Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beauty School Dropout

I joined a grief support group given by the hospice organization which tended Flip in his last months. It consists of several women who have lost their elderly mothers and me. I know that grief is grief and cannot be compared but with all respect, it is different to lose your life's partner and best friend who was relatively young; a parent, no matter how beloved, presumably lived a full life which ended in her 90s. One of the women had a minor psychotic break because her church, the one in which we hold our meetings, forgot to mention her mother on All Saints' Day. She has mentioned her female partner many times and I wonder how she can pledge allegiance to a church which is at war with homosexuals. Of course, I can't ask.

This week a new woman joined the group and confided that she recently attempted suicide. She was laughing inappropriately, which I think is usually a sign of desperation, and I have spent many hours worrying about her and trying to think of ways to help her. i also believe that her issues are beyond the scope of a support group. Hospice asks that we commit to the entire series of six weekly meetings, but I am seriously considering dropping out because I believe this concern is impeding my own healing process. We signed a pledge agreeing not to discuss anything that occurs in the meetings with anyone, even privately with other members of the group. What happens in St. Agnes stays in St. Agnes. It isn't a lack of empathy but perhaps, that I have too much empathy which makes me uncomfortable. I left a voice mail for the facilitator explaining that I don't think I'm a good fit although everyone is very nice and she is doing a great job. She is a young family therapy intern, kind and caring, but I think she is over her head with a suicidal group member. I hope she is getting advice from her supervisor.

I wonder if I might be a sociopath who lacks normal emotions because when my mother died I cried a lot but stopped soon after her funeral. It never occurred to me to seek a support group or needless to say, kill myself. While I am not sure I could survive the loss of any of my children, we expect to outlive our parents. That is the natural order of things. I hope my children will miss me when I'm gone but not to the extent that it interferes with their lives.

The bottom line is that if the support group is making things worse, I should quit. If it were merely not helping, I would give it more time, but it feels detrimental to my emotional health. Maybe I am simply too much of a loner to benefit from this kind of therapy and might do better to spend a few hours walking on the ecology trail Flip loved, or riding my bicycle to places we visited. Listening to his music hurts but helps, too. For whatever reason, the group experience doesn't seem to be working for me.

My mother once made a bargello wall hanging of a flock of white sheep facing one way, a lone black sheep facing the other. "That's you," she said, "You're the black sheep." I was hurt and discarded her gift as soon as she left. Now I think she was just stating that our true nature cannot be changed. But with all the changes in my life, I don't have the energy or inclination to change myself. Even if it were possible. Flip's illness has been a solo voyage from the beginning. I guess there is something to be said for consistency.

Monday, October 15, 2012


As if I needed further lessons in impermanence, today I visited the picnic area I have reserved for Flip's celebration of life memorial and found several very old, huge trees had been cut down, as well as all the foliage that provided a natural barrier at the edge of the slope leading to San Francisco Bay. It looks like a deforestation project. The incomparable beauty of the site has been destroyed, and I can't imagine why anyone would do that as the tree stumps do not look diseased, and they helped to hold the hill in place. Surely erosion will soon follow. If I had known, I would have selected another spot for the gathering.

Since I resist believing in a random universe, it is necessary to examine events which seem significant in order to discover their meaning. Obviously the loss of Flip is far greater than the loss of some trees, however magnificent they were. But that was never lost on me. And yes, I do realize that everything that happens is not about me. But when they happen so close to home, both geographically and emotionally, I have to take notice.

The Rolling Stones' song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" comes to mind here, as it has so often the last few years. But we already knew that. We needn't belabor it, certainly. I could get mystical and imagine that Flip is expressing his displeasure at being commemorated there, but I'm sure he is far more displeased to be dead. And he liked that spot as much as I did. Plus, he would never cut down a majestic tree or mess with a gorgeous view. So it's mystifying that this lovely spot has been desecrated the very week I need it for an event which means a lot to me.

