Monday, July 30, 2012


Joe Klein wrote the cover story on "How to Die."

He's a respected, award-winning columnist. He wrote, anonymously, "PRIMARY COLORS," a bestseller about Bill Clinton's run for the presidency; also other books and articles that I've enjoyed. And this cover story.

I didn't like the title of this cover story. I didn't want to read it. and even after I read it, I didn't want to write about it, even though I pay attention to Klein's opinions.

It was a long article about the death of his parents, who died a few weeks apart.

Klein let us know, in detail, that his mom suffered from dementia, that she was very weak as the end of her life approached, that she needed a feeding tube.

He described, in detail, his father's forgetfulness, dementia, macular degeneration, problems with his kidneys, and Dad's resistance to getting a feeding tube -- then, ultimately, getting a feeding tube.

Joe Klein explained his deep concern with following the "do not resuscitate instructions" in their wills.

I didn't want to read all that -- the moment I saw the red cover of Time, I was angry. I wasn't sure why. I just knew that I didn't want to share my thoughts about how to die in a blog post, a chatty-chat about death that would be read by other people who might feel the way I feel, about being invaded by someone else's experiences.

How do animals handle death? From what I've seen on television, I figure they skulk around, sniffing, bringing food, or whatever, that will make the nest, the home, their place of rest, more comfortable.

We have to die, and the moment that knowledge enters into your life as something that's real, you are changed, and changing. There is less joy, a different sense of time, an awareness and concern about every little ache or pain, and things like bumping into something, or a word you can't remember.

And then, there's the war with the mirror -- a wrinkle, eyes not seeing or hearing things, your hair ... is less. I sometimes feel I look like what Picasso was thinking when he made this self- portrait.

For me, it's important not to think about dying or decaying or what I can no longer do. Instead, I need to be in the now, in the moment of the day.

What keeps me going is, in a way, a heavy-duty compulsion -- a full-time watchfulness and pushing away of all unsolvable problems. Not mentioning them. I know them. You've got yours and I've got mine. It won't make me feel better to hear about yours, or tell you mine.

Reality: I've been worried about growing old since age 33, (actually before I hit 30). In show business, and "dance" is show biz, how you look is as important as talent.

So on and on Joe Klein went, telling us in wonderful detail, about the strength and intelligence of his parents, and how they lost, inch by inch, most of that. And he describes the decisions he had to make, to help them die -- decisions about doctors, hospitals, where to live, various treatments and medications -- based on what Joe felt his father and his mother wanted.

What did they want? What do I want? What do you want?

I want to deal with this myself. I don't want to listen to ads, sales people, doctors, or friends. I will deal with disappearance of the prowess of sight, hearing, taste, appetite, physical energy, memory, and my abilities to type out words.

I didn't like the way my father died too young . I didn't like the way Mom started cutting herself off from the world in her seventies, and continued doing this more and more, deliberately making herself dependent on uncaring hospital caretakers.

My thing is to stand strong, and if I can't stand, sit up strong.

In a weak moment I read this to my husband. He'd just finished doing a reading of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" with a cast of older, enormously successful actors who were, many of them, movie stars.

"I like what you wrote," my husband said.

"Well, I don't like it, I don't think what I've written makes a point." I said.

"Hey Em," John said, "All those guys I was working with -- every one of them is worried about all the things you mentioned -- about not being as good as they used to be, about losing powers, prowess -- about losing status." John named-dropped some major star names.

If you want to read what Joe Klein wrote, here's link to the Time article. Reading it will probably make you feel worse about the end of life, but at least you don't have to go out and buy the magazine.

My very first boy friend loved to sing rounds and taught me this one. I like the tune -- singing it cheers me up.


Al Leblanc said...

