657 posts categorized "Journal"

Old Lady Fancy Pants

If, like me, you have a big-deal disease or two such as cancer and COPD, there is one thing you can count on: nothing stays the same and hardly anything gets better.

That's the cosmic joke. (There are more earthly ones too.)

In the first instance, such diseases progress. No pleading, no appeal to divine intervention, no miracles. It is the diseases' job to grow and from your and my point of view, get worse.

I've always thought it is weird that it works that way. When the disease does what nature compels it to do, it eventually kills its host (in this case, that would be me) and therefore itself. What use in that?

In terms of earthy jokes, my hospice nurse visits on Monday mornings. Aimee-the-wonderful checks my vitals, goes over my medications, discusses my well-being – or, recently, lack thereof – and then we discuss my future, such as it is.

As you who have read this blog for a good while know, I had a long respite until last February when chemotherapy stopped working. I began slowly slipping down hill and the speed has since since accelerated.

Drugs have helped but I haven't needed a nurse to tell me what's happening.

Not long ago, Aimee-the-wonderful began gently hinting at what I'm likely to expect next. She asked about incontinence. Ewwww. But there you are.

I've been retaining water – bloating – for a while which Aimee says will at some point unexpectedly break through – overload, muscles weakening, etc. and that I should purchase what some manufacturers call life-changing absorbent products.

Adult diapers.

There hasn't been a problem yet, but I've only just begun taking the diuretics to rid my body of excess water so who knows. Particularly during the night.

I perused such products on the internet, decided on pull-ups because they work like every other kind of underpants and made my purchase hoping for the best as to size since the websites have little to say about what small, medium, etc. mean.

It was my first chance to try this out on Monday with my first evening incontinence pill at bedtime. I yanked a pair out of the tightly wrapped package, shook the panties open and to my utmost surprise, found they they are trimmed in – wait for it – frilly lace. Yes, you read that right: frilly lace.

Is there anything else to do but giggle? So I pulled them on, pranced around in front the full-length mirror and had a big hearty guffaw at myself – old lady fancy pants.

Monday Time Out

As I noted at the end of Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, it's been a few rough days in a row – weakness, lethargy, disinterest, lots of sleep and not much else. Even one of my top two or three favorite small pleasures, a hot bath, has been hard – it's too difficult to get out of the tub.

There is nothing new on cable news, just repeats of what the hosts said last hour and the hour before that, etc. My mind is too addled to read.

I sit in bed or at the computer and stare into space for long periods of time quite comfortably.

What is lovely are the email notes from you, dear readers. You say the nicest things and I wish I could answer every one. But I am just too weak right now So I'm taking a time out today, and tomorrow is reader story day so I have two whole days to rest.

Please don't think I am ignoring you. It is just that my body is screaming REST at me and so I am doing that.

Thank you all for being there. It means everything to me.

Quotations on The Time Before Dying

It has been a long time since I posted a list of quotations about age and dying. In fact, it is probably years. But I don't stop collecting them – my god, people have a lot to say about death, at least in short form – so here are a few for your perusal and commentary.

Not too many today because quantity becomes overwhelming and they lose meaning. So just a few. Many wise men and women have left behind worthy ideas about death for us to ponder.

* * *

“It is too bad that dying is the last thing we do, because it could teach us so much about living.” - Robert M. Herhold
(As it seems to be doing for me.)

“For my part, I would like to die fully conscious that I am dying...slow enough to allow death to insinuate itself into my body and fully unfold, so as not to miss the ultimate experience, the passage.” - Marguerite Yourcenar

“...I count as the greatest good fortune to have these few months so full of interest and instruction in the knowledge of my approaching death.” - Alice James

“There is only one solution if old age is not to be a parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give existence meaning – devotion to to individuals, to groups or causes, social, political, intellectual and creative work. - Simone de Bouvoir

“The first part of life is for learning. The second for service, and the last is for oneself. It is a time for discover inner richness and for self-development and spiritual growth. It is also a time of transition and preparation for dying. The closer we come to death, the closer we come to reality and truth.” - Gay Gaer Luce

“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” - Dag Hammarskjold

Are there any short and pithy such quotations you would like to add?

A Day in the Life of Old Age

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Although this list is true, it is not meant to be overly serious. Try to see the humor.]

Wash face
Brush teeth
Aim body toward kitchen
(don't trip on the oxygen cable)

Start coffee
Take first pill of the day
Lay out next two pills
Assemble nebulizer equipment
Spend 10 minutes breathing with nebullizer

Check phone for overnight messages
Check overnight email
Delete at least half of it
Send morning email greeting to my “are you still alive” buddy

Answer personal and blog email
Check the day's to-do list; delete what is possible to avoid doing
Read the morning news while listening to morning news for the latest
(Two hours have passed)

Take pre-breakfast digestion pills
Shower and dress – slowly
Prepare breakfast
Find reading material for breakfast
Round up breakfast digestion pills - eat

Clean up kitchen
Plan lunch
Have a 30-minute lie-down
Spend time (10 minutes to two-plus hours) planning next blog post
Work on blog post / answer incoming email

Second 10-minute nebulizer session
More blog work
Take a break with household accounts and mail
12 noon pills
Prepare, eat lunch

Clean up kitchen
One-hour lie-down or nap (or longer)
2PM pain pills
Check to-do list and finish what I can

Edit blog post and set up to publish
Slow walk to trash and snailmail box
Small chores, water plants, lists, etc.
Sit quietly for awhile, maybe read
Begin dinner

Pre-dinner pills
Clean up kitchen
Count out next day's pills
Hot bath

Collapse on bed – movie, book, or...

Just look at this – it's all maintenance, every item of it and I've omitted at least half the chores along with phone calls, chatty email with friends, getting sidetracked with a magazine or book, etc.

I wrote all this out for myself a couple of days ago and was appalled at the banality of it. But guess what. If you don't count the pain when it happens and the chunk of time for blog work, it gives me a lot of hours to think about all the stuff I end up writing about here.

Not the mention time to think about all the stuff I don't tell you.

Still – it is kind of joke if you look at it that way. What's your day like?