Maybe that's the key. The event is not important compared to what it concerns. That is not lost on me either. Apparently I am to understand that I cannot control anything, really. Not life nor death, and must view the world and everything in it as if it might be gone tomorrow and I will never see it again. Now that is something that with practice, I might be able to manage.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I am your witness,
Attending your demise.
I watch your chest move,
Momentarily relieved.
Not yet,
Not yet.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

Do you stay
To shield me from your loss?
Can you feel my care,
Drifting toward eternity
Beyond us now?
Beyond us now.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

Our lives so tangled
I cannot tell where you end
And I begin.
Who am I if there is no we?
You and me,
You and me.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

We share everything.
Look! I have life force enough
For both of us.
I can sustain you if you just
Stay with me.
Stay with me.

How many breaths do you have left, my love?

(This was written yesterday.)

My Flip took his last breath this morning. Right now I cannot imagine my life without him, but I will have to find a way because I'm still here. I fear my own death less because he will protect me as he did when we swam in waters way too deep for my abilities. Flip was my safety net and my true north. Losing him feels like an amputation, but we were blessed to have found perfect love with each other and to live in beautiful harmony for 21 years. And that will have to be enough.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Why can't I have coffee and an almond croissant?

I lost my cat Pekoe today. He was really my daughter's cat as she raised him after finding him abandoned in a beer cooler at the beach in Santa Monica. He was too young to leave his mother so she became his mother, feeding him with an eye dropper and encouraging him to live and thrive. And thrive he did. He quickly took over her household, dominating her two older, larger cats, and captivating her heart and mine.

A little over a year ago he came to live with me, and my daughter could not have given me a sweeter gift. As I've been losing my husband an inch at a time, Pekoe has taken over my heart, filling me with love and joy. He was diabetic and had to eat and get insulin injections every twelve hours. It sounds like a chore but his schedule grounded me. I was happy to come home to him every day, and even waking up at 5:30 a.m. was not difficult although I am by nature a night person. Pekoe's chosen meal time was 5:30, morning and evening, with no adjustment for Daylight Saving Time, and he hated to dine alone so I was required to sit on the floor next to his bowls and supervise every mouthful. In return, he jumped onto the kitchen table and rested by my plate whenever I ate because fair is fair. No matter what he was doing, he would awaken at the sound of activity in the kitchen and dutifully join me at my repast, only rarely taking a swipe at something that looked yummy. There is a big empty hole in all his favorite places and in my heart tonight. I am keeping his toys where he left them so if he visits, he'll have his favorite mousies to play with. I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye a few minutes ago. I'd like to think he is with me still.

The person who callously discarded him on that beach nine years ago will never know what a great spirit he had, or how much love he shared with us. Part of me wants to close my heart because losing a loved one is so very painful, but love is never wasted and always comes back to us in one way or another. I just wish we'd had him longer. Life is hard, with beautiful moments.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Baby Steps

When it rains it pours. I went out with two handsome men last night. I guess that's a double date, not a ménage à trois as they are a couple and I was the third wheel. Our friends Tom and Jim invited me to a Greek restaurant in my neighborhood, and it was delightful. As we walked down the street, several people took note of us. I hope they thought I was a slut and not the fraternity housemother. It would be great for my self esteem.

I had wine. White. I don't know when I last had wine. One glass does the job. I'm a cheap date. I really need to drink wine more often. I haven't allowed myself to dwell on all that I'm missing because self pity is ugly, especially when Flip is missing out on so much more. But such reasoning, followed to its logical conclusion, would prevent me from eating at all since some people are starving. Depriving myself would not help them - it would merely add to the casualty list. It could even be argued that by enjoying life as much as possible, I am helping to create balance in the world. And how could that be wrong?

