641 posts categorized "Journal"

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.

Darlene Costner: 1925 – 2020

Just short of two months ago in these pages, we celebrated Darlene Costner's 95th birthday. Today we mourn her. I received a note from her daughter, Gail, early Monday morning saying, “Mom is at peace now.”

DarleneCostner2016BFor many years, Darlene kept a blog, Darlene's Hodgepodge, in which she covered her many interests. One, politics, took a strong lead on her blog. With strong opinions, too. She was a smart, informed and passionate advocate of the left-leaning variety.

I don't remember when I first met Darlene. Actually, we never met in person. Undoubtedly, our blogs brought us together or, rather, I can't imagine how we would have otherwise found one another – she in Arizona and me in Maine at the time.

We were internet friends, that new kind of personal connection that our generation has learned in late life and that in some cases is no less close or important than if we were next-door neighbors. Darlene was one of those for me.

Another blogger Darlene kept in touch with is Jan Adams who blogs at Where is the Way Forward? Lucky Jan, she and Darlene met in person. But let her tell us:


"I only met Darlene Costner once; we connected via Ronni's blog. One day in 2013 when she was visiting her daughter in the Bay Area, we met for lunch in San Francisco's Japantown and happily chatted for several hours about the places around the world that we'd seen - and still wished to see.

"In her last years, travel wasn't possible for her, but she never lost interest in a wide world, sending along her internet discoveries to a far flung list of friends. I hope to retain a similar curiosity and openness to the new as I age further."

When age was catching up with Darlene and slowing her down, she stopped writing her blog, but for a long time after that, she was a prolific contributor of items for the Saturday Interesting Stuff post. I'm including one of those today because it so exemplifies her excellent eye and good taste.

It is a video from 2013, created by a student who used the screen name drivinman687. From the Youtube page:

”My final project I made for my video productions class Cutaway Productions at my high school. I don't own the rights to the song or the pictures and I am not trying to claim them, I just did this video for fun and i spent many a hour on it.”

And it is amazingly beautiful and seems most appropriate to Darlene:

So today let us celebrate the life of the indomitable Darlene Costner. As I said on her birthday post, she was my friend, my old age mentor and I cannot imagine my life all these years without her friendship, her wisdom and her sense of humor.

Farewell, Darlene.


Some Questions, Some Answers and Some Information

Last Friday's post about Questions produced a few queries I can actually answer. Let's start with the life-after-death thread readers carried forward.

Gail asked,

”How do you feel when you read a posting like the one above? I’m rolling my eyes! I’m pretty sure you might not answer - and I understand.”

The “posting like the one above” Gail references is a story from Andrea Bonette about a supernatural experience of her father's. There was a mini-backlash from two or three other readers labeling Gail's comment rude.

I don't see it that way. She made her point and asked a question. Me? I've never experienced communication with a dead person and I don't spend a lot of time with events that cannot be proved.

The point of such stories, of course, is the hope that there is life after death, that we - our individual consciousness - survive in some recognizable form after we die. Generally, I don't believe that. Everyone else should believe whatever they like.

Adie van der Veen asked,

”Do you think back to the time you took a psilocybin trip? It made such an impact on you, especially around your fear of death. Do the memories help? Would you consider taking another trip...?”

What my “magic mushroom” trip in December 2017 did was allow me to feel, to a degree I had never felt before, one with the universe. Recently, reading physicist Alan Lightman's Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, I realized his description of a transcendent experience describes my own better than I ever have – not literally, but certainly in spirit.

”After a few minutes, my world had dissolved into that star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity.”

“...I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute.”

“...after my experience in that boat...I understood the powerful allure of the Absolutes – ethereal things that are all encompassing, unchangeable, eternal, sacred. At the same time, and perhaps paradoxically, I remained a scientist. I remained committed to the material world.”

Like Lightman, I do not dismiss the experience but I am also fiercely connected to the material world, the measurable and provable.

Would I do it again? Certainly. But it's unlikely to happen. Working with a guide is expensive and if the experience has faded a bit, it is not gone.

dkzody asked,

”Ronni, you've not mentioned your son and grandson lately. Would love to hear how they are faring through the pandemic.”

For those who don't know, about two and a half years ago, as the result of a commercial DNA test, I was contacted by the son I gave up for adoption when I was 21 years old.

He, his wife and his six-year-old son live about a 45-minute drive from my home. We speak once a week and visit now and then. They are, like most of us, sheltering at home and are doing well. In fact, my grandson just learned how to ride a bicycle - no more training wheels.

Laurel asked, “Will Elder Music continue being posted on your site, or somewhere else?”

That Sunday column is written by Peter Tibbles, my friend who lives in Melbourne, Australia. After I die, the ten-plus years of his posts will remain available on this blog but new ones will not be added because – ahem - I won't be here to post them.

Peter is thinking over if he will start a blog of music columns and you, dear readers, will be the first to know what he decides.

Both dkzody and Elaine of Kalilily asked me to update and post the Elderbloggers List. Here is the story on that:

The Elderbloggers List is a collection of many blogs not necessarily about ageing but which are written by old people. For many years, I updated it regularly – deleting those that had disappeared from the web and adding new ones as I discovered them.

The problem now (and for the past two or three years) is that an update takes two or three or more weeks of my time. Every current link (hundreds) must be checked to see if they still exist or are still active.

New ones must be checked for literacy, interest, frequency of publishing and to eliminate any that are commercial in nature. More time. Then all the coding to make it look good and be functional.

What has happened with my diseases, accelerating in the past six months or so, is that I tire easily even without putting out much effort. So nowadays, I have about eight hours a day to accomplish everything most people (and me in the past) do in a full 16-hour day.

And, three or four times a week, I seem to need a midday lie-down for an hour. More time gone. Plus, in addition to the few useful hours I have in a day, even less gets done because I'm slower now too.

So, the Elderbloggers List saw its last update in 2005, and so it shall remain. You will find the list here and there is always a link to it under the header, Features, in the right sidebar of every page of this blog.

Terri asked,

”I have one question. Prior to this blog did you ever write or edit in your career? I ask because you are such a good writer. Ok. I lied, maybe two. Is Veronica your birth name?

Yes, Veronica is my birth name but I have always been called Ronni. The only time my mother ever used my full first name was when I was in trouble.