Guidance For My Near Future

I'm not certain this is of much of a useful blog post or of interest to anyone but myself but what the hell, I'll write it down anyway so I have something to compare next week, next month, next...

Daily now I realize that what I was feeling yesterday, how much energy I had then, whether I slept well or not last night, how strong or weak I feel this morning, whatever I think I want to get done today – it is all under control of my body. I - that is, my personal self or intention - have almost nothing to do with it.

My body chooses what it will do now and it has taken me to an updated version of “man plans, god laughs.” In this case, “old woman plans, body laughs.” A different joke every time although they generally relate to waning.

In a head-slapping moment a few days ago, I realized resistance is futile. The body knows what the body knows and striving even for the smallest things has morphed into acceptance. If I can't get the trash out, it can go in the morning. That attitude fairly new for me – I've always been a get-it-done-now kind of girl.

Most of my life has been striving for something – a bigger, better, more successful TV show to produce, a script to write, a website to build, an award to win. Always a goal. I haven't dug that deep into it yet, but I suspect I will find I didn't need to do all that. That life would have gone on well enough, satisfactorily, without pushing so hard.

It feels good now to be just easing on down the road – or working on getting to that point.

Those of you who have been on this cancer/COPD trip with me from the start might recall that three-and-a-half years ago, as I was wheeled in the surgery for the massive Whipple procedure, I said I just wanted to live long enough to read the Mueller Report.

That, as we know, turned out to be a dud and my new goal for many months was to vote in the 2020 election.

AND I DID IT. We vote by mail in Oregon. I filled out my ballot on Saturday, my wonderful neighbor Judy dropped it at collection point at City Hall and for sure, I have never in my near-80 years voted in a more important election.

Having now performed this crucial act of public responsibility, I'm going to continue to slow down. I want to use the gift of time the universe has bestowed on me to consider and contemplate life, living, loving and then - finding a way to let go, when the time comes, in peace and maybe even joy.

But not quite yet – heh. I need just a little more time.

Choosing a Life – Or Letting It Happen

Reflecting on the life I have lived is not something I have much dwelled upon during these several years of living with terminal cancer and COPD. I've always been more of a now person than a then one.

Not that I don't remember things or that they don't come to mind or up for discussion. But mostly, now is more compelling for me.

Perhaps it was true for you, too – that in school, there were two or three or four or so classmates who from a young age knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up and lo - they actually did that, doctor, lawyer, auto mechanic, whatever they fancied.

But not me. I had no earthly idea what I would do when I grew up – even when I grew up.

All I knew from my lower middle-class family was that it was up to me. Maybe it was not said quite out loud but the idea instilled was that my parents had gotten me to working age and now I had to follow through to support myself.

Looking back, my mother was right about insisting I take typing class in high school and that kept me employed for the several years it took until a career trajectory began to come into view. (An overview of my career is recounted here.)

Even though at the time I believed I was choosing this job, rejecting that one, making a lateral change for better pay, location, whatever, sometimes it has felt like someone or something else was making the decision.

It is rather amazing the number of interesting jobs that dropped into my lap over the years from unexpected telephone calls, even from strangers once or twice who had heard of me from someone and thought we should talk about working together.

Not to go all woo-woo on you but now and then I have wondered if I really chose the men or the friends and others in my life. Did someone or something direct all this? There are people who believe such things.

Without going down the free will rabbit hole, so speaking of this in the most prosaic sense, I have felt at times over the years that I have had nothing to do with my life, that it was written down before I got here and I'm just following the script.

At nearly 80 years into my life now, it is still kind of fun to ponder such notions, but there is a growing sense inside me, too, that I have arrived somewhere – that one way or another I am coming to enough. No more striving, just accepting.

But that imperative to survive I mentioned the other day is still deep and strong. My god, it does hang on; illness doesn't affect that. And there is still a great joy in living each day – well, each good one. And here is how part of that goes:

Many years ago, I worked for a woman I didn't like much. She didn't like me either. But we were both smart, good at our jobs and respected one another so it worked out.

One day I was surprised to learn that she was a boxing fan, that her father had taken her to all the matches he attended in their town when she was a kid and it had stuck with her.

Me? I blurted out rudely that I couldn't think of any more boring way to spend an evening. And then she said to me, “Ronni, everything is interesting if you pay attention.”

Since then, that piece of news has never failed me. Choosing my life? Pre-ordained life? That I am right on script during this final chapter? Or am I just getting weird in the late days of my predicament?

What matters is that all of it is just as interesting as everything else has been since JoAnn explained it to me.

Let's You and Me Have a Bit of a Chat Today

It didn't start out this way 16 years ago, but it has been a good, long while now since this blog became a more collaborative effort between you, dear readers, and me than just one woman's scribblings.

You supplied a bunch of terrific suggestions last week on the story, Age Friendly Adaptations, Adjustments and Workarounds and you leave plenty of other smart observations and thoughts that continue to help me in what I have been calling my predicament.

You also continue to embarrass me with lovely comments about how brave I am, how well I am handling this, how much I have helped you or that you have learned from me, as I write about moving forward toward my death.

For certain, I am no expert on anything. My knowledge after nearly 80 years on Earth is as wide as a prairie and shallow as a desert ditch. A little of this and that. No more.

However, after so long at it now, you have convinced me that I am providing something of value to a good many of you. Stuff that you print out and save in various ways and pass on to others. I take pride in that.

You are right, I think, that I have a good deal of common sense and an ability to accommodate with a measure of equanimity the slings and arrows thrown my way. I seem to have been born not a “why me?” person, but a “why not me?” person. And aren't I lucky for that. It saves a lot of grief and self-pity.

Before I get to where I intend to be going with this essay, let me take one little detour.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, I think, I that said in a housekeeping post that I am tired a lot now and I don't have the energy to answer all email that comes my way.

If I did not say so directly, let me do so now: that was meant to tell you to stop sending so much. There are thousands of you and one of me and it doesn't matter that you tell me not to answer. When I receive a nice email or one with a good idea for Saturday's Interesting Stuff, I feel the obligation of a thank you, and I feel guilty if I skip it.