I couldn't resist telling my friends that two people caring for Flip in the last few days asked if I was his daughter, and nobody could have been more surprised than I. "You look young," said Tom, "but you don't look that young." Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

"Were you bad when you were young?" he asked. Except for some high school truancy, I wasn't. I didn't do drugs or drink to excess, and I wasn't promiscuous. What a fucking waste. But it's never too late. We reinvent ourselves every day, and the woman I am becoming is going to have more fun. Today I will buy a bottle of wine so I can enjoy it every night. Who knows where this could lead? The butterfly struggles to emerge from its cocoon, but without the struggle it could never fly. It's time to shed my cocoon and learn to fly again.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Joys of Love

Sunrise over Bay Bridge, San Francisco, CA
I am learning happiness. Better late than never. It's not that I have never been happy before, far from it. But being happy when everything in ones life is perfect is no accomplishment. Those who can't be happy when all the signs are right are deeply flawed, I think. What I am teaching myself is that happiness does not depend on external circumstances; it grows from within. It is the result of seeing and appreciating all the beauty that surrounds us no matter where we are both in a geographical sense and in our minds and hearts, and cherishing it. Strange as it seems, I am falling in love with my life - because it is mine.

As most of you know, Flip is the love of my life and he suffers from a dreadful disease which has stolen him from himself, and from me. I visit him every day to honor who he was and the beautiful relationship we shared, and to offer him such comfort as I can. But I am still fully alive and able to enjoy all the things that gave me pleasure before I knew Flip and when we lived together. He would not want me to lose my own capacity for joy, to spend all my energy mourning his fate. Of course I do mourn it. Terribly. But I am also grateful for every smile that comes my way, for people who make me laugh, for the kindness of both strangers and loved ones. (Sometimes they are the same people.)

When I was a child I read a book called "The Story of 100 Operas." Aida was my favorite. I thought it terribly romantic that as the heroine's lover, Radamès, is sealed in his tomb, she leaps in at the last possible moment to die with him. I was eleven. My ideas of romance have evolved since then, and if I were to relinquish the things that bring me happiness, it would be like leaping into a tomb alive.

I am not a religious person but I am spiritual enough to believe there are still things for me to do for others and myself. Otherwise, I would not still be healthy and capable. As a child I didn't think I had any value, so perhaps that is why I was so willing to throw myself into another's grave in the name of love. Life has taught me that love involves helping others and that my life, like everyone's, is special and deserves to be honored by living it as fully as I can. This will not involve dancing on tables in bars (for those who wondered) but simply being fully present in every moment and trusting that even though I can't control most things, life works out as it should. For each of us. So as long as the possibility of surprise exists, I'm in.

"The joys of love are but a moment long,
The pain of love endures a whole life long."

Plaisir d'Amour

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Help! Need Drone Missile

My first boyfriend has written an autobiography, bursting with hubris. He tells all about everyone, including real names.  What is more, he has sent it to everyone he knows, many of whom are people I know, too. Needless to say, some of us would like to lynch him. I have spent hours on the phone with his sister whom I adore and whose relationship with a Very Famous Person is being offered up as well because the writer, and I use that word advisedly, seems to believe it bestows fame on him, too. He is all about fame and fortune without ever having earned either. Still, he seems to think he deserves it simply by virtue of his (sorry) existence. Much of the book details all the women he has bedded even though none of them is famous. He could easily have changed their names but despite having no moral or ethical principles at all, he has taken a stand on the integrity of his narrative which dictates that the names be scrupulously accurate.

One of the particularly sordid stories is about a woman he knew in medical school who got pregnant and for whom he procured an illegal abortion. He did not spare any concern for the effects of this situation on her life, only his own. He also declined to change her name because she hasn't asked him to. His sister asked how she could make such a request if she didn't know about it. He had no answer, which did not seem to trouble him.

He even portrays his parents, who were utterly fine and delightful people, in a bad light while being inordinately proud of his illustrious ancestors on both sides of his family. I think those ancestors are all spinning in their graves now.

He has also sent his manuscript to every online publisher he knows, and since he has published political essays in the past there is a chance someone will accept it. I am hopeful that the bad writing and obvious insanity will preclude that possibility, but he has already done considerable harm by disseminating this disgustingly arrogant piece of offal.