Beginning in 1995, for three years I was the first managing editor of cbsnews.com. For 30-odd years before that I wrote for television news and interview programs and some documentaries which is a whole different thing from writing for print.

But writing words to be spoken by hosts and interviewers greatly improved my prose writing.

What I aim for, in addition to being as engaging as possible, is clarity and (except in certain fiction and poetry), I am intolerant of ambiguity. What I deliberately borrowed from writing for television is that the words and paragraphs sound good aloud. I always “listen” to what I'm writing and when I've done it well, people should be able to “hear” the words in their minds as they read.

If you want to improve your writing, read, read and read – good and bad. It's all useful. And that is the sum total of what I know about writing.

Good Days and Not So Good Days

BLOG HOUSEKEEPING REMINDER: As announced on Monday, beginning next Monday (20 July 2020) Time Goes By will no longer be published on Facebook. If you want to continue to read TGB, you can subscribe in the right sidebar of the website for email delivery.

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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.

Me and Oregon's Death With Dignity Act and The Alex and Ronni Show

[See below for the latest Alex and Ronni Show in which we chatter on about cats, hospice, medical workers, the virus, New York subways, a little bit of Trump, New Yorkers' attitude. Early in the video I mention that if we had not divorced, we would now have been married 65 years. Uh, that would be 55 years. So much for my on-the-spot math skills.]

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Death With Dignity Act (DWDA) is the formal name of the law that allows terminally ill Oregon adults to end their lives by administering to themselves a dose of lethal medication.

My doctors refer to this as Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) which I much prefer to the state's name.

On Wednesday this week, I spent 15 or 20 minutes with the physician who manages this program at the medical center where I have been treated for cancer and COPD for the past three years.

We had spoken at length some weeks ago, so I was familiar with the law, with the details of how it works and what happens when a patient takes the drug.

This time, the doctor went over the legal requirements again, asked me the formal, verbal questions the state requires, and then emailed an official form entitled, “Request for Medication To End My Life in a Humane and Dignified Manner.”

You can see that document online here (pdf).

For such a monumental decision, it's not much of a form. Just a few declarations on my part and the signatures of two witnesses.

None of this is new to me. I've written about MAID in general over the years in these pages. I've known since years before my cancer diagnosis that I prefer this way of death to lingering beyond the time when I can enjoy daily life and/or care for myself.

Still, when I printed out the form on Wednesday and read through it on not just an ephemeral screen of pixels but solid paper, I felt a mild chill on the back of my neck and down my spine. I got light-headed for a minute or so.

A goodly part of me says that it is one thing to die on the universe's time frame and quite another to choose one's own time. Some call that suicide and they are not wrong.

That charge, however, doesn't resonate with me. The facile response is, “Hey, it's my life” but many of the world's religions condemn suicide, and the restraints against it are ancient. They can't be ignored by any thinking person, even someone like me who at best is agnostic but much closer to atheist.

Which doesn't mean I don't take seriously the many admonitions against suicide from learned people through the millennia. For a large part of my life, suicide was so taboo in American culture that relatives often hid the truth when a family member took his or her life.

Life is precious and as I mentioned a few days ago, I am so sad to be leaving Earth. But I am also a realist and I have made this choice. I expect to be comfortable with it when the time comes, but nothing says I can't change my mind if it comes to that.

In October 2018, when I had just been told there was no more useful treatment for my cancer, I wrote this about being terminally ill:

”For as long as I can remember, I have been curious about dying. When I have explained myself through the years, I've said that I want to be awake, lucid, not drugged or in pain because I want to experience the event of dying as clearly as possible. It is the last great mystery of life and I don't want to miss it.”

But now a monkey wrench has been thrown into the plan. If/when I use the MAID drugs, I will go into a coma within a few minutes. It is unlikely in that state that I will experience dying in the way I anticipated. Damn.

Roseanne Roseannadanna was right, “It's always something.”

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Here's this week's episode of The Alex and Ronni Show.

You can check out Alex's online talk show here.

Meltdown Monday

I felt it building and then it hit me hard. Suddenly I couldn't think straight, my mind skipping from one unfinished thought to the next, to the next, to the next and me unable to stop them or even make sense of them.

At the same time I knew I was out of control but I didn't know how to calm down and articulate what was wrong. It felt too complicated to explain and the words wouldn't come. All I knew for sure was that I wanted it all to stop and the problem to be made right.

In the three years since my first diagnosis, I had never reacted to anything this badly. You say I've got pancreatic cancer? Oh good, I can stop my despised daily workout routine.

You say I might live longer if you slice me open all the way down the front of my body and take out a bunch of my organs? Well, okay, let's try it.

Now you say I've got COPD too? Oh, for god's sake. Well, tell me how to deal with it and let's move on.

It's not that I took any of these events anywhere near lightly – only that I am good at identifying what cannot be changed, sorting out options and getting on with the more interesting parts of life.

But not this time, and for something that should have been so much simpler than those real-life examples above.

There I was at the table in my dining room mid-morning on Monday, full of frustration, salty tears running down my face while stuttering out unrelated words and phrases to my hospice nurse on the other side of the table.

I will spare you the most boring details and just say that the discount on the gigantic co-pay for a drug I need and cannot otherwise afford, is expiring in August. I was able to get the discount a year ago due to the kind intervention of a pharmacist.

When, on Monday, my nurse called the pharmacy to discuss renewal of the discount, the person on the telephone insisted that the pharmacy had taken no part in the original arrangement for the discount, that it could have happened only if I had personally spoken with my Medicare Part D provider.

That's just not true. I was there. I know what happened.

My nurse's further call to a physician only complicated the issue and nothing was resolved.

Now that I'm back to my normal, uncrazed self, I think I know what really set off my meltdown. It was the lie from the person at the pharmacy, a lie she repeated at least once and maybe twice, word for word. The certainty in her voice was infuriating and unnerving. (Remind you of anyone?)

When you know for sure, when you can see with your own eyes that the sky is blue and someone insists it is red, your mind can splinter. Or go numb. Or, if you are an old woman like me who needs a specific drug to breathe, you just lose it. Or, at least, I did.

There was a time – for most of my adult life - when I had a talent for sorting out malfunctions, getting past petty bureaucrats and charming intransigent helpers into fixing a problem. I took some pride in being able to do those things.