Believe death of body is not the end! Not convinced there is a soul and don't believe in the "resurrection of the dead" Notwithstanding, believe we "live on" in other peoples' memories and through the propagation of our genes."We are our memories." The Dearly Departed are a part of
"usall/u&me" as we were part of them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Em. What a powerful subject today!
Death is a lot on my mind these days. But then, I've thought about it since I was old enough to understand the concept.
My thoughts of death have changed as I have aged and learned.
I've had more than one occasion when an old, old old dog or cat went off to die. (we live out in the country where they can just go off and you can never ever find them)
Animals that are lucky enough to reach the end of their life span go off to die. They find a quiet place, lie down, and wait for it.
Most animals in the wild are picked off by predators when they get too weak.
Domestic animals are usually helped along by their owners, if they are pets, or slaughtered when the time comes, if they are farm animals.
Most people are kinder to their beloved pets in death than we are to other human beings, and 'put them down' before they suffer too much.
If I was in pain from something terminal, I would want to have control of a kill switch. I believe that people can tolerate more pain if they are in control of the pain meds, and the amount of time they must put up with the pain. In the past, I have heard stories of people with terminal cancer screaming themselves to death in hospitals, because the governments, doctors, nurses and health care systems decided that morphine, as an addictive substance, wasn't good for them in too large a dose. If you give too much morphine, a person's breathing will stop, and then you are killing them, but too little and their pain is excruciating.
There are people who inflict their religious beliefs and morality on the rest of us, and crucify people like Kevorkian, who imho, was just trying to help people die with dignity.
I believe in death with dignity. Give me control of my own kill switch, and if I'm committing a sin, well, then I'll see you in hell.
The difficulty arises when you lose your mind and someone else has control of your fate. Loved ones often go through hell trying to decide what their loved one would wish.
And I know of two cases (without dementia)where someone was dying, and to try to prolong their life, the hospital/doctors,insisted on amputating a leg.
Both died a week later anyway.
However, as we get older, often our definition of acceptable life changes. We adapt to less and less. But sometimes we reach the point at the end, when we're tired of the pain, or the struggle to live. I believe people in this situation should be allowed to die at this point with help, with love, with dignity.
We do this much for our beloved pets.
I'm sure I'll think of more right after I click on submit, but I think I've said enough. As usual, brilliant, Em. Huggs.
Louise Sorensen
louise3anne twitter

Carola said...

Joe Klein probably wrote that as a catharsis. (I know one of the ways I got through my mother's last year was to write about all the details every day.) Then--being Joe Klein, he sold it to Time Magazine.

Christy B said...

Wow, this is quite the journey you take us on and very thought-provoking.

OR said...

Death comes to us all Em. That's why like you I don't need any graphic reminders of it. Joe Klien is a fine writer though.

Ameer S. Washington said...

Death is coming. Death is here. We're never know when we might die. All we can do is live in the moment of the here and not. I live without a worry for it. When the times comes, the time will come. I like life, I enjoy it, and I want to endure. But hell, getting older seems cool in a lot of ways. I'll be able to say some stuff and get away with it. People'll just say, that old!!! hahahah.

Make everyday your masterpiece.

Linda Phillips said...

I think of dying way too often. When I was in my 50s and then in my 60's, all the more. I used to look at older people that I knew and wonder how they felt about the fact that they were getting closer to dying and wonder were they fearful and so on. "How do you feel when you know that your death may be soon?" I wanted to ask them, but of course I didn't.

I am about to turn 70. I am very aware of it. My father died when he was 74. My mother was older, nearly 85.

I have a progressive neuro-muscular disease and really no money. I am dependent on what the government does and will provide for me.

I am also a very strong willed, independent person who NEEDS to be fully in charge of her own life. Yet I know that the day will come when I am no longer in that position and I detest the idea totally.

I have all kinds of thoughts about that. Some that I am not willing to discuss openly.

Nafisa Ford said...

Hmm, interesting. This is a great take on the article and life. Your fear of death is evident. Knowing death to me is scary and exciting, in a strange way. In the way that the unknown is always that way. I can't run from it and never know when death will come knocking. I do know that running from life is like a little death every time we do. Fully enjoying life and those in our life extends ours just that much. And if we do that the right way, we live past our death in the hearts of those we touch. But that's it for me. All this death needs/calls for dancing like no one's watching. Thank you for another wonderful blog entry.

Anonymous said...

I definitely don't want to read Klein's article!

Dying is a private thing, and why anyone would want to read about it or write about it is a mystery to me.

Maybe it's a catharsis for some folks, but the only way I've been able to deal with the death of a loved one is to avoid thinking about or talking about it for as long as possible. Then at some point, it all comes crashing in on top of you one night after you've had a few drinks and you cry your eyes out and move on.

I believe that the Navajos had the best policy on dying. When an old person decided that his or her time was up, they'd take their favorite blanket, go sit on top of a distant hill, and wait for death to come.

It says something for the Navajo culture that nobody chased after them and started pushing IVs in their arms and breathing tubes down their throat.