I know we're dealing with extreme mental illness but he is cutting a very wide swath, hurting everyone whose life has ever intersected with his own. I don't believe he does this in anger, yet for an intelligent man he is profoundly obtuse. He seems incapable of understanding that he doesn't have the right to violate other people's privacy, but then how could he? He considers everyone either useful or not useful to him and does not recognize that they have independent lives and sensibilities. He has the emotional delicacy of a tick, and ticks are notoriously hard to squash.

I unfriended him on Facebook but it seems so ineffectual compared to the rage I feel.

Whatever happened to the idea that a gentleman does not kiss and tell?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Want To Hold Your Hand

Today was special. We had a visit from Flip's first girlfriend ever, when he was 14 and she was 13. They hadn't seen each other since they were in their mid-teens, but she found me on Facebook and we began a correspondence. She wanted to thank Flip for showing her in her first relationship that boys could be kind and caring, gentle, respectful and funny. He is still all those things, and more. Lori said that he introduced her to music, which would become a very important part of her life, and to photography as he always had a camera with him and chronicled their young teen life, mostly in pictures of an adorable smiling Lori, who is now a professional photographer.

I warned her that I didn't know how he'd react to her visit as his behavior can be unpredictable, but it couldn't have been better. He was sleeping when she arrived so we went to eat, and when we returned his lunch had been delivered. I woke him up to feed him, and told him who she was. She showed him snapshots he had taken of her at age 13 and remarked that she is much older and larger now, but it didn't matter. He recognized her and smiled. She told him about her life, and that she never forgot him even though they went different ways because they didn't live in the same town and neither was old enough to drive.

She reminisced about strolling in Los Angeles parks and on beaches, hand in hand, singing Beatles songs - it didn't hurt that Flip looked a lot like George Harrison -  and talking on the phone for hours as soon as they got to their own homes. It sounds like the most perfect teen romance. She gave me a stack of photographs, all of them precious. I especially love that he wrote on the back of one:

I have pictures of you plastered all over the darkroom walls, so it's almost impossible for me to forget what you look like - (which is fairly hard to do anyway.)
Truly yours, sincerely, love, forever, cordially, Phil.

It charms me that he sneaked "love" in there, surrounded by several less serious words, because he wanted her to know and also shyly hoped she wouldn't notice. Children are so brave but life doesn't often encourage them to stay that way. I feel honored to have glimpsed an important part of my husband's life long before I knew him. His taste in girls was impeccable as Lori is now a wonderful, kind, sensitive and giving woman who must have been an absolute delight then. There was magic in having his first love and his last together at his bedside, and I think Flip was aware of the symmetry. After she left, I asked him if he remembered her although it seemed obvious that he did. He said, "Oh yeah." I believe her visit helped him to reconnect with who he was then and still is now, despite the fogginess of dementia, and I am grateful to Lori for giving him back a piece of himself. Some days God smiles.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

They Can't Take That Away From me

Today I had to take a driver's test - written and vision - to renew my license before my birthday in late June. Of the seven states in which I have been licensed to drive, California has the toughest test so I was nervous. (Vermont's had only three questions, as I recall.) When we moved here 14 years ago Flip, a native Californian, was able to get his license reinstated but I had to take the exam. Since I had been driving since age 16, I didn't bother to read the driver's manual and failed. There are a lot of rules which are specific to California. So I read the entire book which includes such gems as "Do not shoot firearms on a highway or at traffic signs," returned the next day and passed, despite a lack of experience with firearms.

Today's test was required because of an accident I had in 2009. I was especially anxious because Flip is now in a nursing home across San Francisco Bay and I drive to see him every day. Public transportation from here to there is extremely inconvenient, but at some point everyone should stop driving and I hope I will be aware and responsible enough to recognize when that time comes, before anyone gets hurt. Thankfully, I won't have to deal with that particular disaster just yet.