Now I'm old. I'm tired. Sometimes my body hurts in various places. I lack the patience I once had for cajoling people into doing what they are paid to do. And after my Monday meltdown, I lost the rest of the day, exhausted from the frustration and the anxiety.

Eventually this will work out but there is a larger issue: it's not nice to treat an old woman this way, and I don't mean just me. I'm not unique – if it happens to me, it happens to thousands of other people. It shouldn't be this hard to talk over a prescription problem and track down the right person to help deal with it.

And many of all those other people stuck in a communication snakepit don't have a nurse as dedicated as mine.

UPDATE: Monday afternoon, that nurse spent two hours of her own time on many phone calls tracking down someone who understood the problem and could deal with it. She phoned me Monday evening to let me know that I should hear within three days whether I have been approved for a continued discount.

At 9AM Tuesday, I received the approval via a telephone message from the Part D insurer. My relief knows no bounds and I am deeply impressed with my nurse on several levels. The terrible thing is that in our new coronavirus world I cannot hug her.

Journal: Some Jumbled Thoughts in Late Life

Along with all your loving-kindness and warm comments on Monday's hospice blog post, what a terrific bunch of personal stories, too, about your experiences with hospice including those that were not so positive.

The word “angel” came up a lot to describe hospice workers and I agree even with my (so-far) short relationship with them.

I could quote just about all of you but there are too many (you can read comments at the link above) so I will settle for two.

There are quite a few nurses among you and I sure do appreciate your input. Plus, Marian Methner told us about being part of a group creating the first hospice in Michigan almost half a century ago. The rest of us might not have this service today without people like her who did the heavy lifting to make it happen.

And I love what Harold had to say: “Resist a little, there's no rush.” Good point, Harold. I'm going to work on that.

What got left out of Monday's story is what I am thinking about this new stage in my life, and how it feels.

In the past I've told you that I have always used writing to help me figure out what often are muddled or incoherent or conflicting emotions. Sometimes over the years of this blog, I've cleaned up those personal scribbles and included them when it seemed to help tell whatever the story was.

Because thoughts and feelings have been all a-jumble since last Fridays' meeting with the nurse who spent four hours explaining to me what hospice is and how it works, maybe I will do that a bit more frequently now, call it “Journal” in the headline and see how it goes - for me and for you.

Here is today's stab at it, thoughts and feelings that have taken up some time in my mind since Friday.

Let me get this off my chest right up front: dying in the middle of a pandemic sucks. Just when holding a hand, giving a hug, or a kiss hello and goodbye might be more life-enhancing than ever before, we can't do that. And it makes me weepy.

Then I think of the thousands of people who are dying every day alone, without their families and sometimes not even a nurse to hold their hand.

So I move on. It's not that I can dismiss or not long for human touch (nitrile glove to nitrile glove doesn't do the job), but that's where we are and there is no changing it.

In a more visceral way than at any other time in the past three years, I am aware that my time is almost done. A month? Six months? Longer? I don't know. Some days or, more likely, nights when I can't sleep for a while, I'm shaken by the prospect of not being here anymore.

Other times, I feel serene and ready, that it's okay, that it is what is ordained by the universe and now it is my turn.

Those feelings are not anywhere near as clear-cut as those sentences may sound. Sometimes I try to imagine my little world here in Oregon, in my apartment or the nearby park without me and I cannot make being gone feel real. How could it be?

That sometimes turns into, how hard could it be to die? Every damned fool who ever lived has done it.

I keep waiting for my interest in the world around me to wane. I watched both my mother and my great aunt Edith disengage over the last months or years of their lives. I've read that it is a common phenomenon as people get closer to death.

All I've noticed so far is that I don't get quite as far into the weeds of news stories as I have done in the past. But I'm still following the latest political, virus and other stories closely.

What I still feel – maybe with more poignancy these days – is a deep attachment to the world around me. It's not my world anymore but I worry about how we, as a country, are failing at all the astronomical problems - pandemic, climate change, collapsed economy, racial unrest, the horror that is the president – piling up around us.

Not that I personally can change anything, but it nevertheless feels like I will be abandoning my best old friend at the worst possible time. As tattered and worn as she seems to be these days, Earth in all her glorious beauty has been my home all these years. I am so sad to be leaving.

Visiting Old Friends Plus The Alex and Ronni Show

Let me get past that too cute headline right away: the referenced “old friends” are books, my books. There have always been books. I have always called them my friends. I do not recall life without books.

In the last year or two, books have begun to accumulate in small-ish piles around the house mainly because I'm running short of shelf space but also out of laziness. Books impart a sense of coziness that the piles seem to enhance.

Just last week I wrote a bit about browsing through Still Here by Ram Dass (remember the frog story?) which has since led to me to search out my copies of some other books by him.

I am part way through Walking Each Other Home written with his life-long friend Mirabai Bush which was published a year or so before Ram Dass died in 2019. It is subtitled, “Conversations on Loving and Dying”. The book is also about living because talking about death is not possible without talking about life.

Do you mark up your books? I do. I highlight the parts I think I will want or need to read again. Of course, the problem with that is in time I forget the context of the highlighted portion so I need to back up and read the lead-in and next thing I know I'm re-reading the whole book.

Ram Dass has been talking (and teaching) about death and dying pretty much since we, the public, first became aware of him in the 1960s. While tracking down some information about him the other day, I came across a print interview done when yet another of his books, Polishing the Mirror, was published in 2014.

The interview was conducted by journalist and author David Crumm who has covered religion and spirituality throughout his long career. The full conversation is worth your time but these two excerpts stick with me.

”RAM DASS: When you get old, everything changes - your body changes, your family changes. You can’t do what you’ve always done, anymore. And, either you can complain about things changing - or you can be content. Instead of complaining, you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

As I spend some of my time these days taking stock of my 79 years, the surprises are sometimes about how lucky I have been. Not lucky in riches or love, but in ideas that have served me well. I can't claim to have arrived at them from deliberate study or contemplation or even having idly wondered about them. They were just there for me when I needed them.

One of them is precisely what Ram Dass says about growing old in that quotation: “...you can say: 'Oh, yesss! Look at all this change!' You can welcome it.”