Yes, that's on me, not you, but there is a reason I mentioned the word “collaboration” at top of this post and I need you to step up a little.

Two or three mornings ago, I opened my email inbox to 28 (!) reader emails. In fact, one reader had sent nine of them. A few others sent two or three and then there were the singletons. I was defeated.

Most had attached an MP4 video file, almost all of which never play correctly and I am announcing now that I officially will never try to open one again.

Plus, I've been riding the internet video horse-y every day since about 1992. Except on the rare occasion it is something brand new, only twice a week or so does someone send a video I haven't seen before.

So, unless you can send me a link to an established, online video service like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter etc., that allows re-posting, then don't. I don't have a lot time left for foolin' around with poor technology.

Back to my original intent:

Just about every philosopher and other important thinker throughout history has observed of the human condition that we are born, we live and we die. It is as simple as that.

Two children's books I noted here a few weeks ago made that point and I unexpectedly run across it regularly enough that I have come to believe the universe is banging away at me with something I need to pay attention to, to practice:

We are born, we live, we die.

Just Saturday, having a lie-down in mid-afternoon, the universe reached out to me in that regard again.

I tuned in the movie Charlotte's Web - the good one from 2006 – which I had never seen and had not read in book form for at least half a century. And there at the end, Charlotte the spider says to Wilbur the pig:

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die.”

Believe that quotation now as from me to you.

You who read here regularly know that I have in my possession the end-of-life drugs Oregon allows terminally ill patients to use to leave this world on their own terms.

But let me be clear. I am not suicidal. Although each day becomes a little harder to live now, I continue to choose life because there are still good days and – as far as I can tell, even with all the philosophers', thinkers', Freddy the leaf's and spiders' reminders - to live is the imperative.

What I would ask of you is this: collaborate with me. Let us help each other. Take what you find valuable here and pass it on. There are not a lot of places in our lives where we can talk as openly as we do here about this end-of-life stuff, and so many other people are frightened to do so. Or even to hear.

So collect it, pass it on, add to it from what others say here, expand on it, explain, show us your strengths and your fears, be true and be real.

Don't preach. Don't tell people how to do it. Just show one another what it is like for you and let them decide. But don't let end-of-life be a secret. We can help each other find our way.

When Bad Days Turn Good – Part 2

On Wednesday in Part 1, I wrote about sleepless night terrors and how it seemed reasonable to me, during one of them, that we ought to be able to blink our eyes – or something similar – and quietly die.

I doubt I would have written about it had not my friend, Annie Gottlieb, in New York City, following that night sent a couple of quotations one of which seemed to have been written precisely for what I had experienced.

Her second quotation came into play a day later.

After that long night with not a wink of sleep, Thursday was generally a lost day. I got a few things done but not much. Plus, my nebulizer and oxygen didn't have nearly as strong an effect as they normally do.

My hospice nurse, who made her scheduled visit that day, gave me a new prescription to help with energy and appetite and rearranged how I take a couple of other drugs to try to help me sleep.

By bedtime that night, I was as exhausted as I've ever felt. I worked at staying awake as long as possible so if I slept, I would not wake at some ungodly early hour and ruin the next day too, but I succumbed, I think, at about 9PM.

When I woke, I was shocked to see that I had slept until just after 5AM. Eight whole hours of uninterrupted, dead-to-the-world sleep. Wow. And then I saw the two half-pills on my table that I had intended to take when I was ready to turn out the light. I had forgotten to do that and still slept all through the night.

What a day I had on Friday. I almost forgot that I have cancer and COPD. Of course, that exists only in my head (and heart). As soon as I walk too fast down the hall or try to carry something weighing more than about five pounds, I am sharply reminded with extreme shortness of breath.

But within the parameters of my diseases, I had a great day and I was thrilled. I don't remember when I last felt so good. And it lasted all day until normal bedtime. I even walked out to the trash bins and mailbox with greater ease than in a long time.

On Sunday, Annie sent her two Rilke quotations and here, following on my spectacularly good Friday, is the second one which, Annie says, Rilke told to a woman friend who was helping to care for him:

“Never forget, dear friend, life is a glory.”

Oh, yes. Life is such a glory – even as small a life as mine has become now, thanks to age, disease and pandemic - and it was in full force for me on that Friday.

The mystery, of course, is how Annie knew to send those two quotations exactly when I could use and enjoy them so perfectly and personally.

Thank you, Annie.

Sleep disturbances are a well-known affliction among old people. The Sleep Foundation notes,

”As people age they tend to have a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age. In fact, research demonstrates that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood.”

It's not my purpose today to report on elder sleep issues, causes and what to do about them. (Maybe soon.)

Mostly with these two posts, I wanted to marvel out loud at how sometimes the universe pulls a couple of its smaller components together in such perfect concert.

When Bad Days Turn Good – Part 1

What I learned the hard way last week (why are so many lessons hard ones?) is that as my cancer and COPD advance, it is crucial – actually, mandatory if I want to function in even the smallest ways - that I get at least six hours of sleep, a couple more is better.

Without that, I am weak as a kitten in mind and body. Carrying a coffee cup from the kitchen to my desk when I'm that sleep-deprived, is a slow trek of only eight or 10 steps but it makes my legs shake, although I get stronger as the day progresses.

On two nights last week, separated by one night of a good, deep sleep, I lay awake the entire night. Whichever sleeping potion I had taken had failed entirely, a second dose didn't help and my thoughts got darker as the hours piled up.

I was ache-y, exhausted, restless and generally miserable. Even trying to use the time to sort through some ideas I had been recently toying with didn't work. My brain was fried, the blanket was snarled, the pillows were hot, my left foot hurt like hell and I just wanted it all to stop. By any means.

At that point, dying seemed reasonable and welcome. Right there and then. Just let go.

As I lay there, it began to feel like it could be just that easy to do. Why all the fuss we humans make about it, I thought. I could end all my discomfort by dying. Turn out the light so to speak. Tell my heart to stop. Be done with it all.

