be so appreciative for all your insight when my turn comes.

Thanks Ronnie. Appreciation indeed. Hugs from the border.

So glad you have squirrels to laugh at, Ronni! The sights, sounds and smells of nature are what help me get through the rough times.
Wishing you love and peace, always!

Coming in at the tail end.

We've got you, Ronni.

Ronni's Cafe isn't going anywhere.

You're the best host with the most memorable stories.

We'll all be there with you.

It was pouring rain the night after my father died.

Four a.m.

Inside our family home.

My sister and I were awakened by footsteps walking down our dead end street.

The footsteps were identical to our dad's way of walking.

Firm, steady, with purpose.

The tap tap steps came straight up our driveway and stopped at the front door.

Door didn't open, bell didn't ring.

That's all we heard.

We still talk about it.

We pretend d it was dad's spirit coming home.

Even if there was a "test at the end", I think we all know you'd pass it with flying colors, Ronni.

This gift you're so generously sharing, of your end of life experiences, is not only priceless information for all who come after you, it also has to be worth at least an A+ from anyone who might be grading your final exam.

As always, thank you for all you share with us.

When my beloved mother in law died, I grieved terribly and one night at a church service as I was sitting in the pew with the hymnal open on my lap I saw a vision as clear as this computer in front of me, she appeared in her violet coat with her beautiful white hair surrounded by light. It 's a beautiful memory to me.
" I hate that you have to suffer pain, I've had chronic pain for most of my adult life. I was recently prescribed Norco and no fuzzy mind and I'm grateful... think about it Ronni. I'm not going to worry about it at my age (80).
Love you and thank you for your beautiful mind and sharing your life with us.

Trump sending “shock troops" to Portland, and, now, to other "Democratic" cities fills me with horror, disgust, and profound, stomach dropping fear. I believe we will be cleaning up his messes at home and world-wide for a long time. Hopefully, that cleanup will start in January, 2021. Vote,friends,vote! My additional fear is what tricks he, and his family, will play in the months before he leaves. I am so amazed at the otherwise "decent" people who STILL believe in him.

The afterlife? I don’t "believe" in it. And yet I’ve had two experiences. They were unlooked for and very real. I have an open mind, I suppose, to the subject. I have hope, but no proof.

All of you stay safe out there.

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