This entire blog for more than 16 years is the product of that idea that came to me sometime in the early 2000s when I was first researching what it is really like to get old.

What I slowly came to understand in the years that followed but did not actually grok until I read this interview is that old age is not a single stage of life. It is at least two, maybe three and could easily be several more than that. Ram Dass:

”DAVID: And now we’ve come full circle to our previous interview, haven’t we? I remember interacting with you, at that time, just a few years after your stroke when Still Here was coming out - and that book supposedly held your teachings on Aging, Changing and Dying.”

”RAM DASS: (Still smiling broadly.) When we talked, I had written that book about what I thought aging and dying was all about. But I was in my 60s. Now, I’m in my 80s and this new book talks about what it’s really like.

“Now, I am aging. I am approaching death. I’m getting closer to the end. (He pauses, tilts his head back and looks out at the Pacific.) I was so naive when I wrote that earlier book. Now, I really am ready to face the music all around me. (And he laughs.)”

Me too. Or, at least I'm getting there. Thank you, Ram Dass.

* * *

On Wednesday, my former husband, Alex Bennett, and I recorded another episode The Alex and Ronni Show. We spent the greater portion of it with me haranguing him for complaining about not receiving his mail-in ballot for the recent primary election in New York and not taking any action to remedy the problem.

Although I believe it is the sacred duty of every citizen in a democracy to vote, I had no idea I was that adamant about each of us doing everything in our power to make it happen.

You can check out Alex's online talk show here.

How's the Pandemic Going For You?

Among many of the people I speak with regularly there are, these days and for a long time now, two topics of conversation: COVID-19 and Trump - except when one crosses over with the other producing a third topic, the mashup, Trumpvirus.

You would think by now that we would see each day's new Trump outrage as ho-hum. After all, he has been saying and doing stupid, corrosive, racist, corrupt, mean things and lying about them since he first rode down that escalator in Trump Tower in 2015.

Increasingly, it appears to me, the subject when friends and I speak is the mashup. Take yesterday. After Trump's minions insisted for two days that he was kidding in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he said he had ordered his people to slow down virus testing, he said he never kids. He really did order a virus test slowdown, he told the cameras.

How deeply grotesque is that? Hand washing, distancing and testing are the only tools we have against the pandemic. Puny as they are, they're all we've got. What kind of hideous monster deliberately sabotages one of them?

And yet, mostly now I am so deeply weary, so depleted by his daily attacks on this, that and everyone he thinks has done him wrong (which is everyone, apparently, except his henchman Bill Barr), that I just want it to stop. Just please stop.

Sometimes I remind myself that I won't be here to see whatever the outcome will be like from the virus, the trashed economy, the Black Lives Matter movement and even Trump. I can't do anything.

But as helpless as I am, I still care. And most of all, the problem is Trump.

Some countries like New Zealand, Iceland, Australia and much of western Europe have shown us what good leadership could have looked like against the virus in the United States. Too bad for us.

People keep getting sick by the tens of thousands a day. People keep dying. Hospitals are running out of beds again. And PPE too. And here's what no one I've seen has said: Trump doesn't care. It's true. He doesn't care.

There are days when the awfulness of it all just paralyzes me. Today is one of them. How about you?

When You Stop Chasing the Wind

Saturday was the third anniversary of my Whipple surgery, that 12-plus-hours-long procedure available to about 20 percent pancreatic cancer patients. The procedure involves the removal of part of the pancreas, the entire gall bladder, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach along with a few other bits and pieces.

The five-year survival rate after the Whipple is 20 to 25 percent. Given that the five-year survival rate for all pancreatic cancer patients is under 10 percent, I have been living on golden time.

(I've sometimes wondered why the medical community chose five years for measuring survival rates. Three years with such a dire disease seems pretty good to me.)

The odd thing is that I don't recall noticing the date on the first and second anniversaries. Surely I must have made note of them but who knows. I've discovered during this journey that my mind sometimes has a mind of its own.

On the day I was given my diagnosis, I had no trouble deciding I would not pursue what are politely called “alternative cancer treatments” but should be labeled quackery. (See this report on a 2019 Yale Cancer Center study of alternative cancer treatments.)

My reasoning then was (and still is) that the doctors and nurses who have been treating cancer for years know a whole lot more than I do about what works and what doesn't and that if there were a miracle cure, we would all know about it.

So I put myself in hands of the medical people, followed their instructions carefully and here I am these three years later.

What is far less straightforward and for which there are no doctors and nurses to help, is the question of how to live with a deadly disease day in and day out for whatever time is granted. Shouldn't something change?

For nearly six months after the Whipple I was in recovery mode with energy and physical capabilities severely limited. Without putting a whole lot of thought to it during that time, I continued to write this blog - sitting at a computer doesn't impinge much on one's body – as I gradually regained my strength.

The doctors and particularly the nurses were good at explaining chemotherapy side effects when that treatment was started and except for two or three days after an infusion, life was close to what it had been before cancer (and in 2019, COPD) intruded.

It was then that I began thinking more earnestly about whether I was spending my time in the best possible way. Generally, I've settled for continuing to do the simple things I've attended to each day since I was first made aware of the cancer.

Still, death seems to be such a monumental event that it should require a proportional response. I'm not saying that's true, just that it feels that way sometimes and the intrusion of that thought interrupts the comfort of my routine.

Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi came close to saying what I think I am experiencing – or, beginning to experience - in the last entry of the journal he wrote which was published after his 2016 death as When Breath Becomes Air:

”Everyone succumbs to finitude,” he wrote. “I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past.

“The future, instead of the ladder toward goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

Since I'm still asking the question now and then, I haven't reached the state of being-here-now that Kalanithi describes. But I think he's right and I also think that if I'd just leave myself alone, I'm heading in that direction and doing just fine.

From Sex to Old Age, From Ram Dass

My library of books on ageing, death and dying numbers in the hundreds, most of them collected over the past 25 years. I've never cleaned out the detritus so quite a few that were not worth the effort to read still hang around on shelves.

Even so, no matter what interests me at a given moment in regard to those subjects, there is always someone within all those pages of the worthy books who knows more than I do or can say it so much better than I or who is wiser than I could hope to be.

