Tag Archive: Death and Dying


My trek through this disease reminds me of Vinko Bogataj. On March 7, 1970, A Wide World of Sports captured Bogataj’s third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill. Midway down Bogataj realized the ramp had become too fast. Attempting to lower his center of gravity and stop, he lost his balance, flew out of control, tumbled multiple times and crashed through a retaining fence before halting. Coordinating producer Dennis Lewin inserted Bogataj’s crash to coincide exactly with the words ‘… and the agony of defeat.’ (You can see the clip on YouTube’s Wide World of Sports intro, about the 13 second mark.) Life is filled with the cyclical nature of ‘the thrill of victory’ and ‘the agony of defeat.’ As you walk, almost everyone understands this yin and yang.

Everyone continually proceeds through the cyclic process of suffering and recovering from defeat.  At face value, 2020 seems loaded with fear, anxiety, and other hatred. And unlike the Stella Artois ‘Daydream’ commercial (which admittedly, I’ve personally viewed over 60+ times) the path remains uncertain. The journey is daunting.  You smile, restate a Psalm, Bible verse, famous quote, wear your charm, spew positive thoughts (because that’s what’s expected), but inside, 2020’s tastes like f’ing vomit.  I sometimes think everyone else is somehow favored, for they are free from my 30 years of pain. They are free of a death sentence that beckons at a moment’s notice. They are free from everything being ‘the last.’ 

I understand the felon’s torture. This morning would be the last cup of tea, the last good night’s sleep, the last great shower, the last great meal, the last great smile, the last thought, the last despair, and the last snippet of hope. Eventually, we crash. Life ends. And our last reach unto heaven remains inconclusive. “Do you think he made it into God’s hands?” “Unsure,” mumbles another. The notion that some find grace and beauty in every fall is a matter of perspective.  

No one ever knew me as someone who knew how to fall, but like Bogataj, I got up every time.  I also realized laughter saved many a day. Why? Because it can save the day. There’s a great deal of evidence that laughing improves both mental and physical health. Getting fired in 2010 was a horrific experience. After nearly six (6) weeks self-flagellation, I started to laugh. Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for seven years during the Vietnam War. He claims he and the other American soldiers he was imprisoned with found solace in laughter, and it helped them make it through the harrowing experience.

I began laughing at my experience, the ridiculousness of taking one medical test after another with little hope of ever detecting that ‘fatal blood clot’ lying in wait to claim my life. Life’s absurdity, and all that could go wrong, deserve a laugh. A medical clinician recommended I eat a healthier diet. “You’ll be healthier,” she stated. Catching her error, “Oh. Sorry.” We busted out laughing. Comedian Demetri Martin once said, “The worst time to have a heart attack is during a game of charades, especially if your teammates are bad guessers.” Fortunately, I hope I’m not one of those who can be improved only via death. Therefore, I embrace the notion that laughter allows joy to flow into an otherwise joyless situation and forces fear out.  And with joy comes gratitude and love and hope. 

I simply let go of fear. Sure I think of death. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t fill my life with repetitive rehashing of what-might-have-been. I figure God will justifiably judge my arse in due time. I have to rejoice in what is, a simple cup of coffee, in friendships and love. I reach for hope, laughter of the soul, and unknowingly, even the most mirthless of situations can become sunnier.

I know it’s hard to find laughter and joy during fearful and self-doubting moments. Kobe Bryant once said, “I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”

Thus, my end life journey continually searches for the man (God) who will profoundly affect my life. He will probably review my life, painfully cry at some moments, and laugh at the most absurd failures. And from those moments within ‘the agony of defeat,’ God will embrace ‘the thrill of victory.’ In that moment, I shall no longer recognize the person from years past, for I will become anew. And looking behind me, I will see thousands of others just like me.

Is it possible for God to look upon human frailty and feel compassion? Some days I wonder. I wonder if He remembers what it’s like to walk the earth, see the pain, look upon the hunger, go back to heaven and ask what’s for dinner. Meatloaf? “Great.” Wine from a heavenly vineyard? “Awesome.” Regardless of what God thinks, I am exhausted. Simply, going to the doctor for a blood draw or through a supermarket feels like a gargantuan task. I no longer walk, I shuffle. Rigidity and sagging stomach drooling over my belt graces anyone who dares to stare. Doing any more than two tasks at the same time is challenging. Back in the safety of my car, I lay against the headrest and thought of the previous week. I completed the task at hand—preparing for inevitability.

