Nov 26

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home — Part 15

In Brief — A contemplation of humanity’s inescapable date with the Grim Reaper. The old folks’ home is the terminal where death is waiting for the next departure. [Written in July/August 2017.]


Life is an Opportunity; Use It Before Death Ends It —

What happened to all those years that were racing by? Did I use them wisely or did I waste them? Now in old age I realize that all of them, both selfish and giving, added to the person I am, but is that enough? All I have now is the time remaining. I hope it’s enough to make up for the time wasted.

Until late 2011, I was seemingly healthy. It was a mirage. A sudden dizziness led to them telling me that a walnut-sized tumor in the back of my head was the culprit. The surgeon in Umeå warned that I might not be able to swallow. For several years before that I would briefly choke and laugh it off saying, “That’ll be the death of me.” Little did I know that it was almost true.

After the operation I awoke in the stroke ward. What am I doing here? I understand why as I look at myself today. A couple of months later, I was transferred to a rehab center where I briefly had biofeedback training to restore my ability to swallow. It halfway worked for a while, but the promising ability faded. If it had continued I might be swallowing today. I’d be a different person and wouldn’t be here. Those forks in the road can lead to different destinations.

Unfortunately, my physical deficits were a huge source of stress for my loving wife. As bad as it is to be denied the ability to eat with her, the stress of having to dance to my tune of thrice daily feedings led to my volunteering to live in an elder care facility. In 2015 that became a reality. Regular visits and loads of help are poor substitutes for a close relationship, but at least the stress is gone.

So how did blogging come about? Fearing that I’d be depressed at the abrupt change in my life, in 2013 my eldest daughter set up my blog to motivate me. I’d always heard that blogging ate your life and thus avoided it despite the requests, but now I’m hooked. For good or ill I publish a new piece every week. I see blogging as a way to maybe inspire, but, at a minimum, to plant seeds that I hope will allow me to leave the world a better place for my having been here.

Inspiration Comes Unexpectedly —

Reading is an enjoyable feeding of my brain. On July 27th, 2017, the New York Times reviewed Cory Taylor’s “Dying: A Memoir.” Although Ms. Taylor died of cancer shortly after writing it, Jennifer Senior’s moving review stirred me to write about a subject that’s one we seldom want to deal with. Living in the old folks’ home where death is a shadow in the corridor inspired me to write this.

I’ve written of how an immortal man looked with envy on a dead person. I helplessly watched a close doctor friend surrender to cancer after weeks of splintering a stick clenched between his teeth when waves of pain swept over him. I wept for a talented friend who had swallowed the Socratic elixir that would carry him away much too soon. I was stunned by the diagnosis and unexpected speed with which ALS took a psychologist friend away from us.

How will I pass into that nothingness that awaits me? Will it hurt? Will I cry in fear as my aunt did when she realized that death approached or will it silently steal upon me in sleep as it did with my mother? Will I rage, “Too soon! Too soon! I have much yet to do!” Or will I accept it as merely a natural part of the life cycle that billions before me have experienced?

Perhaps understandably, we distance ourselves from the deaths of strangers. Bullets. Bombs. Starvation. Execution. Drowning. Disease. Young and old, past and present, death comes in many forms. It is unique for each human.

Thanks to Cory Taylor and Jennifer Senior I’ll borrow from Harold Pinter. When the shadow embraces me, I’ll miss my beloved wife. I’ll miss my family. I’ll miss my friends. I’ll miss this vaie of pleasures and tears. I hope I’ll leave the world better for having been here.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on May 2017.


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    • Alyson Stover on November 26, 2017 at 17:18

    Yes Don, the world is a better place because of you; and my life, for knowing you. xo

      • Don Bay on November 27, 2017 at 06:38

      I hope so, Alyson. I’m working at it. Thanks for the kind words. They’re encouraging.

    • Dave Meyers on November 26, 2017 at 20:39

    You will NOT miss your wife, your family, your friends…..for you will be non-the-wiser…..But…..THEY will miss you.

      • Don Bay on November 27, 2017 at 06:31

      You make sense when you point out that I’ll be beyond missing anybody. However, I look at Pinter’s words as meaning that I’ll not be there to see those people and the changes that will take place. That is, in my absence I’ll miss all that’s going on. Since we don’t know for sure in what sense Pinter meant them, we can choose whichever one makes sense. Regardless, thanks for giving me the opportunity to split hairs.

    • Donna Boe on November 27, 2017 at 05:36

    you definitely will be leaving the world better for your having been here! The many causes you worked for, your artistic creations, your friendships, and now your thoughts expressed in a blog – all evidence of the good you will be leaving.
    I must say that death has been on my mind a lot lately -having 3 friends -Lavella, a neighbor, and a church friend all die within a month really got my attention. I also listened to a webinar on how to deal with death, and attended a continuing ed class on Stages of Death, taught by a social worker that works with hospice. Two things I recall off hand are that leaving life is as painful as entering life, and that an introvert waits until everyone has left the room before he takes his last breath while an extrovert wants to be surrounded by loved ones when they exit this world. There were, of course, more profound ideas and thoughts in the class. I just happen to remember those.
    I think I’ll read the book you recommended. Unfortunately, we are at an age when many of our friends will be either getting infirmed or dying – not a fun time. I recall a woman telling my father at the retirement home where he lived that “Remember, Mr. Hargrave, it takes courage to grow old.” Now I know what she meant.