Now and then, I pull out a book at random. Earlier this week, it was Still Here – Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying by Ram Dass, a man I had first encountered when he still called himself Richard Alpert and, with Timothy Leary, studied the therapeutic effects of psychedelic drugs at Harvard.

(You remember LSD, “Tune in, Turn on and Drop Out,” etc. from the 1960s, don't you? If not, you'll find a brief overview of Ram Dass's life at Wikipedia.)

He first attracted my attention with the psychedelic work and I never stopped reading him thereafter.

Flipping through the book this week, I stopped at a chapter about how our roles in life change as we grow older. He opens one section on dwindling interest in sex with a wonderfully funny frog story that is so good it would be enough by itself for today's blog post. And so I'll tell it to you verbatim:

”An older man is walking down the street one afternoon when he hears a voice saying, 'Pssst – could ya help me out?' He looks around but there's nobody there.

“He starts to walk on, and again he hears, 'Pssst – could ya help me out?' Once again he stops and looks around, and again, there's nobody to been seen. But this time he looks more carefully, and happens to glance down at the sidewalk, where he sees a huge frog.

“Though he's a little embarrassed to be talking to a frog, he asks: 'Did you speak to me?'

“Much to the man's surprise, the frog answers. 'Yes, indeed. Could ya help me out?'

“The man is intrigued and asks, 'Well, what do you want?'

“The frog replies, 'Well, I'm under a curse. If you would kiss me, I would be freed of the curse and I would turn into a beautiful woman who would love you and serve you. I would care for you, warm your bed, and make you so happy!'

“The man stands there for a moment, reflecting, and then picks up the frog, puts it into his pocket, and walks on. After a few minutes the frog says, 'Hey! You forgot to kiss me.'

“And the man says, 'You know, at my age, I think it might be more interesting to have a talking frog.'”

Isn't that fun twist on the old kiss-a-frog story? I must have read it when the book was published in 2000 - I know because the story is highlighted in yellow – but it was as fresh this time as if it were brand new to me. (So much for my memory.)

Ram Dass takes off from there to discuss how we feel our diminishing sexual passions as a loss and wonder, perhaps, who or what we are without those feelings.

”Well into my 50s,” writes Ram Dass, “I spent a great deal of energy on my sexual appetites, and on appearing sexually attractive to those around me. The older I became, however, the less power that sexual currency seemed to wield.

“People seemed to treat me differently – they treated me with less desire but more respect, and at first this shift around ambivalent feelings...

“These regrets lasted for a number of years before I was able to settle down and relinquish the self-pity of the past.

“When this finally happened, I was amazed by how much more time and attention I had for other things in my life when the trumpets of sexual desire quieted down.”

That happened to me too, exactly so, and to other women Ram Dass spoke with who, he writes,

”...report confusion, if not distress, over how the culture views them once their roles – as sex object, wife, or mother – are taken away. As one woman said to me, 'I'll walk down the street, and nobody even sees me. I feel like I don't exist anymore.'”

I went through a long period – years – feeling just like that woman; I have even used the same words to describe it. Gradually, I came to accept and enjoy my place as an older and then old woman. (Writing a blog about what it's like to grow old for many years certainly helped.)

But that is a personal accomplishment, not a cultural one. Ram Dass notes that given the state of American society, younger people are not going to spontaneously ask for our insight and wisdom. It was 20 years ago he wrote that and not much has changed since then.

However, as I've discovered over many years of reading him, Ram Dass often has another answer:

“Aging consciously, we will naturally begin to manifest those qualities that our society needs in order to survive – qualities like sustainability, justice, patience, and reflection.

These are qualities that can only come from the space of dispassionate perceptual Awareness which age invites us to explore.”

“Awareness which age invites us to explore.”

At the risk of breaking an arm trying to pat myself on the back, I think this is what I have been doing, or trying to do especially since my cancer diagnosis, and it has been three years of the most productive and satisfying of my (inner) life.

Does any of this strike a chord with you?

TGB Readers and My Youthful Dream

The topics of blog posts here have always followed from my own current interests about ageing. Sometimes a checklist on how to avoid falling, for example, a complaint about misguided politicians threatening Medicare and Social Security or, starting three years ago, what it's like to live with a terminal disease.

Now, I've read your many wonderful responses to Wednesday's post about living with the new-ish knowledge that the end of my earthly journey approaches.

Your kindness about this journal overwhelms me. Modesty leads me to dismiss you who comment here as giving me way too much credit. But. But. There is something else now: you, your attention and your responses have fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Let me explain.

While reading your comments on Wednesday's post (along with others in the near past), I recalled a time back in my teen years when I was hanging out alone in my bedroom one day. Probably I was 15 or 16 years old, getting toward the end of high school, and I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief? Actually, in the mid-1950s, there was not much for a girl to aspire to be except nurse, teacher, office worker and, of course, mother. None excited me. The only thing I actually wanted was to do something that made a positive difference in the world.

But what? I had no idea how I could do that. I continued thinking about it, looking for inspiration that never materialized. And when the thought occasionally popped up during adulthood, I still didn't know. Charitable giving isn't what I ever had in mind about this goal.

After graduation, there was a single imperative, to support myself. One thing led to another and after a few years of going-nowhere office jobs, I ended up with a long and varied media career – radio, television, internet. It was always an interesting way to pay the bills but I never confused it with making a difference in the world.

When paid employment came to an end in 2004, I had already begun this blog to record what I was learning from my spare-time, personal research into old age.

Back then, nearly everything written about it was negative. Getting old was mostly made out to be a fate worse than death and one was urged to do everything possible to avoid it or spend a fortune trying to look younger than we were.

For a long time, I was pretty much alone in the blogosphere – or anywhere else - trying to explain how foolish and life-defeating it is to spend up to a third of one's life disliking, even hating the number of one's years.

(That's no longer so. There are encouraging signs of individuals and people who are now called influencers taking a more positive view of age. Which is not to say that there isn't still too much television and internet advertising about how to look young forever. But it is changing. Slowly.)

Reading your comments Wednesday and again on Thursday, I had a revelation. I realized that I need to drop the phony modesty I have harbored through these 16 years and accept that the many people saying similar things about what they take away from this blog must be true.