As I considered my impossible idea, it wasn't the same to me as committing suicide. Taking action to end one's life involves mostly violent intervention – a gun, a knife, a rope, a high roof and even those death with dignity pills I have tucked away involve mixing a series of drinks and taking them in the correct order at timed intervals.

If nothing else prevented me from doing one of those things, my exhaustion did. At that point in the night, just getting out of bed was beyond the realm of the possible.

As my sleepless stupor continued, I became indignant that I couldn't end my life by just thinking it. It's my life so why not.

Of course, it doesn't work that way but I began to believe it ought to and the idea had stuck with me even after I finally got some good rest a night later and lost my desire to end it all.

And that was that. With many years of poor sleep behind me, I have a lot of experience with dark thoughts on sleepless nights. I know it is best not to dwell on them.

But sometimes the universe has other ideas. A couple of days later while the idea of simply blinking out still popped up in brief moments, a long-time blog and New York City friend, Annie Gottlieb, sent me this quotation from the celebrated poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke. He wrote it, she told me, when he was ill with leukemia:

“We were such wonderfully good friends, my body and I, I don’t know at all how it happened that we separated and became foreign to each other.”

Oh my yes. Me too. It is close to perfection in encapsulating that late-night death fantasy from a few nights earlier.

Until my cancer diagnosis three years ago, my body and I were great good friends and now we are not. I'm a bit less neutral about what has happened between us than Rilke sounds; more than feeling separated and foreign, I feel my body has betrayed me.

But isn't it wonderful to be given a well-conceived metaphor to further one's understanding.

Part 2 of When Bad Days Turn Good on Friday.

* * *

The organization that provides my hospice care is Care Partners, a non-profit that supplies hospice and palliative care to five counties in northwest Oregon. I have a wonderful nurse who is also my case manager along with a social worker and a non-denominational spiritual adviser with others to call on as needed.

They are all excellent and one other thing that gives me comfort: there is always a live person on the other end of the telephone line, a nurse, so that I can have real human help at my fingertips at any hour of the day or night.

This week, I'm blushing a bit that Care Partners published a story about this blog and linked to the first story I posted about entering hospice. Their home page is here.

[Part 2 is here.]

Stumbling Along Toward an Ending

In the time I have been writing here about my approaching demise [counting from the Whipple surgery, it is more than three years] I have felt a need to be upbeat and positive about it in these pages.

The source of this pressure is more confusion than mystery. It is a natural bent of mine to seek the bright side in everything from disappointment to catastrophe. But no doubt I am also influenced by reader input that often favors pluck and fortitude in facing the inevitable destruction that is our mutual fate.

In addition, I am a realist. I do not engage in impossible fantasy as our president does and neither do I ignore difficulties. Most of the time I deal with issues head on and work them out as much as is necessary in the moment, sometimes leaving harder aspects for later.

Well, later has arrived and the truth is, it's not so easy now being my old perky self. The odd thing is that it's not about death itself that has me down some days. It's the deterioration on my way to the end.

Remember a week ago when I wrote about how I look like the Rodin sculpture of The Old Courtesan first thing in the morning? That's just the beginning of the day.

Maybe it's the “worst air in the world” in my neck of the woods due to the wildfires, but when I stand up first thing in the morning now, I can barely breathe. I was doing fine lying down and sitting, but not on my feet so I head (slowly) straight for the oxygen concentrator and plug myself in.

Who knew brushing one's teeth could be such an energy drain. Or walking to the kitchen or measuring out the coffee.

Actually, pretty much everything can take my breath away – in the literal, not exhilarating sense.

I gave up making my bed a few months ago and as of this week, I have hired a cleaning service because it is no longer a matter of taking three rest periods to change the bed; it's that I cannot do it at all. Nor can I push the vacuum cleaner anymore.

Taking out the trash is hard too. It's amazing how heavy those under-the-counter kitchen bags can get so I've taught myself to fill them only halfway before taking them out. Now I have taken to putting them in the car, which is closer to my apartment, and drive the 100 feet to the trash and recycling bins.

At first, I felt stupid making that short drive. Now it is a necessity.

Washing dishes, once a boring chore to me, has become one bright spot among all the stuff that exhausts me. It is the one thing left (aside from sitting) that I can easily do without losing my breath.

Even though I took care of my mother 24/7 during the four or five months she was dying and watched her become weaker day by day, I had no idea it would someday be so hard for me to do the household chores I took for granted for more than 70 years. Or, I suppose, I just didn't apply such decline to myself.

In healthy midlife, I think we can't imagine that we will ever become weak and tired and dependent. Oh, all right, make that “I couldn't imagine it when I was in midlife.” Maybe you knew better than I did.

Did I mention that even bending over is almost beyond my capability now? Do you remember that old joke about the old man who knelt down to get something off the floor and said to himself, “I wonder what else I can do while I'm down here?”

That's me now. Actually, it is not a matter of what more I can do. It's that I'll be heaving for breath for four or five minutes after the two seconds it takes me to retrieve a dropped pencil. I try to hang on tight to things now.

My long-winded point today is that the growing impediments to the simple way of life I have nowadays leaves me tired, weak and then dejected, asking myself, why not use those end-of-life drugs right now?

It's a good question. Except. Except. Another thing I didn't know in my mid-years is how strongly life insists on coursing through a body even as damaged as mine is now. A night's sleep (when I can get it) coupled with coffee and the nebulizer puts things right for a few hours and once again, I cannot imagine not being here.

Last week I discussed some of all this with my palliative care provider in a video call. That day, I was also lamenting that using the end-of-life drugs when the time comes deprives me of the final act of life I had wanted so much and we had previously discussed: to experience in my last moments what death is like.

As he often does, he had a good answer for me. Explaining that death doesn't happen all at once, but over a period of time, perhaps I could transfer that desire for knowing the last moments into tracking my physical and emotional transition to the day when I decide it is time for those drugs. To shadow myself down that road.

That surely animated me and made the hard stuff I'm going through worth the effort – for now or for as long as it does. And sometimes I'll tell you about it here.

There I go again, finding the bright side.