      • Don Bay on November 27, 2017 at 06:20

      All creatures face death; it’s just that some of us don’t want to admit it and others fight it. Your exploration makes sense. I admire it.

      Your father’s woman friend was more polite than my former wife’s aunt when she told me that “getting old isn’t for sissies.” Amen to that!

  1. Remember the adage, “Old age is not for sissies?” How true that turns out to be. I heard it as a young man and wondered if it would be true for me. And of course death at any age is not for sissies. So we find ways to deal with both of these in our own ways, depending on who we are and what options are available to us and what we believe.

    Now, as we prepare to leave South Africa for good, I wonder what I will do with what remains of my life. I say I need meaningful work, which is absolutely true for me, and I will try to find it, and to do it as long as I can. I’m taking all of my training materials with me and imagine finding ways and places and people to do that with. I’ll tell you in a year or so how that came out. My version of your blog is writing a memoir of our time in Africa, and I plan to call it “Drinking the Umzimkhulu,” the river that flows in the valley in front of our house. I’ve actually been writing it for ten years and what I write, and how I write it, changes as I age. At least some of us read your blog. Will anyone read my memoir?

    And I imagine death as smiling at Chris, the love of my life, and going quietly to sleep. That would be the ideal. I used to think that dying in my sleep would be the ideal, but now I know that I want to say goodbye to my love.

    And do not fear that you lived in vain. You made a difference to many, including me.

      • Don Bay on November 27, 2017 at 09:51

      I’ll certainly agree that old age is not for sissies, but the alternative is no bed of roses either. It is said that we come into the world alone and we will leave it alone. If that means each of us and our experiences is unique, then it rings clear to me.

      If the memoir of your book were mine the title would be “Drinking from the River,” but “Umzimkhulu” will probably arouse curiosity and result in more readers. Write that memoir. Look at it as planting a seed. If even one seed takes root, it’s worth the writing regardless of how many read the memoir.

      Since we don’t get to choose the time or manner of our deaths, we can’t choose the one that appeals to us, but your wish is a good one. However and whenever your death occurs, the world will be poorer for your leaving.

      Thanks for your warm words. The feeling is mutual. I’m richer for your friendship.

    • Susan on November 27, 2017 at 20:16

    This is how I see my death. I leave my body. My body dies but I remain. Who am I? I am this energy that has always been and always will be. There won’t be any missing because I have always been.
    There is only a space of love that has no words and no emotion. I am free and I am the space. If there were a word ,(which there isn’t), it would be bliss. But it’s beyond bliss, and there is no word.
    We can go to that place now and be it. It is subtle and it has allowed me to know who I really am. I am not my body, I am not my brain. We have talked about this before. Only experiencing it can explain it to you. Xxx

      • Don Bay on November 28, 2017 at 06:17

      Whatever gives you solace, Susan. Both science and I look at death this way: Since the brain is part of our body, when the body dies the brain dies. All of our actions and thoughts originate in the brain, so the brain ceases to operate. Immediately (or soon after death) the organism begins to deteriorate, and since the brain is part of that organism, the brain — the source of who we are — deteriorates as well. Nothingness has engulfed the organism.

      Religious folk believe that an individual’s soul continues after death. Research has shown repeatedly that the soul doesn’t exist. Heaven and Hell don’t exist except what we’ve created here in this vale of tears. Would any compassionate and all-powerful god treat his creations the way religious belief describes it? Look around at the world to see reality. Belief in an afterlife is non-existent…but it provides solace to the believer at the approach of death.

      If you believe in love, share that love while you are alive…as you do, Susan. As I said, whatever gives solace is enough.

    • Linda on November 29, 2017 at 22:25

    You will be remembered with love. I quote you all the time to different people at different moments and I see you all the time at different moments when I see something or someone that reminds me of a moment with you.

    Now I will remember “…where death is a shadow in the corridors.” That moved me.

      • Don Bay on November 30, 2017 at 06:27

      Thanks for the warm words. We’re all in this together and each of us is worthy of being respected. When I remember the office, I thought that all of us contributed toward reaching the goal, so all of us deserved to be rewarded for that contribution. When I’ve fallen short, it was when I wasn’t thinking. That’s why all of us should always endeavor to think about our actions (and inactions) and how they may affect the other person.

      As for my words, I put effort into expressing what I think. Success or failure, I want to keep my readers interested. Let me know how I’m doing. Makes me think…and that’s always good.

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