Listen to just a few of them:

“You’ve inspired me to live fully, absorb losses, treasure surprises, and fume with passion.” (Paula)

“You inspire us to carry on with dignity no matter what misfortune may befall us.” (Ruth Marchese)

“[Y]ou helped me find an approach to aging.” (Mary Jamison)

“YOU are definitely having an impact and a very positive one!” (Rebecca Ann Magalhaes)

“This has helped me in giving workshops and also in living my own truth...” (wisewebwoman)

“Each of us carries something we learned from you, and we will keep sharing that with others.” (Wendl Kornfeld)

“A small plea. I hope your words of wisdom, as also peoples' comments, remain available for solace.” (Mary S)

Yesterday, I decided to believe you all (why would you bother to write such things if you did not believe them?) and in that moment, realized that here in old age, I have finally fulfilled my teenage dream.

I am awed and pleased that you find inspiration in my writings. I don't plan it that way, you know. Before cancer and COPD, I was exploring old age and passing on what I learned.

These past three years (Three years? It has gone by in a flash.), I have written about facing a terminal illness to find out what I think and how I feel in this predicament. In the process I find now that it has been important to you.

(Oh my god, is this my Sally Field moment? Oh well.)

I am thrilled. And weepy. Without you, I would never have understood that you, all of you, made my youthful dream come true. What an extraordinary gift. I am humbled and thank you with all my heart.

* * *

Now a couple of related housekeeping items.

In answer to Mary S's “plea” above. A few months after I was diagnosed, I asked the people at Typepad, the internet company that hosts this blog, what it would cost to purchase five years of hosting so it will be here for at least that long after I die.

They responded immediately, making my account free. They have always been an excellent host, hardly any down time in more than 16 years and excellent customer support via email – usually within an hour or two.

Also. On Wednesday several commenters sounded a bit like they expected TGB to end soon, something I interpreted to be within weeks or a couple of months.

Of course, I have no idea how long I will be here and I do not know how the course of the disease will affect me either physically or emotionally. But for the foreseeable future, I will publish here as usual.

That might seem odd to some – to keep scribbling away while facing the great unknown. But for 16 years, TimeGoesBy has given form and focus to my days. That is still true. So I will keep writing it for as long I can. It's what I do.

Winding Down a Life (or Not) in a Troubled Time

During the president's repugnant Bible photo op Monday evening, it struck me that I will not see the outcome of the extraordinary time we are living in.

They tell me I haven't long to live - “they” being the doctors. But even without the CT scan a couple of months ago, I knew that.

Not counting the pain during recovery from my Whipple surgery in 2017, which was significant, I had no pain until early March this year. Now it is an infrequent good day when random body pains don't intrude.

Mostly, it is the low-level kind of constant pain that grinds down one's energy and mind accompanied, in my case, by the darkest kind of thoughts. To counteract, I use over-the-counter pain killers liberally. They work (if you don't count the two hours it takes for them to kick in), and as to dosage warnings – oh, please. What does it matter now?

Also, my appetite is diminishing. I force myself to eat as much as possible to prevent frailty and it's not easy overcoming the urge to puke halfway through a meal.

Right now, I'm down two pounds from this time last month. (Do you know how hard I had to work at dieting most of my life to lose two pounds?)

Cancer and COPD together are robbing me of energy. I tire so easily that I sometimes need to nap in the afternoon, a time when I am done for the day doing anything that involves effort from body and mind.

Even reading is difficult later in the day. I understand each word but my focus is so weak I lose the thread of paragraphs and even sentences before I get to the end.

Due to my doubly damaged lungs – COPD and cancer – I'm fairly well freaked about COVID-19 so I'm overly careful about distancing, masks and disinfecting anything I bring into the house. Would that other supermarket shoppers cared as much.

It all sounds grim, doesn't it. But it's not. Discounting bleak thoughts when I haven't taken pain pills soon enough, I'm not unhappy and nowhere near miserable.

I'm adapting, as the diseases make necessary, to different living arrangements and I think that generally, most of us are like that. We make do quite well much of the time when circumstances require it.

You may recall that when I was first told I had pancreatic cancer three years ago, I immediately gave up my daily workout, having hated it for many years. Well, I'm back at it.

Those amazing nurses at pulmonary rehab showed me how exercise helps me breathe and I certainly know they're right because now, whenever I skip a day, I pay for it heaving for air if I move faster than a sickly old woman ought.

Last week, I was reminded of some sage advice from Darlene Costner when I quoted her in her birthday blog post about cutting back on housekeeping:

“I no longer care if my house is spotless,” she wrote...”I am aware that I am unable to do the hard work necessary. I shove it onto my list of things that I won’t worry about. Now I am more like Phyllis Diller who joked, 'I clean my house twice a year whether it needs it or not.'”

Me too, now.

The virus has made huge changes in all our lives. And now, following the death of a black man at the hands of white police, there is widespread civil unrest exacerbated by a ignorant, little boy president and his sycophantic, West Wing enablers.

Something big is happening in the United States. We already knew there would be no going back whenever the virus is contained. Now, whatever that new way of being, of living will be complicated by this eruption of often violent clashes and the divisions they are causing.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, I took part in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests and marches. My health doesn't allow participation this time, but I sure do want to see the eventual outcome, and what follows from that.

This time I won't and I am sorry about that. None of the fear, anger and disruption we are seeing now can be resolved in a few months or even years.

When I cared for my mother during her last several months and talked to my great Aunt Edith every week during the last two years of her life, I watched both of them, little-by-little, lose interest in and let go of the world and its events.

Ever since then, I have hoped their gradual withdrawal is a normal development as death approaches because I don't want to die feeling like I missed the last reel of the film.

As much as I yearn for this disinterest as my days dwindle down, for now I am still very much of this world, following events as closely as any previous time in my life. Curious, curious, curious and full of the can't waits to see how it turns out.

So, I choose to keep going for as long and as fully as I can or want in the time that remains. I choose to rise in the morning, be present each day, be kind to others and especially, to be as honest with myself - and with you in these pages – as I am capable.

Happy 95 Years, Darlene Costner

Today is Darlene Costner's 95th birthday. Imagine – she was born in 1925 when Calvin Coolidge was the U.S. president and she has seen 16 presidents.