I spent this past week saying goodbye. Sure, I should have started this shortly after receiving a terminal diagnosis nearly two years ago. Remember? The days when I could still leap from a couch, hold a coffee cup, a plate with a bagel while simultaneously carrying on a conversation via Bluetooth headset. “Death? What death?” I sometimes smirked. “Dude, that’s like a couple years away,” a defiant inner voice responded. Continuing, “A lot of things could happen between then and now. Miracles could occur. And I could be one of them.” I wasn’t.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ve known I never believed in miracles from some Devine interceder were meant for me. I pretty much accepted my fate, even now. I just knew that whatever time I had left, it could be the last time to experience. Flying to see my mother and father, flying to see my brother, that beach walk on the Florida Panhandle, the desert sky, and that walk with Skip, my father’s dog. Just as my doctors said, I always knew I could be within weeks, days or hours of death. The October 19th event brought clarity. 

For the 60 years of life, my family consisted of four: my father, mother, brother, and I. We grew up, went on to extend our inner circle, but at its core, there were just us four. 2021 brings a future of absences, absences that will weave through the family core as my father and I are likely to depart. My parents will never have another child and my brother will never have another brother.  I looked at 60 years of documents spread across the Livingroom floor, deciding what to send, what to trash, what to donate. Yesterday, my life finished with 499 pieces of documents stuffed into a folder that will be distributed when I’m near death or dead. 

Even in death, my will will continue on earth, at least for a brief moment. There will be bills to be paid, assets to transfer, assets to sell, writings to be mused of, and potential awakenings with “What the hell possessed him to do that?” When people look at this material, I hope the world knows I approached my finality with clarity, that decisions were made from a position of reason, intellect, compassion, honesty and love. Looking through the pictures and documents, I notice how feelings are difficult to discover—and often even more difficult to acknowledge. Yet hidden in the deepest feeling is a higher truth. Many will find a sense that finally that “f***ing bastard is gone.” Even in anger, it was my goal for love to live and survive.

Sure, I’ve seen the same basic instincts in others facing death. An eighty-year old nun who talked about God’s penchant for miracles as a cough settled in; died two days later from COVID. Then a close friend, an Emergency Room Chaplin, who feared no such thing a COVID because she always took precautions, wrote via email to update us on her struggle to breathe after COVID diagnosis. In truth, I am not that desperate to stay alive.  

While I did have a blood draw this morning, I didn’t need the test to tell me if a treatment is working.  I can feel life’s edge.  The climax closes quickly and inherently, I have an internal knowing I will stop soon.  As such, I can feel for those who will unwillingly envision a life without me. My heart aches but I don’t know how to help. As I finished sorting my life, I accepted that there’s a part of the preplanning process that cannot be resolved. One can resolve logistical problems of death, but how does one alleviate pain? My mother will suffer. And maybe for a fleeting moment, my brother will as well. Nothing I say or do will help as much as time. The laws of planetary evolution don’t allow one to relive dreams. To those who hurt, time will be your friend. It will remove the intensity of the hottest of rage and, yes, even the most heartbreaking sorrow. It will heal you. And you will become free to live again.

I told my case worker I had several dreams of telling people I was dying. I am not sure if the prognosis of dying actually initiates such ‘death’ type of dreams or not. However, having worked in a hospital I have encountered terminal patients who shared that their dreams and visions felt realistic. Many related visions of past meaningful experiences and reunions with loved ones, and those who reassured and guided them. Others reported feeling as if they were preparing to go somewhere.  My dreams fell into the second category.

One dream seemed appeared like walking through a black fog. There was no light (maybe enough light to understand I was walking through fog), no pain, no hatred, no hell, no fire. Just a dark fog. I did not envision life was going to be destroyed. Nor did I fear death. I was sort of assessing the fog, the steps required to exit it, that I should follow this ‘intuitively’ known path. If I did, I would exit and move on to whatever was next. This intuitively known path offers much insight. All dreams offered a similar message: time is short.

I noted one particular dream of interest. I followed a child, who held a letter proclaiming life would end six weeks later. The child did not walk in fear but busied himself by looking for the room to report. When experiencing such dreams, many claim it is the internal soul processing all the events occurring. Others turn to Internet dream analysis and equate some deeper meaning. And many might roll over and slumber out some words, “That was weird,” drink some water, and go back to sleep for another round. I took all of it as a message.

