August 12, 2020

Two years ago, I was in a hospital having a heart attack.  I made the decision to let nature take its course.  I had already lived a full, adventurous life, and was grateful for it.

I declined the recommendations of the cardiologist who said I would most likely have a stroke without treatment.  I then made decisions a dying person needed to make.  I kept exercising because I wanted to stay as healthy as I could until I died.  I had, after all, spent many hours exercising since my 20s.

When I was still alive a year and a half later, I stopped planning to die just in case I lived longer.  Some of my strength returned, but the usual deterioration of being in my mid-70s continued.

I was still running out of money, so I began again to wonder what would follow the end of my money.  But, I still believed I would not become long lived enough to be moneyless.  I still owned a house I could sell.  I also began to learn more about fighting for affordable housing and homelessness, two ever-growing, sickening problems in the county I live in.

And then came the pandemic.  My attention turned to dealing with being in lockdown, especially being a car-less prisoner.  But I had a serious problem that most of my neighbors didn’t share — Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS).  It came along with menopause at 50 and hung on.   My body could no longer sleep normal hours.  I turned into an extreme night owl, but still fortunate to be able to sleep 8 good hours at a stretch.  Some with circadian rhythm problems are not so lucky.

My very bad luck was to be living in a building with a unit on the second floor where they were tearing absolutely everything apart piece by piece, to then  reconfigure it.  The cacophony was bad enough.  But the starting time for construction workers begins with the birds, albeit much less sweet and melodious.

Have no doubt.  Sleep deprivation is a form of torture.  The contractor finally promises the job is about to end.  But, six months later, I am still being jarred out of a deep sleep too early for my body.  This morning, I crawled to the carport away from my home and slept on a pad on my carport floor to enable sleep with less noise.

In our retirement village where they are going to great lengths to protect us from dying from Covid, I have asked for help, but they don’t care about my problem.  Yes, I’ve tried a variety of earplugs to pull myself through the days, and calmly walk the cool Village at night with the coyotes, skunks, and squirrels.  You see, unlike others my age, my hearing is quite good.  There is no hearing aid I can turn off.  And drugs are not an option.

I have felt nature’s pain for decades now as she and the animals were ravaged, pillaged, destroyed for a variety of motivations.  When I wondered why it was that way, there was a professor at a dinner party long ago who announced that “the big brain experiment was a bust.”  That made instant sense to me, especially living in Los Altos, California, then the 1960s home of ZPG (Zero Population Growth).

Humans are a curious species, indeed.  Gregarious, relentlessly chasing after learning, they accept no boundaries or limitations.  They love power, and easily become so addicted to money, Money, and MORE MONEY.

But they are also very emotional animals, swaying this way and that way in their own sense of importance.    Yes, humans are a somewhat complicated species that brings a rare sense of humor to life.

And yes, they are filled with so many contradictions and paradoxes,  of which kind hearted and cruel only touch on two opposites.  They thrive on hubris.  They strive for immortality as their right.  And they are killing the earth, and their own species.

Long live the doomed ridiculous species!



August 23, 2012

Tony Nicklinson recently died in England.  It was bittersweet — bitter because he was only 58 and had lived the last 6 years of his life locked inside a body that allowed only his brain to function normally; sweet because he had wanted to die.  He had taken England to court to allow him to die of doctor-assisted suicide, but they had refused his plea.  He refused food, caught pneumonia, and died peacefully 10 days later with the full consent and understanding of his wife and children.

In a battle between immortality and death, everyone knows that death will always win.  Yet some countries, including most of the states in the U.S., go to very extreme lengths and endless expense to force immortality upon those who wish it, as well as those who don’t.  Only three states in the U.S. – Oregon, Washington, and Montana – allow assisted suicide.   What we allow our dogs, cats, and other beloved pets, we do not allow our suffering humans.

Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez has written several columns agonizing over the excruciatingly slow death of his father.  Watching it first hand made him vow not to die like that.  He observed that, “hanging on seems to be the norm in our culture, thanks to advances in medical technology and the widely held opinion that death is optional.”  We diagnose diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia, while other cultures might use the simple diagnosis of  “old age.”  University of Hawaii professor emeritus S. Cromwell Crawford pointed out that “we’ve got the money and we’re spending it, but is this the right thing we’re doing morally?”  As 6 year old Hush Puppy in the movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” so correctly observed about modern society, “When you get old, they plug you into the wall.”

Eskimos might put their elderly out on ice floes; the Jains of India practice “sallekhana” – starving oneself to death at the time one decides is right –  and think of it as “a good and honorable death.”  In looking for a place sympathetic to dying, Whitney Braun, a bioethicist at Loma Linda University Medical Center, noted that “though you’d think religious societies would be more comfortable with death, in some respects it’s the nonbelievers who have better hospice centers and more end-of-life options.  As 6 year old Hush Puppy in the movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” observed of modern society, “When you get old, they plug you into the wall.”

Living isn’t easy, but dying in many countries, especially the U.S.,  can be harder.   Death is the norm in nature for everything that lives.  Indeed, there is a certain beauty in fulfilling the natural cycle of life and death.  But the quest for immortality eats up the major chunk of Medicare, as well as the hearts and minds of the families who tearfully maintain a vigil by the bedsides of their loved ones, watching them die piece by piece, function by function.

I remember an old Star Trek program where the society had evolved to the point where the bodies had disappeared and only the brains were left.  If there were technology that would keep the brains from deteriorating, perhaps then immortality would make sense.  Without that possibility, let nature take its course.

Comments?? E-mail Suellen at

Mike says: Hi Suellen! I enjoyed your post on dying … not really enjoyed it, but, you know what I mean. Sometimes we really do treat our pets better.

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