657 posts categorized "Journal"

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.”

* * *

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.

Time Goes By Takes a Break

Maybe I've been in lockdown too long and need something different. Or perhaps I've been pushing myself too hard (although it would be difficult for you to find anything I've accomplished around the house recently) and need a rest.

Just as likely, it could be that I want some time to quiet my mind so to think and feel what I have known since mid-2017 – that the days of my life are numbered. I've tended to forget – or avoid – that reality for a great deal of the past year.

Around 90 percent of people who are told they have pancreatic cancer are dead within a year of diagnosis. Me? In June, it will be three years. I only recently (make that this morning, Saturday) made a list of the major events during that time period:

• Whipple surgery with five or six months of recovery
• Two much smaller surgeries to fix an internal bleed
• Three rounds of chemotherapy
• A remarkable psilocybin session
• Tests showing me to be cancer-free
• Tests showing cancer spread to a lung and peritoneum
• COPD diagnosis
• Pulmonary rehab for COPD

And in recent weeks, what I believe to be late(r)-stage cancer symptoms: increased fatigue, body pains some of which would be funny if they didn't hurt so much, waning appetite, weight loss and a golf-ball=sized growth I discovered four days ago on an inner thigh.

It is placed in such a spot that I know there's a joke to be made about growing balls (or, anyway, one) at my age but it hasn't come to me.

Certainly the two doctors with whom I have tele-health appointments this week will tell me what is what about all this. I suspect at least one will want to book an in-person visit which, in our virus-ridden world, rather freaks me out. I mean, those docs work at a giant medical center with five hospitals, a medical school and many kinds of clinics.

Not that I won't go anyway.

When I was diagnosed, I chose to chronicle here what I thought, at the time, would be at most a year about my journey with one of the most deadly cancers. But the months kept passing and here we are in 2020.

I'm going to have a rest now, hear what the doctors say and return in about a week. Meanwhile, tomorrow there will be a new Reader Story and on Sunday next, there will be Peter Tibbles' music column. Unless something changes, I'll be back here a week from today.

Meanwhile, thank each of you for always being such a wonderful, responsive audience and excellent participants in the commentary. This blog grew into a collaboration a long time ago – it is what makes it special.

Be well and stay safe.

A Serious Jones for Ice Cream

Last week here, I headlined one story, Is There Anything Else to Talk About?. And so it is every day now in every news outlet: all about the virus.

It took up the major part of an hour-long telephone conversation on Sunday with a friend in New Jersey. It takes up the most space in email with others. When I'm reading online news, I always gravitate to virus headlines - anything else feels irrelevant to life today.

When I'm not talking, listening or reading about the virus, I'm thinking about it. It intrudes everywhere. When the sun came out yesterday, I developed a serious jones for ice cream. I don't eat it much in winter and this was the first time this year it had come to mind.

I actually picked up a pen to make a list of what else I might pick up at the grocery when I went for the ice cream. Then I remembered. Uh-oh. Lockdown. Plenty of food in the house, except for ice cream.

So I stayed home.

(Please do not send ice cream. The freezer is full to the top with food.)

From the beginning of the virus, I believed in face masks but then I got confused when a variety of so-called experts said they don't work. Now that they have changed their mind, I have made several no-sew masks for myself from old bandanas and wondered if I need one to go to the trash or mailbox.

It is rare that I see anyone when I make one of those runs, but I decided to err on the side caution anyway. The cotton masks are hard for me to breathe through and I was winded when I got home so I have redesigned the no-sew masks with fewer layers for me to breath a little easier.

Reading the virus news online or watching it on television is fraught in its own way. I try to avoid the president altogether, and I am awed again and again by the amazing bravery of the medical professionals who, undoubtedly exhausted, go into the firestorm of potential infection and possible death every single day.

I know the fear I felt last week going to the grocery store. The intensity of it must be so much more for medical professionals. What is that moment like for them, the one when you wake up, maybe a little fuzzy in the head still from sleep, first thinking about getting up and BAM! - you remember what your job is like now. Is today the one when you will catch the virus?

How do they do that, I wonder, keep going to work day after day? I feel so helpless, that there is nothing I can contribute and then I weep for all of us but especially for those on the front lines.

I experienced a small, happy respite from all the mixed-up sad, hopeful and hopeless, fearful, worried feelings on Friday when I made my first pandemic meal delivery order.

Like everything else, it involves thinking about the virus. I arranged online for the delivery person to leave the order on the table on my front porch and knock on the door.

But what about a tip? I fished an envelope out of the desk, wrote “Delivery Person” on the outside and then found I had only $20 bills in my wallet. Recalling the medical professionals, first responders, grocery clerks and all the others who risk their lives for the rest of us, I couldn't see that delivery to people's homes is much different. So $20 it was.

Not long after my lunch arrived, I received a text message from the delivery guy telling me it was his first day on the job, I was his first delivery and that I had helped him start his new job in the best possible way.

That text message was the bright spot in my day too. In this tiny way, it was the first time I have felt useful and actually did something good for someone who is, unlike me, risking his life at his job every day.

It feels self-indulgent to be ruminating on these little incidents in my home-confined life. After all, we're all doing the same thing and I hardly have a unique perspective. But even when I try to read a book or watch a movie, my mind wanders to the world's predicament.

It's not just the virus itself. What is equally fraught is the lack of executive and managerial expertise at the top of the U.S. federal government. Many state governors have stepped into the void as much as they can but by statute, they lack the power of a president who, in this case, has abdicated his sworn duty to the country.

Your turn now, in the comments below.

