Content warning: religion, suicide, profanity, cupcakes
The good news is I chose well in keeping all 27 of you as my remaining Facebook friends, because since I announced my plans for my life-ending fast, I’ve only gotten love and support in return. Not one of you sent me threats of eternal damnation, so that’s a definite win.
But earlier this week my rally of support was pierced by my hospice CNA--- or more specifically, by her brand of Catholicism. Once she learned of my plans to hasten my exit on my own terms, her usually warm and sunny demeanor morphed into a frozen lake of disapproval. Gone were her easy chatting, eye contact, and offer of my optional sponge bath, replaced only with her hard silence, set jaw, and after washing my hair, a curt exit. She didn’t even laugh at my jokes, though I’m pretty sure they were above average for a Monday afternoon.
I get it, we all have our different beliefs, but a punishing God simply isn’t big enough to preside over every situation. And sometimes Jesus’ most outspoken followers are the least capable of understanding his basic teachings. In either case I suspect whenever our rigid morality outweighs our human compassion, we’ve lost the thread.
This same Monday, six days before I was scheduled to start my fast, my industrious nurse friend Sarah found out I’m actually still eligible for Medical Aid In Dying (MAID). It’s the Colorado law passed by voters in 2016 which gives us “6-months or less” folks the option of a humane death instead of being forced to allow our diseases to ravage us slowly and painfully. The doctor who told me two years ago that I was ineligible because I couldn’t hold the cup of liquid medicine myself was simply wrong. Ah right, yet another reminder to-always get a second opinion, and push back when need be. .
So here’s what this means in plain terms: I now have the option of forgoing the fast, which would have likely involved a dreaded catheter, uncomfortable bed pans, a growing constellation of pressure sores, the unknowns of coma, the not-small side effects of painkillers, and the hunger, thirst, and potential (however small) for unanticipated suffering for however many weeks it takes for my organs to start collapsing. Instead, now, I could wake up on the day I’ve chosen to be my last, eat a nice breakfast, have a little visit and ritual with the friends/family I’ve invited to surround me, drink a strong med cocktail in pineapple juice, fall asleep within minutes, and slip into the spirit realm within thirty minutes to three hours.
But before you conclude this is a no brainer, please know I harbor generations of residual Christian guilt in every last snippet of my DNA, and am also a very good Libra. Doubt and martyrdom are my birthrights. “Wait... I’ve survived lots of suffering already, why settle for bronze when I could go for the gold? Should death be so easy? Isn’t this too abrupt? Will it shame my family? Isn’t it technically suicide, and wouldn’t it therefore cause people to judge me as weak, amoral, and ungrateful? Wait, AM I weak, amoral, and ungrateful? ” Such fun questions, and good examples of why psychotherapists the world over will always have work.
Here’s the counter questions Sarah asked me as I was contemplating all this, reprinted with her permission. “What makes suicide suicide and why do we judge it? Does suicide suck because it was secret and there was no conscious goodbye? Does suicide suck because loved ones are left behind with questions that can’t be answered and feelings of guilt and shame that they caused suffering? Does suicide suck because we are afraid of death? Does suicide suck because a moment or period of trial leads to a reactive decision with an irreversible consequence?”
Okay, these are even better questions. I suspect, in most cases, the answers are yes, yes, yes. So, what if we could take the taboo out of discussing suicidal thoughts, intentions, and urges? Let the question of morality sit this topic out for a minute. Isn’t speaking frankly about the forbidden thing the best antidote to shame and loneliness, both of which breed despair and impulsivity? Might allowing ourselves to be witnessed in our naked despair, exhaustion, or just plain doneness be an expression of strength?
Sarah continued. “This I know….You have a terminal diagnosis and continue to decline. You are consciously saying goodbye. You are choosing your time to leave mindfully and honestly. You are not running away from hardship or suffering, you are running toward what you know is next for you… and you are bringing people along in your process.”
You know those moments where someone reflects something kind, obvious and yet strangely novel back to you *about* you, or about life, and it opens a new wing of your mind and heart? That’s either a sign of good psychotherapy, or good friendship.
So yes, the plan has changed. I am now set to receive the medicine* by courier on October 13th, near the date my heart would have likely stopped from the fast, though when I drink it is entirely up to me. In any case. I’m seeing how my people and I can build ritual into this exit, so it feels just as alive, measured, and sacred as any other big life transition properly honored.
