old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.

a new (to me) bird and my snuggle bug

Carolina wren ~ Image source: AnimalSpot.net
11.30.18 ~ Finn, my snuggle bug, four weeks old, last day of visit ~ photo by Larisa

Home again… After almost two months in North Carolina helping out with the arrival of Finn we are finally back in Connecticut, savoring memories and looking forward to the holidays. I already miss playing with Katherine and snuggling with Finn every day.

One of the many delightful things that happened during my visit was discovering Carolina wrens. I’m pretty sure it was one in particular that kept singing outside my window. And another male answering from a bit farther away. Identifying their territories presumably. Then one day while I was sitting on the couch and cuddling Finn I saw the little bird out on the porch singing the familiar tune. Now I could identify him! I’ve never seen one in Connecticut. The afternoon before leaving I was washing dishes under the open kitchen window when the wren landed on a bush right in front of me and sang once again. A lovely good-bye gift.

transcendence

11.15.18 ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina ~ after the hard freeze and four days of rain

Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Nature)

Finn

Finn

Little grandson Finn has been home for a few days now and we are all very busy! His name is Irish, given to him as a nod to his family’s year in Ireland, where he was conceived.

Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) was a legendary Irish giant who fought the Scottish giant Benandonner, who was threatening Ireland. Larisa, Dima and Katherine visited the Giant’s Causeway while they were in Ireland.

A blessing for a brother written by John O’Donohue:

The knowing that binds us
Is older than the apostrophe of cell
We formed from within the one womb.

All that flowed into us there
From the red village of ancestry
Sowed spores of continuity
That would one day flower
Into flickers of resemblance:

An unconscious gesture
Could echo an ancestor,
And the look of us stir
Recognition of belonging
That is ours alone;

And our difference finding
Its own rhythm of strangeness,
Leading us deeper into a self
That would always know its own
Regardless of difficulty and distance;
And through hurt no other could inflict;

Still somehow beside each other
Though the night is dark
With wind that loves
To clean the bones of ruins,
Making further room for light.

~ John O’Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

green space

“The Younger Brother” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones — inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones — rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
~ Mary Oliver
(Upstream: Selected Essays)

baby boy!

Our new little grandson arrived yesterday afternoon! After an evening of trick-or-treating Larisa went into labor, only a few hours past her due date. She wound up having a Cesarean, but she and baby are all right. 8 lbs, 4 oz, 20.25 inches! When I was allowed into the recovery room he was already nursing contentedly. He has beautiful gray eyes, which I enjoyed gazing into as I rocked him. I’m in love.

And Tim got the best birthday present ever! A grandson born on his birthday!

due date

Larisa ~ 10.31.18 ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The due date has arrived! It seems this baby plans on being late, too. Larisa is very uncomfortable and trying her best to be patient.

Tim has returned from Connecticut and has resumed taking Katherine to and from daycare. I’m doing laundry and cooking and we’ve both been helping out where needed.

Katherine is excited about Halloween and her best friend is coming over soon to go trick-or-treating with her. We have birthday celebrations scheduled for the next two days and another one next week. (Tim, Dominic and Dima) Lots of activity and a bit too much stimulation for me, but I’m pacing myself with periodic escapes to my room.

Dima got an early birthday present from his family, a combination smoker and grill. We’ve been having some fantastic dinners while we continue to wait for baby. 🙂

historic elm

10.23.18 ~ American Elm ~ Carrboro, North Carolina

The other day I went out with Larisa so she could vote. (They have early voting in North Carolina. Tim & I used absentee ballots before we left Connecticut.) We pulled into the Carrboro Town Hall parking lot and a HUGE tree caught my eye. We parked under its massive branches. I looked at the leaves and said, “I bet that’s an elm tree!” An American Elm.

10.23.18 ~ Carrboro, North Carolina

While Larisa went inside to vote I got out of the car and had a nice long visit with the tree. According to the Town of Carrboro, the elm has a spread of 114 ft (35 m) and a height of 40 ft (12 m). It was registered with the Elm Research Institute in 1985.

10.23.18 ~ American Elm ~ Carrboro, North Carolina

The American elm was the most popular tree to plant in the booming cities of the 19th century, so that by the 20th century many streets were lined with only elms and were shaded in summer by a cathedral-like ceiling of their branches. When Dutch elm disease (which actually originated in Asia) spread to the US in the 1950s, it was able to mow down elm after elm through their grafted root systems or with the help of a beetle. Today, arborists and foresters are careful to plant a diverse range of trees that will not all be vulnerable to any particular pest, disease or weather conditions.
~ The Morton Arboretum website

10.23.18 ~ American Elm ~ Carrboro, North Carolina

Some of my readers may remember Grandmother Elm, the tree I fell in love with when I was going through one of the most difficult years of my life. She was a great source of comfort and wisdom. Interestingly, Grandmother Elm is 60 ft (18 m) high, 20 ft (6 m) taller than Carrboro’s American Elm. But this elm is much wider than the one in Connecticut. Both of them are lovely, just the way they are.