Venturing Away From Home in Corona Virus Times

Quarantine. Lockdown. Sheltering in Place. Stay At Home. Whatever you call it, it means the same thing. Don't go anywhere. Or, at least, don't go anywhere that is not absolutely necessary – doctor, pharmacy, grocery shopping are okay when necessary.

Many physicians are switching to telehealth appointments. Many stores and pharmacies will deliver. And there is always Amazon although I hear tell that two-day delivery is long gone – that it's more like two weeks or more now.

We – not just Americans, but everyone everywhere – are living in a time like we have never seen before. We have no experience at this.

No one before now ever told us that we couldn't leave our homes. Couldn't, therefore, see our friends and relatives, go to the gym, watch a movie in a theater, have dinner in a restaurant, stop for a cup of coffee on a whim.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been away from home in the past three-plus weeks.

It had been more than two weeks since I'd been any farther than the mailbox and trash bin when I went grocery shopping this week. A friend asked why I didn't use home delivery but several others had told me that the delivery services are backed up at least a week. Better to face my fears and do it myself.

So I suited up. I don't have masks and my attempts to tie a scarf over my face failed (actually, I lost patience to work at it) so I did the best I could otherwise: clothing that could be machine washed, a supply of gloves, a shopping list in the order that would get me through the store as quickly as possible and cleaning supplies left on the porch for my return.

I was nervous. Okay, make that frightened. So far, Oregon overall and particularly my county have a low number of virus cases compared to many other places in the U.S. Still, on my few previous forays to the market, customers paid no heed to personal distancing and in that regard, nothing had changed.

It was about 10:30AM when I arrived at the store, donned my nitrile gloves, rolled a cart to the disinfectant stand and wiped it down.

The store had made some changes since I was last there. Two new self-check-out counters, plexiglass barriers between checkers and shoppers, large stickers on the floor to show people how far away to stand from one another on line and signs reminding shoppers that six feet is the length of two shopping carts.

Amazingly, there were paper towels – with a one package of six rolls per person rule. Toilet paper too with the same admonition.

The meat counter was, as during my last two visits, almost empty unless you like British bangers (I don't). But having skipped “senior shopping hours” in the early morning, I was happy to find the cooked chickens were ready and I grabbed one.

The store clerks were terrific, waving hello to me as we maneuvered ourselves to keep that six-foot distance between us. One offered to show me how to tie a scarf as a mask next time I'm there.

As mentioned above, customers were not as diligent. A couple of them, in the middle of an aisle, refused to move to the side to let me by. Another pushed up against me as I was reaching for pasta on a top shelf.

Once, when I told a shopper directly behind me to back off, she said, “I don't have the virus.” And I said, “You don't know that.” Who are these people.

Back home, I cleaned all the boxes, jars and other containers with antiseptic spray on the front porch and placed the cleaned items in the old shopping bags I knew were virus-free and ferried them into the kitchen.

It's nice to have a restocked shelves but most of all I liked seeing the store employees, two or three of whom I've known for nearly a decade. We don't see many people in person these days so a trip to the supermarket is a new kind of treat rather than a chore – however scared I am to do it.

On a different day, I ventured out to my cannabis dispensary as I was running low on the edibles I use for sleep. I was as nervous about that trip as I was the market but driving Terwilliger Boulevard through a densely, wooded area for two or three miles calmed me. I guess they're right, the people who say nature is good for us.

The dispensary was as safe as anything can be, I think. Since I was there a month ago, they had built a floor-to-ceiling plexiglass barrier in the lobby between customers and "budmaster" with an opening just large enough to pay and show my ID.

Also, customers are now not allowed in the back room where the products are displayed. When I called the day before to see if the shop would be open, they told me to order online and they would have everything ready when I arrived, plus a 15 percent discount.

And so they did. Too bad I can't buy my groceries there.

Our lives now turn on such minutiae as in this post. The smallest things take on greater significance and, in some cases, comfort when time away from home is reduced to an hour or so a week.

What about you? Have you ventured away from home?

Is There Anything Else to Talk About?

Some good advice that will make you smile:

In the evening, I can get caught up in a book or movie or TV show for awhile and forget this awful but remarkable time we are living in. The earlier part of the day? Not so much.

As a life-long news junky to begin with, a story of the magnitude of the Coronavirus is irresistible even if the perpetrator-in-chief, in his ignorance and cruelty, makes it more frightening than it needs to be.

Stress? Oh, you betcha. I try to keep it in check with a lot of slow, pursed-lip breathing throughout the day which is good for my poor, old, damaged lungs too.

And exercise. Every morning before breakfast, I go through my 40-minute routine. It's good for my breathing and I hope it helps with stress.

But what can a few exercises do to calm one's mind when, apparently, it is not enough to have a worldwide, deadly virus floating around all of us. Early this week, the number of deaths from the virus in United States surpassed those not only in China but those on 9/11 too.

For a few weeks following 9/11, we in New York City asked friends, neighbors, coworkers and others we spoke with, “Is everyone you know okay?” It's beginning to feel to me like it is time to resurrect that check-in.

Even though there are teeny tiny indications in some places that personal distancing is working, this unprecedented virus predicament will last a lot longer than the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and if we haven't yet, we each will need to invent respites for ourselves. I'll do what I can for us in that regard on this blog.

Here's a bit of serious humor for our desperate times – a new video from John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO. You will see that it was recorded before the president extended the lockdown past Easter but that doesn't make it less pertinent.

I found some fun in it. I hope you will too.

On Monday's post, Patty-in-New-York ended her comment apologizing for her random thoughts. As I responded then, I don't think there has ever been a more appropriate time for random thoughts than now. Go for it, if you are so inclined, in the comments below.