Traffic within the vast DMV building was directed by a large, pleasant Philippine gentleman with dyed orange hair who missed his calling as a circus ringmaster. I began to think things might go well when I was first directed to window 6, my favorite number and birth month, and then to window 24, my birthday. The woman who took my picture was so slow I was sure I had actually broken the camera, but unfortunately it was her printer that jammed. She directed me and the people behind me to another window at the other end of the building and did not show me the picture until it was too late to object. If I am ever stopped for anything, they will be sure I did it and also that I am a particularly muttly extraterrestrial. Cameras do that to me. I was finger printed at each counter. They weren't taking any chances.

 I was glad I had read the handbook again last night. The two people ahead of me failed, and the woman at the checking station didn't bother to tell me I had passed (100%.) Apparently she was unaware that I was holding my breath, fervently wishing I were a rosary bead kind of person. Finally, she handed me the temporary paperwork and said my license would be mailed in 4-6 weeks, about when my present one expires. I would have liked a formal statement and maybe a 21-gun salute since they probably have all those confiscated firearms around, but still, it was a day well spent. And the piece of celebratory chocolate cake was, well, the icing on the cake. Priceless.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

When My Name Was Mommy

My son has always had a great capacity for assimilating data and putting it to use quickly. When he was two and my older daughter was three and a half, it dawned on me that I could bathe them together as they were both out of diapers and not yet adolescent. I placed them in a tub of bubbles and lathered them while they played with their bath toys.

Suddenly, J stood up and began to circle E, a look of deep concentration on his face.

“Mommy!" he exclaimed. "E has a different kind of penis.”

E snapped, “Stupid! Don’t you know a vagina when you see one?” She held J's rubber ducky under water until it drowned.

I explained that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and they went back to splashing each other and racing their plastic boats.

The next day, I was at the grocer's with J perched in the kiddie seat, swinging his legs and grabbing whatever he could off the shelves.

A sweet little old lady shuffled up to us with her walker and cooed, “Ohhh, you are the most beeeyootiful widdle boy!”

He looked her dead in the eye, and then beamed radiantly as he made the connection.

“You have a bagina, don’t you? “ he crowed.

She clutched her breast and gasped, and I thought she would have a heart attack and fall down right in the cereal aisle of Stop & Shop.

When she didn’t die, I pushed my shopping cart away and said, “Honey, it’s vagina with a va, not a ba.”

But J's attention had already moved on to Fruit Loops, which had a very nice picture on the box.

The only thing I ever knew J to fear was haircuts. When he was 2 1/2, his father decreed that “MY SON will not have long hair anymore.” So we took the children to Mr. Gay, a fashionable children’s barber on Madison Avenue in New York.

E went first. She adored the attention, the swivel chair that went up and down, the praise for being such a good girl, her new look, and the red lollipop at the end.

It turned out that J had a Sampson thing going. He accelerated to full hysteria as soon as he was placed in the chair. He could not be reasoned with, he could not be bribed. He was uncontrollable, a small whirlwind, squirming, leaping, thrashing and full-bore pedal to the metal screaming.

E stood by his chair, watching with scientific detachment as she licked her lollipop. The parents of other children put down their magazines and stared in horror. I was ready to pay the barber to stop, but MY SON had to have short hair.

Mr. Gay said, “I can’t do this,” threw off his smock and headed for the door. He was about 90 years old, had given thousands of children haircuts, but he had met defeat in the form of a small but determined blond cherub with exceptional vocal chords.

As the barber disappeared down the street, the other barber (I think he was Mr. Gay’s father) came over and began to cut J’s hair, trying to establish a rhythm between wild leaps and flailing arms. We had to tip him double.

You would think this torture would not be repeated, but a few months later, MY SON had hair hanging in his eyes and over his ears again, so off we went.

E got a lollipop but no haircut, which clearly disappointed her, and J was hoisted, screaming, into The Bad Chair. This time both barbers joined forces to perform the operation, one holding him down while the other attempted to cut his golden fleece on the downswing.

J’s ear got nicked, and I said, “That’s it. Let him go.”

He got two lollipops, and we left.

For the next few years, I cut his hair at night, while he slept, like a stealth bomber with scissors. I would drape a towel over his pillow and turn him like a chicken on a spit, this way and that, until the deed was done, collect all four corners of the hairy towel in one hand while propping J’s head with the other. He never once woke up, and I don’t think he ever noticed the difference because he had no interest in mirrors.