Up front, there’s no indication that I am going to die within six weeks. There is also no indication I won’t die in six weeks either. If I did there was only six weeks, I have five left, for the dream of the child occurred last weekend. Since I am a walking timebomb (my non-medical techie word), that could check out (blow-up) at any moment, I must be prepared. I have to understand that my family needs to know my finances, where to get access, where can one store documentation, etc. Therefore, this week has been a non-stop action of lists. Even in death, life is a list.

There are lists for everything: pre-flight checklists, project checklists, camping lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, start of school lists, moving lists, packing lists, medication lists, household todo lists, babysitting lists, and so on. Preparing to die has a list. Once I started, my list grew exponentially as the  week evolved. I started with a simple Internet list of 7 things needed when you learn you’re terminally ill. Some things included a second opinion, treatment options, disease course, symptom management, bucket lists, hospice and how I would like to die. Here’s the additions:

  • Health Insurance coverage and details;
  • Printed Health Summary (list of your medical infirmities) ;
  • Last will and testament (Don’t have one? Get one.);
  • Work transition list;
  • List of contact numbers, including work, Human Resources, and supervisors;
  • Storage location for scanned files that can be accessed by my executor;
  • List of passwords for key accounts;
  • Last Letter (The Stanford Letter Project) to loved ones;
  • Last blog post;
  • Medical consent list, including a sub-list of Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), living will, no code treatment, spiritual counseling (last rites), plan of care, etc.;
  • Bill Payment list, including credit cards, utilities, bank account passwords, account key questions, special PINs, and copies of statements;
  • List of turn off auto-refills or auto subscriptions;
  • Car maintenance schedule list;
  • Veterans Benefit changes;
  • Change property title transfer to beneficiary (If you rent, lease information);
  • List of drafted letters to all credit bureaus;
  • Letters to credit card companies terminating accounts (to let them know you’re dead and that Platinum Amex card is not accepted in heaven);
  • List on securing Passports, ID Cards, Driver’s License and other ID materials;
  • Turbo Tax passwords and past five years of taxes;
  • Car Title transfer;
  • List of email accounts/services to cancel, Facebook, and other online services to cancel;
  • Social Security Administration Information;
  • List of E-Trade accounts and other relevant information, listing statements, ensure beneficiaries are properly stated and net worth (which either shows you’re beneficiaries will adore you or confirm you’re worth the paper the statement was printed on);
  • List of any 401K plans and beneficiary information;
  • Deferred compensation and beneficiary information;
  • List of local Hospice information and basic interviewing of hospice; and
  • List of cremation services;
  • List of items for storage, selling, or donation; and
  • Lists of people to inform I am terminal (nah)

I admit, as of today, I have 90% of the above list(s) complete. I feel terrific. The lists of life are not easy, but they must be checked off. Get prepared. Live your life like you’ll die tomorrow, but build a document repository that will help your benefactors. Then plan your life as though you’ll be here for another 50 years.

A ventilator can mean the difference between life and death for seriously ill patients. But sometimes even these ventilators cannot save someone’s life. I looked at the age Mr. Smith had progressed through his short three-week stay at our hospital: a non-active otherwise healthy 86 year old, to mini-stroke, to heart attack, and now near death. Through the multiple layers of protective gear, I stroked the thin aging hair. His eyes remained shut but somehow I felt some connection. 

Medical teams face tough decisions about when to stop treatment. The decision is made after careful consideration, analyzing factors including age, underlying health, response, and ability to recover. With our hospital at 94% capacity of COVID, I volunteered to assist the attending physician Dr. Nessie (also a sister/nun). Our presence ensured Mr. Smith would not pass alone. 

Restrictions meant this man would die without family. Dr. Nessie used an iPad, assured the family their father was not in pain, looked very comfortable, and asked about her Mr. Smith’s wishes and religious needs.” The curtains were closed, we turned off all the alarms, watched the heart rate monitor hit zero, and just like that, flat line (death). 

After processing, Dr. Nessie asked, “Normally, I don’t get volunteers. Why today?” 

“I felt I needed to give back. I couldn’t be there when my father passed away. I am trying to give someone what I couldn’t.”

“I am so sorry for your loss.” Dr. Nessie continued, “When did he pass?”