I think magic is the ultimate result of equal parts presence, reverence, intention, good relationships, and good lighting.
*Still searching for the proper name for the drink. Persephone’s Potion? Death Cocktail? Witches Brew? Libation of Transformation? Liberation Libaton? Peace Out, Bitches? So many possibilities. .
As for the question of how to do the seemingly impossible next thing, I’m betting, like literally everything else in life, its just one step at a time.
Pre memorial memorial with closest friends? Check.
Goodbye zoom calls with faraway family? In progress.
Canceling monthly subscriptions? Check.
Completing crucial amends? Check.
Passing along logistical info, updating the will, ordering a last minute gizmo for the cats? Check, check, check.
Believing my therapist when she tells me that it’s okay to show myself mercy, which by Its very nature isn't concerned with being “deserved” or not? Check.
On that day I choose in mid October when my people are gathered, I’ll be dressed in my favorite outfit. There will be flowers. Someone will bake apples so the house smells sweet. Someone will bribe cats into my lap with treats. John will fuss over me very pointedly, because he still can. I’ll implore everyone to try one last time to capture the first decent, maskless photo of me in years.
When we’ve all emotionally arrived and relaxed, and the time is right, we’ll prop me up in my hospital bed. We’ll light candles. We’ll call in my well ancestors and guides. We’ll read poetry. We’ll cry. We’ll share our prayers and intentions for each other. We’ll hold hands, and maybe for once it won’t be awkward.
At some point I’ll ask if everyone’s ready. I’ll ask myself if I’m ready. In my nervousness I’ll try to make a joke, and my people won’t laugh, but will smile with sparkly eyes, I’ll tell them each that I love them, again, and to remember to look for me, again. They will nod and squeeze me and murmur sweet things. We’ll enter further into an altered state. The air will grow thick with a potent presence. I’ll feel into the silence and wait for the invisible signal. Maybe my heart will pound, or maybe I’ll be euphoric and calm with one foot already in the next realm. And once it feels like I’m called, I’ll find just enough trust, and nod that I’m ready.
Glug glug glug, down the hatch. John will wipe my chin one last time. I’ll lay my head back and feel the rush from knowing I can’t take it back. There might be an opportunity to panic here, to question the decision which is now irreversible.. But I’ll remember to breathe because I’ll have instructed my people ahead of time to remind me, and cheer me, and beam broad lasers of love from their broken open hearts to my broken open heart.
I will fall asleep. In that timeless space, maybe I’ll remember how to surrender. Maybe I’ll make peace with the reality that Earth is no longer my responsibility or my burden, though I love her so. I’ll feel the conflicting forces of attachment for everyone I’m leaving, and hopefully---hopefully--- trust in the goodness of what’s next. And soon I’ll remember my true name, and chuckle at myself for ever having forgotten.
Meanwhile my people will whisper, pray, enjoy the silence. They will watch my breathing for changes. Eventually, someone will be the first to use the bathroom, or step outside to watch the leaves fall in fresh air. Someone will be the first to eat a baked apple, and in my fantasy they will enjoy the earthy goodness so much that they weep with a sudden overwhelming gratitude.
As I’ve settled further into this new plan over this week, I’ve grown increasingly relieved, even joyful. Some of you might remember I wrote in my memoir about the night, just a few days post-diagnosis, I had a visceral, full-body experience of falling freely through space. Many seconds later I realized that instead of clenching my body in terror, I could simply relax and let myself enjoy the fall. I never did hit any ground---instead I was suddenly released from the whole sensation. Now I understand that this experience foreshadowed my descent into paralysis, and now death. The truth is I was safe to relax all along. It’s all okay, and always has been.
So would you like to know what you can do for me? When you finally hear the news that I’m no longer embodied in this realm, I’d love it if you became outrageously, shamelessly joyful, even if you also weep.
I’m still hoping someone will eventually take a decent, unmasked picture of me that I’d want to share. If not, and barring some irresistible last minute inspiration, this will be my final post. I know now is the time and the season to get quiet and turn within, to rest after a season of so much activity. In either case I’ll remind myself. I’ve already said enough (though it feels like there’s always more to say, and I’ve already done enough (though it feels like there’s always more to do).