Years later, when he began to notice girls, he suddenly became GQ-worthy and brushed his teeth voluntarily, showered without being reminded, and even took himself for haircuts. I don’t know if they gave him lollipops.

When my younger daughter, C, was 6, she got the part of Lucy in her school play, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." Her father took her to a costume shop near an area of Boston known as the Combat Zone, which is the red light district. He must have looked like a pedophile with a mini-skirted little girl in pink Miss Piggy sneakers. She noticed that the "lamppost ladies" were swinging their pocketbooks, so she swung her Snoopy umbrella.

A very old man was walking slowly ahead of C and her father.

A scantily-clad woman in a doorway said, "Wanna fuck?"

The old man said, "What?"

She repeated herself, louder. "Wanna fuck?"


She sighed impatiently and said it again, louder than before.

He cupped his ear and said, "I'm sorry, miss, but you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you."

The hooker put her hands around her mouth and yelled, "DO.YOU.WANT.TO.FUCK!"

My daughter said to the woman, "Whatever it is, he doesn't want to. His ears don't work anymore."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Out-of-Money Experience

In November, I got two red light camera citations exactly one week apart at an intersection I traverse every day to get on the freeway after visiting Flip. I was distraught. Each of them required a "bail" amount of $480, so I hired a lawyer who specializes in such cases at a cost of $300 per citation. She suggested that I handle the second one myself to save money, which I did. Today I learned that we lost the first case for which I had legal representation, and I will have to pay the bail plus an additional $57 for the privilege of attending driving school to avoid points on my license and higher insurance.

I was ticketed for turning right on red without stopping long enough. They had video to prove it. Our argument was that I could not identify the driver of the car which is registered to me as the driver did not look like me, plus she was wearing sun glasses which obscured much of her face. The red light cameras have been ruled illegal in some places including other parts of California, but not here. I must assume at this point that I will have to pay for both of them - if a lawyer couldn't get me off on the first one, I will probably not succeed with the second. It is a horrible waste of money, and enough that it will create a hardship for me. Yet oddly, I am not as upset as I was when it happened because watching Flip's raging dementia advance has made me realize what we all espouse but don't really believe: It's only money. Losing ones health or ones mind is far worse. Still, I know that for a month or so, I will compare the price of everything I would like to buy with the money this round of bad luck is costing me, and I will be sorely resentful.

The exact same infraction costs $50 in New York and Virginia, I've been told by friends who were also ticketed. $480 is obscene for turning a few seconds too soon when no one was even hurt. Every day I see people drive badly and dangerously under the influence of drugs and alcohol, texting or putting on makeup, none of which I do. It seems terribly unfair, but I will try to focus on how lucky I am to be able to get in a car and drive somewhere on my own because at the end of the day, there are far more unfair circumstances.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Appointment in Samarra*

Every day we read about other people's personal tragedies in the news, but rarely do we know those involved. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at a Christian nursing school in Oakland, California, near the nursing home where my husband Flip now lives. Seven people were murdered execution style and several others wounded, but not much else is known at this time.

What I do know is that one of the victims, Doris Chibuko, was the aunt of a young woman who works at the nursing home as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant.) Nneka is a particular friend of mine because she is unfailingly kind to Flip, and one of the three aides I have fought hard to get as his caregivers. Her aunt was the mother of three children, 3, 5 and 8, and was a lawyer in her native Nigeria. She was studying nursing at Oikos University and was two months away from graduating. She was only 40 years old. The family came to the United States from Nigeria to have a better life. Whatever brutal conditions they escaped in their country have been visited upon them here. The terrible irony in this is obvious.

Last week, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year old Iraqi-American Muslim woman was beaten to death in her home in San Diego, California. A note next to her body called her a terrorist and said she should go back to her own country. She was found by one of her five children, a teenaged daughter who was quoted as saying, "She's such an innocent woman. Why? Why did you do that?...We're not the terrorist. You are."