Glancing at my watch, “About two-hours and forty-three minutes ago.”

My father passed away 1,400 miles away and several weeks shy of his 89th birthday. Like Mr. Smith, only the Hospice nurse and nursing home staff were with him. My mother and I were able to view his passing via an iPad. It is a connected disconnected way to say goodbye. You are a witness but excluded from end of life moments that regularly occurred during pre-COVID times. One could hear the election coverage echoing from another room, “F*** it. I am tired of watching this s***,” he reasoned and left. Now he’s just another CNN/MSNBC statistic. 

Nearly 20 years ago, my father had an Near Death Experience (NDE). During his time in a coma, he claimed God sends two types of angels: ‘takers’ and ‘helpers.’ “Takers’ help the newly deceased to heaven. ‘Helpers’ assist people in moments of crisis, such as heart attacks, car accidents, and other calamities. In the years following his NDE, we’d walk during late summer evenings and discuss how no one actually dies alone, that there is always an angel(s) present even if one can’t see them.

Personally, I sensed no such presence in either death. One cannot detect the extraordinary via an iPad. Yet, I hope both Mr. Smith and my father experienced God’s loving angels, who cared for them in their hour of need; that each of them saw the extraordinary in the ordinary; that each were embraced by Chrrist’s love. 

If today’s election and deaths must be connected, may we find hope in Abraham Lincoln’s words. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Question. If you were told you are going to die in three months, what would you do? That’s a similar message I received twenty months ago. The March 2019 prognosis went something like this, “Subsequent diagnosis indicated cerebrovascular disease .. with proper medicine and dietary changes, maybe minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or a couple of years.” I’ve been living in minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years since. In clinical terms, I met expectations, with some physicians claiming I even exceeded expectations. Tuesday, that “progress” was updated. ‘Years’ was removed. The subsequent redefinition becomes more impactful when life gets reduced to “minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months.”

Those in the medical profession (like me) talk about that one moment when a dying person first comprehends, on a gut level, that death is close. Nessa Coyle summarized that the habit of allowing thoughts of death to remain in the background suddenly becomes impossible when it can no longer be denied. Instantaneously, death is in your face.

Intellectually, I’ve had a long time to accept being terminal. And throughout the past twenty-months, I tirelessly treated (for lack of a better word at the moment) the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual domains of my soul. Even now, I feel neither feel depression nor anger. I am more horrified by death’s methodology than the literal act of dying. Monday morning’s episode revealed that the process of dying (for me) would either be long or swift. I fear the lengthy.

Clearly, I inherited my father’s computer wiring (brain schematic). For years he seemingly suffered endlessly with Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA, a fancy name for short-term strokes) that arrive at night and leave by daybreak. Until it didn’t. Five years later, my father entered Hospice (a month ago). His demise has been slow, painful, and completely compromising, not only for me but also for my mother, who lived day and night by my father’s principal caretaker. 

My TIA arrived like a freight train after midnight and departed before dawn. Similar to early 2019, this was another warning shot, only bigger. It was a massive detonation. Sure I survived, but I was assured Mr. TIA would reappear and probably won’t leave. Doctors experts ran the statistics. About 1 in 3 (some studies claim 1 in 5) who experience a TIA are likely to experience a stroke within six months. The odds of experiencing this within 90 days are 2%-17%. My thought after being told I was going to die in months? In the immortal words of Burn Notice character Michael Weston, my physicians were saying, “Don’t make retirement plans.

One fortunate outcome (thus far) is that I’ve never lost control of who I was. This is an essential point for all facing death (or will face death). I may have lost control of the body, but I never lost control of me. Even during Monday’s TIA, I understood who I was, from where I came, the day, date, time, the problems facing me, the problematic discussion about whether one would find me with an unclean butt. Therefore, I hope that no matter how far I progress through this process, I believe there will be some part of me that will exist. It is a part I can knowingly take with me into the future to whatever lay beyond. 

As stated in many spiritual teachings, helping another die with a peaceful, positive state of mind is one of the most extraordinary acts of kindness we can offer. I think that should be everyone’s focus. Indeed, this will not be easy. Just the physical aspect of dying will be challenging. My goal is to be treated with respect, kindness, and love; to talk and be listened to; or, at certain times, to be left alone and in silence. People like me have spiritual needs – to make sense of life, their suffering, their death, have hope for what lies beyond, feel that they will be cared for and guided by someone or something wiser and more powerful than themselves. I am fortunate, for I believe someone awaits me and will provide guidance. 

