I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. I held my mother’s icy cold hand and I whispered, “You can go now mom.”
“Why don’t you feel good about this? Wasn’t it the kindest thing to do?” If my intention was to have my mother pass in order to end her suffering, that would have been kind; however, that was not my intention. In truth, I thought it was wrong to keep her hooked up to a respirator and I knew she’d try to hang on for as long as she could; mom was fiercely stubborn. We had a complicated relationship and I was tired of the drama; I was done. Before you start hating me, I’d like you to consider a few facts. For one, my mother had been in and out of hospital for several years and near death numerous times. She was resuscitated and even though she told my stepfather that she did not want to be, he went ahead and ordered it anyway. She had not completed the paperwork in hospital, no surprise to me or my siblings.
When I say that my relationship with my mother was complicated, I believe an explanation is warranted. In many ways, throughout my youth and twenties, I was the parent. My mother was a heavy smoker (even during her pregnancies), a gambler, cheated on my father, a thief (insurance fraud and groceries to name two), and she did psychological damage to all four of her daughters. Three out of four of my sisters had eating disorders due to my mother’s unhealthy weight obsession. I was constantly reminding her about the hazards of smoking, begging her to cut back on that and gambling, and soothing a great deal of her self-inflicted pain. So when I said, You can go now mom, it was after many years of shame and disappointment, as well as a strong belief that modern medicine was prolonging the inevitable. Some people will say that I judged her harshly; others will say that it does not matter how awful she was, I should not speak ill of her. You can be certain that my living siblings would attest to my account of our upbringing and the chaos she rained upon us as adults.
When she was alive she would actually say, “I know you’re going to write a book about me when I die.”
That was her way of telling me to wait. The irony is that I loved her. When family members would scorn her, I would jump to her defense. But deep down I believed that she was selfish, disingenuous and should probably not have given birth to children. True, she had an abusive father and she got pregnant when she was 16 years old, but that does not excuse the poor mothering; she knew better. I’m certain she knew better.
So when I told my mother that she could go, she had a week prior contracted an incurable blood disease in hospital, and she was in a medically induced coma. My niece was with me in the room and witnessed my mother’s reaction. Nicole was close to my mother, her grandmother, and she agreed that my mother would be better off letting go. Being that mom was in a coma, I expected her to continue to lie still; what I was to tell her was more for me than for her. After I whispered, “You can go now mom,” my mother violently shook her head from side-to-side. I’m not going to lie, it was unexpected and scary.
We shared this with her doctor, who shrugged and said, “It could have been an involuntary reaction or she could have been in the middle of a dream.”
Nonsense. My mother heard me and she was letting me know she didn’t want to die. The whole damn affair was extremely frustrating. Frank, her husband, had been ill for quite some time. He had dementia and other issues and he was in no position to be making decisions about mother’s life. The hospital was concerned about liability and nothing else. My mother remained in a coma for two more weeks until my stepfather gave the go ahead to pull the plug. Frank was not my favorite person in the world and considering how much he supposedly loved my mother, it was ironic that he spent most of her memorial service flirting with a younger blond.
As you can see, I haven’t been able to just shrug-off the experience at her deathbed. It’s been almost 10 years and I still see mom shaking her head violently. Perhaps I remember her obstinance more than her actual reaction. These demons we carry around are quite strong and they show their potency at times when we are most vulnerable.
Despite my resentment and anger, I miss her dearly. She gave birth to me and mothered me for over 50 years; if I didn’t have strong feelings, I’d be an amoeba. I miss how she eagerly took my calls, how she put up with my badgering about the past, her unapologetic sense of humor, her ability to make strangers feel better, her fighting spirit, the happiness she would always try to portray, the grace in which she dealt with losing two children, when she worked as a bartender until 2:00 a.m. every night to ensure there would be food on the table, her support for my education, the way she dealt with my sexuality, her reputation for being one of the best poker players in North Carolina, and her sloppy, but well intentioned cooking.
Perhaps I did want her to leave us peacefully and without guilt, perhaps that was my intention after all.
I dream about her a lot — another sign that her life and death matter. I do forgive my mother, but I have not forgiven myself. The takeaway for me: dream of her for the rest of your life, that way she will remain with you. And for you: None of us should throw stones, especially when personal perfection is so far from reality.
Nothing like homemade pizza. Two tips: 1)pizza freezes well and 2)use parchment paper on your pizza peel and you won’t have to worry about the dough sticking to it — remove parchment halfway through the cooking process.
Lockdown continues in Portugal. I’ve given up guessing how long this will last. Most planned holidays have been scrapped or rescheduled. Cuba in April is precarious; hoping the U.S. in May sticks.
Question of the week:
Does something from your past haunt you? How do you cope with it?
Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).
I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.
Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:
Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.
A Brief Overview
I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine prior to relocating to Portugal, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.
Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.
The Highs (Positives)
I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.
Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.
The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.
I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.
Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.
The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the Iberian south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.
Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York City. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.
The Little things that make a big difference:
Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally (that I know of).
Very little crime. I feel very safe.
Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation system, but once I did, it was a right.
Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
Furniture is well-made here.
Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.
The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
The Lows (Negatives)
Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.
I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated (it’s good to have a guest room with an en suite). It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not yet discovered; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.
I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.
Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”
Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.
Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.
Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).
Did I Make the Right Choice?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are fairly reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable — I never did well with different time zones.
Access to Travel
Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.
Photos: I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.
I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Soren Kierkegaard
“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.” ― Beryl Markham, West with the Night
Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.
There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.
Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.
Question of the Week:
Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?
You have to have a brother to truly understand the bond between brothers. My brother Anthony was a royal pain in the ass. He was confused, angry, reckless, often the victim, funny, loving, and he was my brother. Although not diagnosed as such, we are fairly certain he was bipolar and clinically depressed. We lost Anthony over twenty years ago (June ’99) and the “what ifs” and “if I’d known” still creep into my conscious mind quite often.
I don’t want this to be a eulogy or a lesson in dealing with loss. I don’t want it to be about what was or might have been. I certainly don’t want it to be about me. I want this to be about human failure and where it takes us. How do you learn to forgive another and yourself for just being human and why is that so difficult.
Anthony died of a drug overdose. He had been clean for a long time prior, however, a major life setback sent him out on the streets to purchase a lethal dose of heroine. My sister Grace found him lifeless, needle in arm. Nobody saw it coming.
Seven years prior we were walking on the beach in Puerto Rico; a conversation that shook me to my core resurfaces periodically. My brother was about to become a father. He had been clean for a number of years and he was very much in love with his wife. He was hopeful, excited, and cautious. Toward the end of our walk he asked me to make sure that his child was well taken care of if anything happened to him. I was a bit angry that he would even suggest that his passing was a possibility. He had worked so hard to stay clean and he was my best friend. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that Anthony knew he would not live to be 40. I was dismissive, but agreeable; never thinking I would have to honor that pact seven years later.
What a Brother Knows
Your brother knows what’s in your head better than just about anyone. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. It’s a combination of sharing the same history, the same space, the same biology, similar thoughts, and love; most of all love.
My brother played by his own rules. He was always in some sort of battle — with himself and everyone else. We were as different as night and day, but we understood one another. There was a good deal of chaos and pain around us at home and we processed it differently. I shared my feelings and frustrations and Anthony kept it all in. I would say the wall is blue and Anthony would say it was green and then we would fight about it until we were too exhausted to keep fighting. I was two years older with strong opinions and most of the family on my side (or at least I thought). Anthony was probably stronger physically, however, his respect for me outweighed his strength. When he got angry, things were destroyed. We shared a bedroom up until our teenage years; the damage from his rage could be seen throughout the room. My mother seemingly ignored it and my father paid little to no attention.
Anthony and I were competitive in different ways. I was determined to do well academically and Anthony loved sports; he lived for it. Not only did he excel, but he was the envy of most boys we grew up with. Everyone wanted Anthony on their team and no one wanted me. My brother was aware of the bullying I was subjected to. He would fight my battles when I was out of sight. I later learned that he did not want to embarrass me because he was younger and smaller. Fortunately, I learned this early on and I could express my gratitude and appreciation while he was alive. The older brother is the one who should be doing the protecting.
Looking at your brother, is like looking into a mirror. In Anthony, I saw my own distorted self-esteem and misguided rage. One cannot help but see similarities in the way information is processed and although you see differences as well, strong character traits have an overshadowing effect.
How can you not be shaped by the traumatic death of a sibling? One moment you are laughing and sharing life’s secrets and the next moment they’re gone. You can examine your sibling’s life and find meaning in their choices, their successes and failures, their laughter and their pain, and their love. You can learn from them and love more deeply by fully embracing their faults and failures — you are a better for having shared space on earth with them. Your brother can help you to see who you are and accept your own humanity; even after they’re gone.
Losing my brother taught me more about my own life than just about anything else I have ever experienced. Mortality is a huge slap in the face. You can temporarily ignore it, however, in the long run, you are forced to examine it. You ask yourself the big questions like: why I am still alive, does fate play a role in my future, what did he leave behind that I can learn from, and can I be a better person in his memory?
They say a parent should never have to experience the death of a child. My mother was a strong woman; drama and hyperbole were her go to responses to just about everything. She used my brother’s death as another way of getting attention. It would have been easy for me to call her on it and push her away, but cruelty is not one of my personality traits. I was patient and attentive, hopeful that the impact of his passing would ease. She eventually came to accept my brother’s death; however, the self-blame and remorse never ended and followed her to her death. She lost my sister Grace a few years after Anthony passed, but for some reason, she saw that death as a merciful one. As one can expect, losing two children made her paranoid about losing other children. I had to constantly reassure her that I was not using drugs and being safe. I was very much aware of the fact that my own death would kill her. As it is, she was a young 78 when she died and I was certain she hastened her own death in order to gain some peace.