Darlene and I have never met in person, but we have been internet friends since at least 2007. For a long time she ran her own blog, Darlene's Hodgepodge, where she held forth on whatever crossed her mind – always smart, frequently funny and where she never pulled any punches about how she felt regarding politicians and their behavior.

Darlene stopped writing her Hodgepodge blog in 2012, but it is still online if you would like to check it out.

Among her interests are music – she has played piano since she was three years old - reading, photography and travel. Oh, how she loved travel and often wrote about how much she misses it.

Back in 2008, I published a series of guest posts here that I called the Oldest Old Project – stories from readers who were at least 80 years old. Darlene was too busy elsewhere to contribute but I republished a story from her blog about her final trip abroad and how life was different at age 83 from 60.

In part, she wrote,

”I no longer care if my house is spotless. It used to be a matter of pride that my furniture was polished, the floors clean, the windows washed and all was in order. While I was never a Mrs. Felix Unger I did try to retain my image. No more.

“I think that might be a matter of self preservation because I am aware that I am unable to do the hard work necessary. I shove it onto my list of things that I won’t worry about. Now I am more like Phyllis Diller who joked, 'I clean my house twice a year whether it needs it or not.'

“My mental closet is full of things that I will think about tomorrow. I have become a regular Scarlett O’Hara.”

When I first read that in 2008, my life hadn't caught up with Darlene yet. Nowadays I know exactly how wise she was being. You can read that full essay here.

It is 12 years later now and the truth for all of us that if you live long enough you are likely to need more help day to day. A few months ago, Darlene moved into an elder care home and is not as active online.

Her daughter, Gail, said in an email recently that Darlene's physical health is good “but everything that's going on is taking a toll on her emotional health – like all of us,” and that the TGB community means the world to her.

Darlene is a remarkable woman – and not just for her many years. I've learned so much from her over the years about life, about enduring, about adapting. Oh, yes, about adapting. And we have also laughed and laughed together across the ether of the internet.

This is a story she sent for the Tuesday Reader Story feature that is posted here on Tuesdays. This one, from 2018, is titled, “The Elusive Monster.” It begins:

”There's a specter living in my house and his main purpose is to drive me insane. He is an evil prankster bent on making my life miserable.

“I first noticed his presence when he made all of my kitchen cabinets higher so that I can no longer reach the top shelf and even reaching the middle shelf forces me to stand on my toes.

“Then he must have howled with laughter as he knocked things from my hands, forcing me to clean up the ensuing mess. That wasn't enough fun for him so he lowered all the floors in my house.”

You can finish reading it here.

So let us celebrate the indomitable Darlene Costner on her 95th birthday. She is my friend, my old age mentor and I cannot imagine my life all these years without her friendship, her wisdom and her sense of humor.


Friday Blog Post – A Blast From the Past

Yesterday afternoon, I felt more tired than usual so I laid down for a short nap. I guess I was more tired than I thought because I didn't wake until past dinner time.

That wouldn't generally be a problem except that I had planned to spend the afternoon writing today's blog post.

You know how you feel sometimes after a heavy sleep? That you're not even sure where the bathroom is and coherent thought will take awhile? That was me. So you get a rerun today, a repeat story.

Although this post is more than four years old, it has been the number one most read post over the past two months. I have no idea why or how people found it, but there are you are.

It is titled, Have You Been Dropping More Things as You Get Older?, first published on 25 January 2016.

* * *

It is hard to be sure but it seems to be so for me. And it is really annoying.

For example, one day last week, I dropped a spoon on the kitchen floor. I picked it up, rinsed it off and as I reached for the towel, I dropped in again. Damn.

A day or two before that, I had dropped the shampoo bottle in the shower – a new, full one that barely missed my toes. Later that day, I dropped the two-quart, plastic box where I store the cat's dry food, scattering it all over the kitchen. Damn again.

Not long ago, I dropped a nine-inch butcher knife – that one could have been disastrous – but on another day I was lucky to be standing on a carpet when I dropped my mobile phone so it didn't break.

None of these occurrences is important individually and probably not even in their proximity to one another. But they made me wonder if dropping stuff is a “thing” with old people. So I took to the internet.

There is a lot of unsourced and untrustworthy health information online and that is always dangerous for “low information viewers,” as it were. The first I found was a large number of forums where people with no expertise were freely offering their uninformed opinions.

In answer to inquiries about dropping things, many instantly went to fear-mongering: Based on nothing at all, they advised people to see a doctor right away because it could be an early symptom of MS, ALS, Huntington's disease and more.

That's nuts. Those were anonymous forums, for god's sake. I hope no one takes them seriously.

Digging deeper at more reputable websites, I found that sometimes dropping things can be among the symptoms of serious disease but only one symptom, a minor one among dozens of others anyone would notice long before worrying about dropping something.

Checking further, I found that dropping things is not a big enough issue with growing old to warrant much notice.

In fact, a webpage of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for training elder home staff is the only direct mention of elders dropping things I found.

”The sense of touch changes,” they report. “In older adults the sense of touch may decrease as skin loses sensitivity. Pressure, pain, cold and heat do not feel the same as they used to feel. Decreases in touch sensitivity may cause residents to drop things.”

That reference to skin losing sensitivity reminded me that a few years ago, I discovered through personal experience that old people often cannot be fingerprinted, particulalry with electronic scanners, because their fingerprints are worn off.

When I wrote about that here three years ago, I quoted Scientific American magazine:

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

That would certainly affect sense of touch and the ability to know if you are holding things tightly enough. A report from Oregon State University [pdf] concurs with Pennsylvania report supplying a bit more medical information:

”With aging, sensations may be reduced or changed. These changes can occur because of decreased blood flow to the nerve endings or to the spinal cord or brain. The spinal cord transmits nerve signals and the brain interprets these signals.

“Health problems, such as a lack of certain nutrients, can also cause sensation changes. Brain surgery, problems in the brain, confusion, and nerve damage from injury or chronic diseases such as diabetes can also result in sensation changes.”

I finally found the most pertinent answer to my question at The New York Times. Noting that fine touch may decrease in old age,

“Many studies have shown that with aging, you may have reduced or changed sensations of pain, vibration, cold, heat, pressure, and touch. It is hard to tell whether these changes are related to aging itself or to the disorders that occur more often in the elderly...”

This Times information is quoted from A.D.A.M., a private source of medical information for health professionals and other paid subscribers.