Random Thoughts on Daily Life While Old

WILD FIRE UPDATE: Fires continued over the weekend producing in my neck of the woods the worst air quality in the entire world, they said. Even healthy people – those without such lung disease as I have and who are young – were cautioned to remain indoors on Saturday and on Sunday.

None of the fires in my area have been contained but there is no imminent danger to my town. In fact, as I was writing this on Sunday afternoon, I received a fire alert that my town has been dropped from the Level 1 evacuation order to Level zero or normal.

Just in case, my bag is still packed and ready to go. The weather people say we may have rain tonight or tomorrow or the next day. If so, that should help the fire fighters.

* * *

Today's post is a few short takes on some thoughts and ideas I would like to develop further but haven't mustered the concentration to do so yet. Or, more likely, am just too lazy to get the work done right now.

Since the summer of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, there has been a lot of talk in public conversation and in polls about diversity indicating support for including more people of color, ethnicity and gender.

That is a good thing but I wonder why diversity discussions don't include old people.

Being in hospice is a pretty clear indication that my life is on the wane. Nevertheless, I have spent little if any time casting a backward glance over the life I have lived.

Certain episodes come up but they don't linger and when I have tried now and then to find a thread runs through my years, nothing comes to mind. Even so, in general I feel that I have had a good life. Perhaps it is that I have lived as singer Elton John once said he had:

“If you let things happen, that's a magical life.”

That's how it has worked for me. I never had a plan, I just followed my nose from one day to the next, one month and one year to the next. What about you?

If you have a serious disease or two, as I do, daily life gets reduced to its essentials: rest, meals, medications with remaining time devoted to one's individual kinds of pleasures of old age.

I've made a schedule for myself. Medications at certain times of the day, cooking and cleaning up at other, mostly specific times, resting for awhile two or three times a day, moving slowly due to breathing difficulties for such chores at getting the mail, taking out the trash, doing the laundry.

The trick is to leave large enough chunks of time to answer email, do some research, write a blog post or two and include some pleasure reading.

One night of poor sleep and it's all gone to hell. Then it's two days until old age normal routine returns. Surprises are not among my joys these days.

Two Children's Books About Death

It might not surprise you to know that I think about death these days. More than sometimes, less than every day, but not infrequently.

Actually, that has always been so – that I think about dying. Maybe not as pointedly as now that it is almost close enough to touch but it has shadowed me for all my years. Maybe yours too.

For most of my life such thoughts were accompanied by heart-pounding fear and for two or three decades, I pretended I was the one immortal. You would die, but not I.

Of course, such fantasy is unsustainable past middle age even without a terrible disease. Psilocybin late in 2017 smoothed out the rough edges of my dread. (It really does do that).

Or, perhaps living with a terminal illness for three years now one comes to think of death as a not unfriendly visitor – even, at times, a companion.

There's a book about that – about death being a not unfriendly visitor. Cry Heart, But Never Break is classified as a children's book but as with many of them, writing for children sometimes seems to be a way of reaching adults more easily.

I had given my original copy to a friend with a young daughter but recently realized I want to read it again (and, probably, again etc.) so I tracked down another copy online. (Not so easy these days; it is often out of stock.)

It seems to be about how to say goodbye to loved ones who die – and it is that. But it is also reassuring to the one doing the dying (to me, anyway). It is written by Danish children's author, Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Danish artist, Charlotte Pardi.

Here is a reading of the book I found on YouTube:

Of course, death in inextricably linked with life along with the reverse, and The Fall of Freddy the Leaf makes that clear. It is written by the late Dr. Leo Buscaglia who died in 1998.

A friend dismissed Freddy the Leaf as sappy and unoriginal. But you know, death itself is unoriginal – it happens to all of us, even planet Earth itself eventually, and in my current predicament, I find it soothing to read.

Here is a lovely and well-done reading of The Fall of Freddy the Leaf from YouTube:

Elder Bodies (Again)

Thanks to the advance of my two diseases – cancer and COPD – I am a great deal slower these days than I was just a few months ago.

Recently, after I wake in the morning, I have found myself sitting on the edge of my bed for quite awhile – three or four or five minutes or so. It is not that I am worn out from getting into an upright position or that I am thinking about anything, it is – well, I can't tell you why. I don't know.

But one day last week, as I sat there, it occurred to me that had anyone been watching, I would appear much like Auguste Rodin's sculpture of The Old Courtesan (La Belle qui fut heaulmière):


So, on that morning, I took a good look at myself in the full length mirror and saw that I wasn't far off in my comparison. In fact, she is even in nearly the same position as I had been sitting on the side of the bed looking down - at nothing really.

The image of the courtesan and my reflection in the mirror stuck with me that morning. Surely many, maybe most people would find the courtesan – and, therefore, me – to be ugly. But I don't.

Part of what was rolling around in my head is how interesting the old courtesan is and how many times I had sought her out when I visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art during the years I lived in New York City.

I was younger in those days and recall wondering if she presaged my eventual appearance. Now I know: our bodies are nearly twins and for some reason I'm rather pleased with that.

Here is the text from the page for The Old Courtesan on the Metropolitan Museum's website:

”Incorporated into the left pilaster on The Gates of Hell, the withered old woman evoked a moral connection between sin and the ravages of time. The harrowing veracity of the independent sculpture accords with a statement of Rodin’s: 'Character is the intense truth of any natural [sight], beautiful or ugly.'”

Yes. I'll take intense truth any time.

I was going to have some more to say in this post about our culture's insistence on youth as the ideal of beauty. Then I recalled that I had written about this back in 2013, and it holds up rather well. So I will just link and you can follow if you wish. Here are How to Accept Our Aging Bodies Part 1 and Part 2.

Is Death With Dignity the Same Thing as Suicide?

Last time on The Alex and Ronni Show, we discussed Oregon's Death with Dignity Act (I prefer the phrase, medical aid in dying or M.A.I.D), and my acquisition of the drugs that will end my life when/if I choose to do so. TGB reader Kate R left this question in the comments:

”I totally understand your whys of controlling when you decide you want to depart. You are fortunate to live in a state that supports this choice. I'm going to throw this in the conversation.

