I stayed feeling pretty bummed out until I got to the chapter: What does Death ask of us? Then it sounded like there was something I could do with what time and energy are left to me. When I watched (and wrote down) how my parents behaved in their last days together, I was determined to do better. Given how many times I have wanted to die, how most of the time death looks like a relief, an end of the chore of getting through the days, I haven’t ever wanted to postpone dying.
I have been thinking about how to use what’s left to me, now that the life I had in Franconia is clearly gone, and has been dying for a while because I’ve been getting more and more tired. Much as I loved creating dance programs, making centerpieces, celebrating the seasons, changing the hangings, I had to keep dropping things as I got tireder and tireder. Now it’s clear that that life has died. I suspect that I should probably have a memorial service for it, but am not sure how I would do it.
So now what do I do? I knew one of the projects I wanted to do was read my entire journal output. That would mean typing up what never got typed in the years between 1995 and 2003 when I began to type up a lot of what I wrote. I suppose I could start reading from the earliest writings, and not worry about those untyped years. At least begin the job. I think I have some idea of integrating my life, pulling the pieces together, doing something like what I did with the grandmother patches. I expect that a lot of what I wrote will provide material for blog posts. I’ve also thought about dialoguing with my younger self, telling her that she’s not worthless, she’s OK, mistakes and failures are just part of living, she’s been up against a huge monster, PTSD before brain and nervous system have matured.
I do worry that it’s being very self-involved to spend all that time with my own journals, when there is so much going on in the world where help is needed. On the other hand, I read something by Oliver Sacks, where he says when he had a definite amount of time left, he stopped reading the newspapers, etc. and I thought maybe that’s all right for me.
Oliver Sacks, from an interview in the New York Times:
I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.
This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.
This passage from Die Wise gives me guidance on how to live what time is left to me. I think it will be years, I’m in pretty good physical shape, but of course it could happen any time.
from Die Wise, p299
We stop trying to control our dying finally at the point when we have little or no stamina, energy, give-a-shit, and time to give to the honorable and immensely necessary project of dying well, dying lucidly and deliberately, dying purposefully and surely and wisely. … Dying in our time and place means having to live all the lunacies and sorrows and slings and arrows described in this book. It asks of all of us [to] grow an immeasurably able, cunning soul to know the hues of madness that color our thousand ways of not dying as we die and to resolutely die anyway. Learning this skill, we could love this part of the human world that is our own, all its human frailties and unwillingness to live when life is hard anyway. We could be sad, a trustworthy achievement. We could bequeath to the young people attending the end of our days — often at too much of a distance — and to the children and babies who will have no memory of us at all a story of a dying life that is faithful to the struggle of being human when the seduction and the pull is so much otherwise, a story so true and indelible that it shines best and brightest in the darkest time, like the stars in a clear, country night sky. This is what is at stake with every terminal diagnosis, every treatment decision, every home death and hospital death, every funeral and memorial service.