This is a post where I can’t interact with comments, so I’ll simply practice receiving in the coming days. Here’s a bunch of love hearts in advance, to be doled out in an equitable and satisfying manner for all involved.
More of you than you know have taught me, in whatever small or large ways, how to become a decent human being, and how to wear grace well. My gratitude is a deep and large sea.
Until we meet again, please forgive me for lying about cupcakes ~
During our weekly Zoom call my dear mother said she read my post about our broken patio umbrella, and offered to buy me a new one. I could’ve explained to her that the warranty process is important, because I had spent $6 on the policy for the $49 umbrella, so goshdarnit, the warranty people were obligated to fix this problem. Her argument was that her girl just wants to sit outside comfortably for the last few weeks of her life (so buy another gd umbrella already), while my argument was that now is still a fine time to operate on principle. Principles, mother! But instead of carefully explaining my rigid logic in the face of her kind offer, I merely winced, shook my head, and changed the subject, in a superb display of 40-yo teenager.
Apparently, even after all this, I’m still learning how to receive, too. Meanwhile, John became a different sort of mama bear when he finally got on the phone with the warranty people and roared about how difficult they were making this process. I was shamelessly grateful for the privilege of having a straight white dissatisfied male husband, because I knew if even he couldn't get the attention of the Supervisor, no soul on this Earth ever would, and I could finally surrender to the disappointment of having a $6 warranty worth absolutely nothing.
My takeaway from this week? There are such diverse manifestations of true love.
Speaking of receiving, other noteworthy recent experiences include letting one friend give me a head massage, letting another give me a foot massage, and letting another wipe my runny nose and hold me as I mini-wept. All they required from me in each case was saying yes, yes, okay, yes. I accept.
With only two weeks of food, water, and appointments left, it’s hitting me that I don’t have much time. I’m quickly approaching the point where I need to create an auto reply on my email and put my inner people pleaser to rest. “But what if people take my non response to their messages personally? What if they think it means I don't care about them? What if they--gasp--decide they don’t actually like me after all?” The opportunities for working with one’s childhood stuff never ever end.
In the past few years, my favorite method for dealing with my free-range social anxiety at any given time is to delete 10-20% of my Facebook friends. I typically choose those who I don't actually know or haven’t heard from in a while. Unfriend, unfriend, unfriend. It’s a poor strategy though because unless someone is unapologetically racist or a vitriolic anti masker (unearthed courtesy of 2020), I usually end up regretting it. Like all good addictions/compulsions, it’s a control strategy with diminishing returns. My last purge-trance included over 200 mostly innocent souls and felt cathartic at the time, but was ultimately guilt-inducing. Plus, I’m pretty sure I now only have like 27 friends left, which is kind of embarrassing. And therefore increases my social anxiety.
What’s even more regrettable is that roughly half of my remaining friends are psychotherapists, which means I’m about to receive a bunch of PMs expressing concern. We then come full circle to the question of how I respond to more messages than I can handle. So it’s official, the universe does have a sense of humor after all.
The Serenity Prayer invites us to accept the things we cannot change, find the courage to change the things we can, and express the wisdom to know the difference. Here’s some of the things I cannot change: the past. Acquiring a disease for which there is no viable treatment. The momentum of my karma until this moment. The fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene walks this Earth the same time as I, and made it to Congress. Other people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, including whether they trust I value them even if I don’t always acknowledge their kind messages.
Here’s what I can change:
My responses to everything I cannot change. How much water I drink and slow breaths I take. Whether or not I choose to ask for help, or receive it when offered to me. How I redirect my mind when I want to catastrophize the state of the world, or my cat’s health, or running out of my favorite flavor of Coconut Bliss. Whether I feed my cynicism or feed my creativity. The conception of the God I pray to.
My gratitude list for today:
Portable fans on a hot day, and the electricity to run them. A 12-yo nephew who gives me hope for the future of humanity. My kind caregivers. My mother who taught me how to love houseplants and gift-giving, and my father who gave me good hand-eye coordination, a tender heart, and an ability to find religion in nature. Having clean water and sheets. The potential of fungi restoring this Earth someday. Monkeys who hug, and photographers who capture it.
*All individuals referenced in this post approve of this message.
Photo of monkey hug by rabe dirk wennigsen, pixabay