“My husband committed suicide by his own hand after many years of depression etc. I was shocked and not pleasant to witness. How is your choice not considered a form of suicide?”

The short answer is that it is not a “form of suicide”; it IS suicide, condoned and made legal in my case by the state in which I live.

Eight other U.S. states – California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington state - plus the District of Columbia also have death with dignity laws. In addition, no state law in Montana prohibits a physician from fulfilling a request from a terminally ill, mentally competent patient for medication to end his or her life.

Mostly, states and countries that allow medical aid in dying avoid the word suicide. I have no proof of this but I think they do so (as do I) because certain words are freighted with extra meaning beyond their basic definition, suicide being one of them. So we end up with such phrases as

Death with dignity
Freedom of choice at life's end
Medical aid in dying
Physician assisted dying
Right to die
Self-determined end of suffering

But they all mean suicide – that is, to die by one's own hand. Pains are taken in the words and meaning of the statutes where it is allowed so that the people who acquire the drugs to commit suicide are terminally ill as determined by physicians and are of sound mind.

Additional verbiage in the laws seeks to ensure that no one can be coerced by another person into taking the drugs and my doctor made a point to advise me that in choosing the day to use the medication, I must be physically able to lift the glass to drink from it on my own, without assistance.

A big feature of the medical aid in dying laws in the United States and most other countries is that the patient be terminally ill, usually with fewer than six months to live, according to physicians.

There is a case now in France of a 76-year-old woman who is is not terminally ill campaigning for her right to die just because she wants to.

In 2018, Jacqueline Jencquel, who has been vice president of the pro-assisted suicide organization ADMD (French language site), and a member of the Swiss right-to-die campaign group Exit (French language site), told Vice News:

”What really surprises people is that I'm not dying. In France, to get the right to die, you have to be on your very last legs and screaming in pain.

“We enacted the Léonetti law in 2005. This law was extended in 2016 to allow terminally ill people to be put to sleep with sedatives—to cut short their suffering before death. But it doesn't go far enough. It's a way of not really dealing with the end of life. The idea is to suffer first, then we'll help you bear it until your body just quits.”

Saying that she wanted to see another spring, Ms. Jencquel extended her first self-chosen “exit date” of January 2020 for six more months. Then she extended it again until the end of the year because, she said, she will have a new grandson in November.

“I am not in good health,} she recently told Euronews. “I have osteoporosis, I'm very fragile, and I have a stomach issue. And I know it's not going to get any better”.

“What's this taboo around death? I mean, we're mortal, aren't we? What is an option is the suffering before dying. And I don't really see any purpose and meaning in my life anymore.”

Dr. Vianney Mourman, a palliative care physician at Lariboisière Hospital in Paris, who rejects Jencquel's argument, told Euronews:

“'If she were very sick, and say “I suffer so much and nothing relieves me, by humanity, please help me kill myself.' The speech wouldn't be the same.'

“He insists that only once you've given the way to alleviate the suffering without success you could 'perhaps imagine that assisted suicide could be offered'. But for someone who is not sick and has a future, 'we can't, and we shouldn’t allow it: it's breaking a taboo that puts society at risk,' he reiterates.”

All the above is a wordy response from someone who believes that death with dignity, right to die, physician assisted dying, etc. are just other ways of saying suicide. I don't have trouble with the word but then, I've been reading and thinking about it for many years before I was in a position to consider it for myself.

Now I'm curious to read what you have to say.

If you are looking for more information about assisted suicide, here are three good organizations:

Death With Dignity
Right to Die Europe


This hardly ever happens to me, that I don't have a blog post ready to publish, but it's happening now.

However, I do have a good reason. Yesterday morning, my son's wife came to visit. We had planned it for an hour starting at about 10AM. I had some cheese and crackers and fruit ready for us and coffee, but Kathy brought her own – coffee, that is.

And then we talked. And we talked. And we talked some more. We forgot about food or anything and together, I think we solved all the problems of the world. Well, that's an exaggeration but we covered most of the important ones.

And we did not finish until 4:30PM.

I'm telling you this because of my predicament. I don't want a blank page to give anyone reason to think something happened to me. I'm fine, more than fine after a great day with a lovely friend I don't see often.

Maybe I'll post something tomorrow, Thursday, which is usually a day off. Or not. Meanwhile, if you are so inspired, you are welcome to talk among yourselves in the comment section below.

Wow – Happy 95 Years, Millie Garfield

Okay, Millie's birthday is not until tomorrow, 18 August, but why not celebrate early and long. It's not everyone who gets to have this birthday so we should celebrate a lot.


I've known Millie almost as long as we have both been blogging which is going on 20 years.

We've even met in person which doesn't get to happen often with so many of our internet friends. Our friendship all this time has meant everything to me. We live on opposite coasts now so we keep in touch by telephone.

For many years, Millie wrote My Mom's Blog - her son Steve set it up in 2003, (hence the name) – one year ahead of me. I just found out from her blog that according to The Ageless Project, she is the world's fourth oldest blogger.

For a long time, she gained fame for her video feature, I Can't Open It. Here is one of them with a BIG container of animal crackers. The other voice you hear is her son, Steve, who is running the camera.

Back in April during the earliest days of the pandemic lockdown, Steve invited me to a Zoom meeting with Millie on the top left, Steve to her right, me in the middle row and few other people. Here's a screenshot:

ASK MILLIE Zoom Meeting

Millie and Steve keep in touch via video calls and these days Millie can be found on her Facebook page more than her blog. For her birthday this year, she is holding a fundraiser for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

”I've chosen this nonprofit,” writes Millie, “because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you'll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me.”

You can get further information and do that if you wish on Millie's Facebook page.

For many years, we have played a silly, little game here on Millie's birthday. I add her age (95 this year) and my age (79) which, this year, gets us to 173.

Now you get add your age to the total, add it up and post it in the comments. Then the next reader can add his/her age and so on to see how high we can get the number of years we have collectively lived.

Of course, because comments pass in the ether the total is never really quite correct but that's part of the fun and it's close enough.