The family had been here for many years, and the murdered woman's brothers worked as cultural advisers for the U.S. Army to help train soldiers deployed to the Middle East. The police are investigating her death as a homicide: "A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that. We don't want to focus on only one issue and miss something else." One wonders what else it could possibly be.

In February Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old boy was walking home to dinner, chatting on his cellphone with his girlfriend, armed with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea from the local convenience store. He was shot to death by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain with a history of violence because he was black. The Florida police are still scrambling to justify the cold-blooded murder, and Geraldo Rivera has even helpfully suggested that the hoodie he was wearing in the rain was to blame. The killer might as well have been wearing a hood, a white one, because the only possible motive was racism. This country is collapsing under the weight of so much hatred, no matter how we deny it, and everybody can buy a gun. Who will be the next target? Whose child will be murdered next?

"Shaima Al-Awadi's murder, like Trayvon Martin's, was a senseless murder based upon racial animus," said Dawud Walid, a black Muslim leader from Detroit who is executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We must come together as a society to have frank discussions about the toxic rhetorical environment which we currently live in that leads to such wanton violence."

I add my tears for all these people, but have no words of wisdom. Sometimes I really fear we are a lost cause. There will always be evil in the world, and all we can do is try to be as good as we can and hope it makes a difference.

*The title is a reference to W. Somerset Maugham's retelling of an old story in which a merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at top speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

He Practiced What He Preached

Dr. Peter Goodwin, one of the first proponents of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, ended his own life on March 11th after taking lethal medication, a fast-acting barbituate which provided a peaceful death in less than 30 minutes. He was 82 years old and suffered from a rare and fatal brain disease called corticobasal degeneration which affects balance, muscle control and speech as well as cognition. In January, he was given six months to live.

Under the Oregon law, doctors can prescribe medication to hasten the death of terminally ill patients with a six-month prognosis. The patients must be mentally competent and administer the drug themselves. More than 500 people have used the Oregon law to end their lives. The initiative, the first in the country, has survived a Supreme Court challenge. Washington also has laws allowing physician-assisted suicides.

A year ago, Dr. Goodwin said, "I don't want to die. No way do I want to die. I enjoy life; I enjoy company; I enjoy my friends. I have many, many, many friends." But the horrors of his illness apparently changed his mind and he died surrounded by his wife, four children and their spouses.

He practiced as a family physician in Oregon and Washington for five decades, and was instrumental in getting Oregon's Death With Dignity Act passed in the early 1990s when it was expected to fail at the ballot. He first became interested in the cause 20 years ago when a patient asked for his help. The patient had a fatal spinal tumor and was in severe pain. The patient's wife asked Goodwin if she could administer a prescription, but he reluctantly refused, telling her it was against the law.

He told the story to the Oregon legislature, saying his inability to act when the man was in such pain made him feel like a coward. "We cannot deal compassionately with people if we limit their options," he said.

At what point does a person determine that his quality of life does not justify being alive? It is inconceivable that one should ever be in that position, but it is also unimaginable to live in constant pain, or to be reduced to a set of involuntary impulses with all ones unique personality erased by a horrible disease. Most religions would have us believe that suicide is a sin or at least a most negative action, and that to commit it brings hideous consequences. I would like to think that any God worthy of our worship would be compassionate enough to understand that humans have limits.

In some ways, suicide is the final taboo. While it could be argued that our bodies belong to us alone, the concept of doing violence to ourselves is usually harder to grok than committing it on others. So we rationalize that those who take their own lives are not in their right minds. The Oregon law is an exception in that the doctor who prescribes lethal medication must first determine that his patient is in fact thinking clearly. Of course, this is hard to prove or disprove.

I cannot imagine the sorrow of losing a loved one by his own choice, yet who among us would choose to keep a loved one in great and incurable pain? It is impossible to condemn a person who exercises the right to choose his own death. The question really is, does he or she have that right? I believe so, although my heart breaks at the thought of it. What are your beliefs on this topic? I would really like to know.