After the doctors guided me through their updated prognosis, I momentarily reflected upon a recent Zoom business seminar. A seminar leader asked the roundtable of healthcare leaders what they had learned thus far through the pandemic. Most provided rather mundane versions of being a better spouse, parent, friend, or mentor. One person silenced the room. “I learned to humanize people and how not to be afraid of others, for everyone has value. It is a privilege to be a part of — even a small part of their life. And it’s a privilege to help them move on to wherever is beyond [death]. All of you inspired me to do that.”

And that’s been my goal. Hopefully, that’s what this blog has been about. May each of you be the part that helps people to move beyond. When things seem dark, find the power of love in those who surround you.

If you want to verify how clean hardwood floors are, spend a couple of hours face down sliding your face over each board. It is a cleaning tip I have neither known nor read. It certainly wasn’t on the front page of Good Housekeeping, on the back of a Mr. Clean bottle, or seen on YouTube. Nonetheless, there I was at 2:00 AM early Monday: rubbing my face across my hardwood floors because I could neither sit, stand nor crawl. I rolled over in bed and something went ‘bink.’ Maybe it was a ‘bink.’ Sounded like a ‘bink.’ Then again, it could have been a ‘boink,’ or possibly a ‘dink.’ I cannot accurately describe the internal sound. Doesn’t matter. What I tell you is the subsequent several hours trying to find a way to simply exist. 

I have lived this past couple of years believing I could have gotten lucky. Death would simply fail to notice me. We all do. And for the past couple of months, for the most part, I started thinking about two years plus 1. Then, out of nowhere, ‘bink.’ Sudden onset of severe & constant dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and imbalance. Did not matter if I stood (which I could not) or sat (which I could, only by leaning against a wall). Therefore on a cool crisp night, I lay face down on the hardwood floor. Struggling to coordinate a response, I realized a few critical points that impeded my ability to do anything but ride it out.

Both my overpriced iPhone 12 Pro Max and fancy-dancy Apple iWatch 4 were in the other room. My telephone? You guessed it: in the other room. If you read my blog, you’re probably asking, “Why did you do that?” My response is similar to that of my cat Cougar after being caught climbing the Christmas tree. “Cougar! Why did you do that?” He sheepishly shrugged, “I don’t know.” That’s one of the tricks to fancy-schmancy technology, it is all absolutely of no value when face down on the floor at 2:20 AM in the morning. Siri can’t hear. Mr. Google is asleep. Amazon is off. It’s just you and your thoughts. 

Believe it or not, my first pressing question was “How will I take a dump?” Second question.”I manage to sit on the toilet, can I wipe?” Agreed. These are not life and death questions, but at 2:50 AM, they seemed important. Ok. Important to me. Of course, I should have been trying to figure a way out of this mess. I should have been deciding how to call paramedics, a friend, or a neighbor but the thought of an unwiped behind permeated my thoughts. No. Thought of the Angel of Death finding me with an unwiped behind never occurred to me. It was just thought of an old, bald, fat man lying dead with an unwiped behind. 

“What we have?” asks the corner.

First officer, “An old, bald, fat dude with an unwiped a**.”

“Geez. Third time this week.”

“Yup,” nods the second officer.

As you know, I made it out alive. My doctor reminded me that I am, in fact, dying. Just not today. She also stated March 2021 is just around the corner, that I should expect more problems when nearing the point of no return. Five months is not that far away. Deep down, I know my body is getting worse. I may refuse to show it, but I feel it.

As a spiritual person, a Buddhist, for these 8 years or so, I know the time of death is uncertain but the truth of death is not. I take hope in knowing that everything is intertwined and linked. Like all things, we are constantly changing and regrouping. This means that transitoriness and change are basic features of spiritual life. The same applies to the human body: it too is constantly changing. And even laying on a cool hardwood flow, openly ready to vomit, my body teaches impermanence.

It is a fundamental error to think of one existing separate from others. The fact that I have a human body is considered a rare privilege. I am unsure what I did in some previous life to earn that privilege, even with the understanding I have not nourished it properly for a decade. I disown neither it nor God. I am not my body, but rather I am an inhabitant. I am the renter. I am sorry for the pain I caused my lessor, but I am proud it served me, even unto the end.