Meanwhile, let's all sing Happy Birthday to Millie and her amazing 95 years. I love you, Millie.

Do Not Go Gentle...

Given what you know about my diseases (cancer and COPD) and my being in hospice now, it probably doesn't surprise you that I think about dying a bit more frequently these days - certainly more frequently than when I was younger.

Triggers for those thoughts arrive from many sources or, sometimes, just appear in my mind from no reason I can figure out. In the past few days, it has been lines from Dylan Thomas's poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Until now, I had no idea I had memorized it. Maybe repeated readings over decades managed that without my noticing. In case you haven't memorized it, here it is. It's short:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This is, of course, one of the most famous poems in the English language and it is quoted widely in the literature of death and dying so over the years of running this blog, I have frequently come across it.

Let it be said right away that I do not deny the poem's brilliance. I also like its cadence and how the repetitions work so well. What I reject is the message that we must challenge death: “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” particularly when we are old.

That is because I do not want to “burn and rave at close of day.” I want to “go gentle into that good night.”

Going gentle into my personal good night is one reason I have embraced medical aid in dying. Those drugs will send me on my way quietly without a prolonged period of decline or pain.

The fly in this otherwise well-planned ointment is how strongly I am still attached to our world: pandemic, economy, Trump, election, Black Lives Matter, climate change. It may not be pleasant right now but it is certainly the most interesting time during which I have lived.

I so much want to see some of the outcome - the election being number one – while also taking my leave NOT “raging against the dying of the light.”

You can tell this has become a mild obsession because I've written about it here before – recently even: what I worry about is that my diseases will become difficult enough that the only good choice is to depart but my connection to the world will not have dwindled or dropped away. I surely do not want to die clutching for more.

But I have no earthly idea of how to be certain of that.

While making notes for this blog post, I listened to recordings by a variety of people reading this poem. You would be surprised how many there are online. The actor Anthony Hopkins does a lovely job of it:

For a work as powerful as Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, it seems only right to also include the poet himself:

Are You Aging Successfully?

Tap any given expert on old age and you'll get a definition of successful aging that goes something like this one:

“The term successful aging was made popular in 1987, when the scientists John Wallis Rowe and Robert Kahn published an influential book entitled Successful Aging,” writes Alan D. Castel, in Forbes.

“Rowe and Kahn stated that successful aging involved three main factors: (1) being free of disability or disease, (2) having high cognitive and physical abilities, and (3) interacting with others in meaningful ways.”

Since 1987, others have quibbled with that definition but whatever else they include – e.g. meaningfulness, work you enjoy, personal happiness – they all fall back on that big three: freedom from disease, high cognition and physical capabilities, and social engagement.

If Rowe's and Kahn's is the definitive definition, I have failed aging by two-thirds. On the minus side, I have two debilitating diseases that limit my physical activity. On the plus side, I think my mind is doing fine but who knows, and I have more than enough social life even within the limits of my diseases and the pandemic.

Successful aging has always seemed to be a phony construct to me. My first reaction, whenever the phrase turns up, is “As opposed to what – failed aging? That seems to be the point of the people to trade in this idea – to force a pass/fail grade on aging.

None of the “experts” that I've read have anything to say about failing aging.

It doesn't come up directly even though it is obliquely implied. But I suspect they are thinking of me if anyone brings up the question.

The medical people who discuss successful aging stress that it begins at an early age. Here are some of the predictors taken from a variety of sources:

Happy marriage
Higher levels of education
Purpose in life
Physical health
Don't drink alcohol to excess
Don't smoke cigarettes

Me? Divorced. High school graduate, no college. No discernible purpose in life. Smoked cigarettes for years. So I lose on every point except physical health (when younger) and alcohol consumption.

As to those three original indicators for a successful old age, one or the other of those two diseases I have will kill me before too long, and my physical capabilities are severely limited now. I can still care for myself but it's hard even to take the trash out to the bins.

That sounds like a good definition of failed aging. And yet...

And yet, I'm fine with my old age. I refuse to say I am aging successfully because I don't believe in the idea. (Do people have successful childhoods? Or are there people to fail childhood? Do some fail teen years or adulthood? I haven't ever seen those other stages of life generally defined as failure.)

A lot of what is written about successful aging comes from people who haven't yet reached old age and although I doubt they would see it this way, they tend to believe that old people should behave like younger adults – 30, 40, 50 or so.

At other times, they deal in stereotypes of old people. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and psychologist whose most recent book, Successful Aging, was published early this year, told a PBS interviewer that it is difficult for old people to change their views or to look at something differently:

”...you have to fight that,” he said. “I think we have to avoid complacency as we get older because we do tend to get set in our ways.

“We tend to want to look at things the same way. We want to go to the same restaurant that we know is going to give us a good meal. We want to hang out with the same friends who we know we're not going to make us feel bad about ourselves.

“But we have to fight that because the influx of new ideas and challenging our conventional modes of thinking is important brain food, not just our individual health but the health of the larger community.”

Well, where to start? Set in our ways? Let's take Levitin's example: until the pandemic changed all our lives, a friend and I had lunch together every week at the same restaurant. How is that possibly an indication of unsuccessful aging?

Good friends sharing a meal at a restaurant with food we liked, and some quiet time together? That sounds like a plus in life to me.

Further, I wonder how strange a person needs to be to assume meeting someone new would result in him or her saying something bad about me? If there are those who don't like to meet new people, I doubt that is the reason.

And complacency? Ask any old person about the constant adaptations to daily life we must make due to age-related changes such as balance issues, dropping things, reduced energy and stamina, pain from a disease such as arthritis or cancer, etc. etc.

Oh wait, I forgot – having a disease or two means you have not aged successfully.

I don't buy it. “It” being the entire idea of successful aging. I think we age, period. Some people try their damndest to look younger than they are and usually wind up looking foolish. There are others who complain endlessly about how much they dislike getting old and just become bores.

One way or another, we all grow old. We do it sometimes at wildly different rates of change - some with greater physical burdens than others and I think as often as not, that is the luck of the draw, a bit of genetics and, as in my case, too many cigarettes.