So what I have deduced from two or three hours on the internet is that barring injury or disease or, perhaps, waning strength that affects one's ability to grip strongly, maybe elders do drop things more frequently.

Maybe a diminishing sense of touch in general means that we cannot effortlessly perceive the appropriate strength of our grasp as automatically as when we were younger. At least, that's what I choose to believe for myself until someone enlightens me further.

Following on that, for the past few days I have been making a conscious effort to be sure I am holding whatever is in my hand tightly enough that it will not slip.

I want that to become second nature because the knife I mentioned was a close call and I certainly don't want to drop a cup of hot coffee on my foot or the cat.

Does any of this ring a bell for you?

The Universe Decides That, Not Me

It has become the oddest thing for me now to watch movies and TV series where people hug and kiss and shake hands and generally be together in close contact, touching one another by leaning in or patting a friend on the back, ruffling a kid's hair.

I keep wondering what the writers and actors will give us when they take on stories set in the era of the pandemic and personal distancing. So far, all I've seen are jokes related to the awkwardness of elbow bumps. Not really funny.

Watching something I don't recall on television recently, I saw two people hug. The man and woman, meeting on a big-city sidewalk, were bundled up in hats, scarves and puffy coats for cold weather. But it was still a great, big, full-on, fuzzy, warm, body hug.

The image got blurry as my eyes watered up. I hit rewind to watch it again and by then I was weeping deep, wet tears.

It has been a long time since I've shared a hug like that – way before COVID-19 and personal distancing made their appearance in our lives. It is not unlikely that I have already experienced my last hug – whenever it was that it occurred.

Especially for old people, life can be like that sometimes – not knowing when we are doing something that is important to us for the last time, and therefore not making note of it.

But then I remember that front-line workers of all kinds take their lives in hand every day. They do it for you and for me and for everyone else who needs their attention while knowing for certain that some of them will die.

And I'm sitting here wondering if I'll ever get another hug before I die???

My grownup self dismisses the thought as too grotesquely selfish to admit out loud. But life can be like that too – all the other needs, desires, responsibilities, worries, longings, fears, etc. - continue even in the face of the life-threatening disease we live with now and the awesome bravery of caregivers.

Some of you may recall the good old, early days of my cancer journey when I said that all I wanted was to live to read the Mueller Report. Well, that was a dud and I've been saying since then that I want to live to see the outcome of the November 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But I sure do want to.

It's always been that way for me – getting the can't waits to find out the end of the story. When I was a little kid, I begged my mother to finish the book she was reading to me at bedtime rather than wait until the next night. After I had learned to read and often ever since, I've been known to force my eyes open to keep going until the end of the book or movie.

It has taken the pandemic and some changes to my health for me to learn something important about being old: I don't get to choose whether I find out the end of the story – mine or the election or any other. The universe decides that.

Grocery Shopping While Old During a Pandemic

Wow. There was an overwhelming vote in the reader comments last Friday when I discussed some difficulties of grocery shopping with my twin diseases, cancer and COPD, while wearing a mask, gloves and trying to keep appropriate distance from others in the store aisles.

A sampling from some of you, dear readers:

I have been wondering, Ronnie, if you would be able to have supermarket shopping and pharmacy medications delivered?” ~ Betty Creek
Another vote for delivery, here! Or accepting a volunteer's offer to shop for you.)” ~ Duchesse
I will add my voice to the rest about online shopping, Ronnie, which is truly the safest of all ways to get our groceries.” ~ Karin
And I'll pile on with all those counseling Ronni to have groceries delivered if at all possible.” ~ Salinda Dahl
Grocery delivery is a wonderful thing. You might really like it.” ~ Linda Featheringill
I'm with those who say they may stay forever with online grocery shopping and delivery-to-one's-door.” ~ Katie

To all of those above, along with others I haven't mentioned and anyone else who agrees with them, I stuck a toe in the delivery waters this week.

My supermarket does not deliver. There are others in my general vicinity that do deliver but I don't visit them frequently enough to know their inventory as well as my own market. My son, who lives about an hour's drive south of me, had in the past offered to shop for me but until this week I had declined.

Part of that is habit. Except for six years of marriage and another relationship of four years, I've lived alone all my adult life. I'm accustomed to doing it – whatever “it” is at any given time – myself and comfortable that way. I am uncomfortable with what can seem to me to be asking too much of another.

But this week, after having read your comments several times, I accepted when he offered again. I emailed a shopping list and he will deliver it all to my front door today.

Nevertheless, I also went shopping myself yesterday to pick up some items that are either house brands I like or other stuff I need to see before I buy – tomatoes, for example, avocados, and frozen food which I don't think should be sitting in a car for the hour drive before being stored.

There were the usual issues: shoppers getting way too cozy in the aisles, empty shelves and my difficulty breathing through a mask – COPD makes that hard. But it was a great relief to have so little to carry in from the car.

One reader who commented on that post last week had a different take on grocery shopping that more closely matches my feelings about it:

”I've always enjoyed grocery shopping, a little less so now, and shop during the senior hours,” wrote NatashaM.

“I am visually stimulated. I make my own substitutions. I can be inspired by some terrific looking red peppers. I saw a delicious looking turkey meatloaf at the meat department of one store. Now, it's a regular item. I would've never seen the turkey meatloaf had I not shopped in person.”

I'm with you, NatashaM. Yesterday, I found an obscure brand of hand sanitizer at the market with 80 percent alcohol – the first I've seen of any kind in all the time since lockdowns were instituted.

And the deli counter had a new salad that looked delicious so I bought some of that. It was. Delicious, I mean.

Not to mention that I've been shopping there for nearly a decade and there are two employees who I've gotten to know after all those years and I always enjoy catching up with them for a few minutes.

Not to mention that we see few enough people in person in these days of quarantine and it feels good to be in the presence of others even if we can't see our smiles beneath our masks.

For those reasons, I'll continue to do some shopping myself but thanks to your responses last week, I think letting my son do that for me now and then will become a habit – if he doesn't mind.

Plus, I've gotten an important life lesson out of this. Well, I've always known it, I just haven't practice it much: recalling how good we all feel when we are able to do something nice for another person, and that we should give others that opportunity too when it's appropriate.