End of LifeMedical technology has forgotten death’s role and its importance. We have to be something more than extending time. Walking the halls of many hospitals, I found numerous people who want to share memories, exchange wisdom, and settle relationships, establish legacies, make peace with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay.

They want to end their story on their own term. This role is among life’s most important, for both the dying and those left. I think we find more ways to deny patients this role. Over and over, medicine inflicts deep wounds into the end of life and then stands oblivious to the harm.

The tough issue is to recognize that the small fixes provided by technology do not change the larger picture. Therein, we fail to recognize that fixing specific problems may not fix the patient.

I have 14 years of experience as a healthcare consultant. The real sorrow is that we (family and friends) are unable to significantly impact nature’s course. In the end, we can only accept its education. A patient once highlighted his sorrow.

“I woke up this morning I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t push the pillow up in the bed; couldn’t use a toothbrush; couldn’t pull my pants or socks on; and it’s hard getting to sit up. But the doctor told me I was doing great.”

Society threw medical technology at the man but failed to understand the patient’s biggest fears? How about concerns? What goals were most important? What trade-offs would the patient be willing to make?

For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. A seemingly happy life may be empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause.

All of us have purposes larger than ourselves. Those are the conversations both the living and dying want to have.

Several days after seeing my father, I requested my mother get approval to see a counselor. “Doesn’t matter if you utilize the service. At least you have access to grief counseling should you choose.”

In her HMO, all counseling require preapproval. Accordingly, we made an appointment with her (and my father’s) primary care physician. Of course, the doctor preapproved the request. And while doing so, he mentioned that he’s personally seen several cases where 85 plus year-olds have recovered quite well from stroke. “Took several years,” he nodded. “But it can happen.”

I agree with him. I too, suppose, one can recover from the type of damage my father suffered. The reality is vastly different for 98% of 85 plus stroke patients. They are told, that with physical therapy, they would learn to walk again and return to their life. Most never will.

Most of us will be confined to wheelchairs and the rigidity of nursing home life. All privacy and control gone. We will awaken per schedule, bathed, and dressed per schedule, eat per schedule, watch television per schedule, and returned to sleep per schedule. The remainder of the last several years will be filled with a succession of roommates, never chosen, and jammed together like an incarcerated rat.

My father’s only crime? Being old. At one time in his life, my father had possibilities. Now he doesn’t. So, rather than thinking of something new and inventive for our elderly, we ban them from society by shuffling them off to brick corridors guarded by keypad locks and cameras.

I think the only way death becomes meaningful is to see oneself as part of something greater. Maybe there is a greater goal. If you do not find the ‘greater good,’ mortality is a horror show. As my body dies, I look at my father and wonder if I can find comfort in companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight. Will I ever become less interested in the latest technology and more interested in simply being? It’s in my father’s frailty that I search my inner being and identify a purpose outside myself that makes living feel meaningful and worthwhile.

All journeys have the same ending–at a place nobody wants to go. Peaceful death during one’s sleep and swift catastrophic illnesses are exceptions. For most, death comes only after long medical struggle with an ultimately unstoppable condition—cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, organ failure, or the accumulating debilities of age.

I still haven’t told my family of my tumor surgery, or the extensive osteoarthritis in my neck, back, knee, feet and hands. I haven’t said anything of my Parkinson’s diagnosis. I haven’t told them I’m dying.

Yet, I look at my father and outwardly admit I don’t want medicine to eat my flesh. I don’t want endless bouts of multiple chemotherapy regimens, last-ditch surgical procedures, experimental therapies, especially when the ultimate outcome is particularly clear. I would rather move on.

Moving on. That is the conversation we need. How can we gracefully move on from a world that refuses to let us go?

Oftentimes we choose badly. We barter on for the best opportunity to continue whatever morsel of time: strength, mental acuity and a life previously known just several weeks before. It is fantasy mind you. Yet we barter it all, even with the risk of a prolonged and terrible death–which is precisely what most will get.

Technically, the operation this old man received was a success. And two weeks later, the 88-year-old man and his 82-year-old wife, sat in the vascular surgeon’s office to hear the prognosis.

Wow,” said Doctor S. “The stent looks great. The ultrasound shows the artery is wide open.”

The wife smiled. The man grunted.

We’ll see you in two months.”