That's water under the bridge. I can't change it now. And my two diseases, whatever the so-called experts say, do not make me an unsuccessful old person.

Life is precious and at this end of it, too short to waste time chasing a make-believe success. If you have limitations, let them be your guide. Enjoy the things you can. Honor these late years by living as fully as you desire and are capable of.

And do not believe anyone who tries to label your old age a success or failure.

Enough With Crazy Politicians

It has been going on for so long that it is hard now to remember what life was like before we had so many crazy politicians.

How about, just for the length of this blog post, we all try to rewind our mindset to a time past when politicians (with a few notable exceptions) mostly dealt in ordinary graft that could be reprehensible but not dangerous or life-threatening to people and our nation.

So-called leaders like that believe only that they deserve a bit more than the rest of us and take advantage of their positions to get it, but they aren't crazy. Now we live with daily crazy. Just this week:

The Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, following the killing of George Floyd had dwindled to fewer than about 50 people in the streets near the federal courthouse when the president – the crazy-in-chief - sent in paramilitary soldiers to quell what he calls “riots.”

Those unidentified troops have snatched protesters off the street or bombarded them with pepper spray, flash bangs, tear gas and more until the number of protesters swelled again to thousands each night. CRAZY

Hydroxychloroquine as both a preventive and treatment for coronavirus is back again this week. Several members of the Trump family, including the president, have promoted the video of a Houston physician, Stella Imannuel, who says she has cured hundreds of people with the drug.

She also says that women can become pregnant by having sex with demons in their dreams, that doctors create medicines from alien DNA and that doctors are also working on a vaccine to make people immune to becoming religious. Trump tweeted the video promoting her beliefs. CRAZY

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Wednesday asked the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy to rescind its plan to ban hydroxychloroquine saying the choice should be between patient and doctor. CRAZY

When Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) tested positive for coronavirus this week, he said he could have contracted as a result of wearing a mask. CRAZY

In an attack on mail-in ballots, Trump suggested that the November election be delayed to avoid massive fraud thereby asking the people to forget that A: he does not have the authority to do that, Congress does and B: more than 20 states already have versions of vote by mail and anyway, it is up to individual states to determine how their citizens vote. CRAZY

Stating that many people think it is fake news, Trump said he did not discuss, in a recent telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the issue of Russia offering bounties to those who kill American soldiers. CRAZY (and traitorous)

If you are anything like me, that little list – as awful as it is - doesn't seem to be enough to get exercised about because it is only one week's worth and we know how much overall craziness I have omitted.

But I think we are wrong about that. Instead, I suspect we are no longer capable of returning our minds to that time when politics in Washington was not crazy.

We have forgotten what it was like when we saw the president on television once or twice a week if he was introducing a visiting foreign dignitary, perhaps, or signing a bill in the Rose Garden or on rare occasions, speaking to us of important matters from the Oval Office.

Now for nearly four years we have been living with a vulgar manchild overflowing with grievances for perceived slights. Every day. Have you ever seen him laugh, genuinely laugh in enjoyment of anything? Of course not. He feels only anger and resentment.

There is one more group of American crazies, millions of them. The people, like some Congress members, who refuse to wear a mask.

Some have been known to spit on store employees who ask them to mask up, some believe not wearing a mask is a macho political statement and some even think there is no such thing as the virus. CRAZY Not to mention, stupid.

Make no mistake: people who refuse to wear masks are killing people. That's not hyperbole or fake news. it is fact.

Yes, yes, yes. I know we are not supposed to say such things aloud but I have no reason to care anymore what people think so here goes: anyone who refuses to wear a mask and to maintain distancing deserves to die. I have no sympathy beyond those who may mourn them.

There is way too much crazy and too much crazy-stupid in this country. It has infected millions of Americans but it starts at the top.

This is not a Republican versus Democrat matter. It is about saving lives and our sanity. Whatever else Joe Biden may be, he is not crazy. Trump and his enablers are.

Famous Last Words

The final words a dying person utters have been noted for centuries – in some cases, a whole lot of centuries.

In 1078 BC, just before he pulled down the pillars killing himself and 3,000 others, Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines.”

The Buddha, in 483 BC said this, they say: "All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness.”

Whether last words seem to be in character or not, in many cases it is impossible to know if the person actually said that or if someone made it up after his/her death.

Which doesn't make last words any less interesting to read. Here is a small handful that feel to me to be in character:

Groucho Marx: “This is no way to live.” (1977)

Sir Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” (1955)

Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, for the fog is rising.” (1886)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "The taste of death is upon my lips...I feel something, that is not of this earth." (1791)

One of my favorite last-word stories concerns John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States. They were both major players in inventing their new country and they each died on the same day which happened to be – drum roll: Independence Day, 4 July 1826.

What could possibly be more fitting for either of them.

Jefferson died in his home in Virginia. History remembers his last words as: "Is it the Fourth? I resign my spirit to God, my daughter, and my country."

Adams, at home in Massachusetts, is said to have spoken these last words: "Thomas Jefferson survives."

What Adams did not know is that Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

I also like last words that comment on dying itself or appear to speak to us from the other side.

Albert Einstein when he declined surgery the day before he died: "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." (1955)

(Those probably were not Einstein's absolute final words, but let's go with it anyway.)

Cotton Mather: "Is this dying? Is this all? Is this what I feared when I prayed against a hard death? Oh, I can bear this. I can bear this." (1728)

Thomas Edison: "It's very beautiful over there." (1931)

All this dying last words stuff came to mind when TGB reader Salinda Dahl left this comment on Monday's post:

”I hope when your time comes it's beautiful and thrilling...which I believe is at least 50% possible. Remember Steve Jobs? As he was dying, he kept saying, 'Wow! Oh Wow!'

Yes! Oh yes! That had slipped my mind. I did some checking around the web to see if those last words are confirmed and came across them in his sister's eulogy for him:

”Steve’s final words,” wrote Mona Simpson, “hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.

“Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

“Steve’s final words were:


Of course, we don't know what he was experiencing that was wow-inspiring. But wouldn't it be a fine ending if one's last earthly moment is something of beauty and joy.