The stroke was significant, and he never recovered. In skilled nursing, the old man could barely remember why he was there; he spoke his son’s name when shown a picture of his dog; he neither say his wife’s name nor his son’s; and looked frail.

That old man is my father.

As I tried to explain to my mother, he could not be cured. Deep down, she knew there was not a cure. But admitting as much and assisting him was beyond her capability. Maybe, just maybe, that stent operation would produce a ‘miracle.’

Death, of course, is not a failure. It’s normal. Throughout the last decade, I repeatedly told my mother that modern scientific and medical marvels can significantly alter the course of human life. We can now push the final moment of many diseases farther outward. People can live longer than any time in history. In doing so, we hide the deeper reality, that such significant extensions do not come without cost. Eventually, the end makes itself known, whether it be in the lungs, brain, spine, kidneys, or heart. From there, there is no cure.

We left the doctor’s office this past Thursday knowing we’d never see dad at home again. Instinctively, my father knew he would never see his favorite lap companion (his dog) and spend Sunday’s petting while simultaneously watching Tiger Woods try for another victory. And, I wondered in the past few nights whether my mother’s ‘miracle was more for her or for my father. She always believed dad was the outlier, the guy who’d have a major injury at ninety and by ninety-one, climb the Himalayas’. Giving up meant giving up the life they built. Now, could either endure.

How did America become a world where we either have to go down with the ship or cede complete control of our life to live in a nursing home? Television is filled with young doctors performing endless miracles. We perform medical procedures (like stents), pat ourselves on the back and dish off our elderly into some unknown distant nursing home.

The reality is that most suffer alone. We depend upon nature and chance. Maybe we toss in a few overly quoted scriptures and beg for a miracle. Instead, society knowingly banishes people to Medicare/Medicaid with little options … too poor … too frail … too senile … or too broken down.

I studied my father for one last moment. “Welcome to your future bitch,” life responded.

In the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross five stages of death, Depression is fourth. In this stage, one is likely to feel like withdrawing from life, feel numb, live in a fog, and not want to get out of bed. That wasn’t me. As subtle as it was, my stage was able to poke hole my otherwise stable façade.

To the normal reader, one may look at the event and say, “Why the fuss?” However, to all-knowing inner soul, it was “Reality bites.” At 4:38 PM, standing over a cutting board with knife in hand, ready to chop a white onion, my hand shook so bad I nearly couldn’t perform the task.  I looked like a construction worker using a jack hammer to cut vegetables.

Stage four started a few days ago with internal tremors in the legs and bradykinesia, a slowness of movement or impaired ability to move as commanded (like chopping vegetables. Frustrating, because I’ve spent a lot time making everything appear “normal.” Yet, I placed my knife on the kitchen counter, sat and in a chair and realized that I don’t know what normal is.

I had only a few weeks post-diagnosis before the Coronavirus struck hard and either forced everyone to place life on hold or work like crazy. Being in the later, I’ve kind of buried the deepest feelings. It was the first time I experienced any anxiety. In the several hours thereafter, I am beginning to understand something larger, bigger, and more determined is about to happen to me.

What if the façade fails and I must out myself? There are other things that take precedence over me. Certainly, my father’s stroke and potential death is significant. My mother’s care is critical, not to mention the subsequent estate settlement. Personally, I’ve had a tumor, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and now Parkinson’s.

As I sat looking out the window, I realized how tired I am. Tired of being sick. Tired of being in pain. Just plain tired. I suppose the fact that one’s body is trying to either make you miserable or kill you will, in fact, make one really depressed. I haven’t thought about mortality in any sense. I mean I have thought about it, maybe I haven’t processed it. Then again, we’ve all gone through some tough things–many a lot worse than I.

Outside of this moment in my life, I’ve been lucky. I’ve traveled well, seen places most will never see, had many a great love, and experienced God first hand. From a Buddhist perspective, what more could I ask? Sure, my hands and legs are beginning to fail, but I can write. And write I will.

As death approaches, Buddhists are taught to think about their holy writings. Focusing upon the Buddha’s teachings is supposed to bring good luck to a new existence. I will not focus upon superficial images of happiness, material and sensual pleasures, or technological innovation. At this point of my life, I am focusing upon whatever love available. I believe only true love will transcend death.

Thus, for a person who has awareness of death, every moment becomes a lesson in death and a lesson of love. Every moment should be viewed as being infinitely precious, and we should make the utmost effort to use our time to the best advantage.

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