My brother Leo and I became closer as a result of Anthony’s death. We have scolded one another for reckless behavior a number of times. Neither one of us wants to lose another brother. Our shared love of Anthony and his memory, have forged an unbreakable bond. We can never fill the void Anthony left in our lives, but we can try our best to love and enjoy our lives as a way of honoring his memory.
Anthony left behind a seven year old daughter. She is now a woman with children of her own. It would be unfair to comment on the impact her father’s death had on her life. As her Godfather, I hope life provides the answers she needs in order to understand the hows and whys that allow us to move on.
My Brother’s Presence
A number of years ago I was riding a mountain bike in a Mexican forrest. At one point as I picked up speed and became lost in the moment, I felt my brother’s arms around my waist. His strength fueled my momentum and bathed me in hope and joy. I know it was only moments, but it felt longer. That was the embrace of a soul I was fortunate to know and love. Anthony was with me that day and has been with me since the day I meet him in his bassinet 59 years ago. It is a brotherly bond that can never be severed and I am a better man for it.
Anthony to my right and below that, Anthony to the left of Leo.
Some people will find this thought morbid or difficult to digest (sorry). Not having a fear of death allows me to consider my last meal if, and that’s a big if, I was in the position to choose said meal. The photos below are not the actual dishes I would order; just having fun with stock photos.
I will not go over possible scenarios that might get me to a place where I know that my last meal is a foregone conclusion. Let’s just imagine that it is a possibility. I think about these things, I do.
By the way, I won’t be cooking my own last meal. Although I like my own cooking immensely, I would rather imagine that a professional chef is part of my fantasy.
I’m going to order more than one appetizer, entree, and dessert because this is my fantasy and I can. I have a few thoughts about each savory dish:
The food will be uncomplicated.
It will be fresh.
It will be mildly spicy.
It will be served at around 6:00 p.m. I don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach and I assume I’ll want a full night’s sleep before I die.
I will have a white tablecloth and white soft cotton napkins.
I will have one person dining with me. I am not revealing who I would want that person to be (unless you’re a really close friend and you promise not to say anything). I can tell you it would not be a politician or religious leader.
It will be hot; cold food can be delicious, but not for my last meal.
There will be no photos taken.
No rules for desserts.
I love appetizers. I like that I can take a few small bites and I like knowing that there will be a break before the next course. I usually allow myself to indulge in something richer knowing that it will only be a couple of forkfuls of deliciousness. Of course for this fantasy — I know fantasy seems more like a positive, but since none of this is real — I’m well enough to enjoy food in this fantasy. Who knows, I might be 95 years old with a great appetite, deciding that I have had a good run and it’s time to rest. These are the dishes I might hope to be served:
Selections: pan seared foie gras with some sort of fig compote on the side, grilled garlic and scallion marinated king prawns, fettucini arrabiata, Korean style chicken wings (drumettes), chicken based broth with ramen noodles and other goodies (paitan), and baked clams oreganata. They would be served with some time to savor and digest in between servings.
Caveat: I may change up or a add a dish or two. I want to leave things fairly fluid knowing that anything can happen between now and then.
Entrees: Grilled T-Bone (dry-aged, grass fed beef). I love that you get two cuts of beef: a strip of top loin and tenderloin. I want it charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside (just salt and pepper). Perhaps a fresh rosemary rub prior to grilling. I make no apology for my choices.
More entrees and sides: A whole steamed lobster with clarified butter for dipping, creamy mashed potatoes and parsnip with a little bit of roasted garlic, sauteed broccoli rabe, turkey stuffing cooked in the cavity of a roasted turkey. I want the crispy part that was exposed during cooking. Buttermilk fried chicken — a thigh please. I might ask for seafood paella, I’m not sure yet. Not because I don’t love it; there are capacity issues to consider.
Dessert: white cake with dark chocolate frosting (accompanied by a glass of whole milk), Toll House chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio ice cream — two scoops with nothing on top. I usually like to end the meal with something lemony. I’m thinking either lemon meringue pie or a French lemon tart topped with fresh whipped cream. I’d probably be happy with either. If key lime pie is possible, I’d go with that, also with fresh whipped cream. I know, it’s a fantasy, I should be able to have anything I want. I cannot help being practical; even when I fantasize.
By the way, I would do tastings; I wouldn’t want to be so full that I can’t eat dessert.
I would start with a palate cleanser: Ouzo with ice cold water
Paired with Appetizers: a chilled French Sancerre
Entrees: Louis Latour Corton Domain Gran Cru — the best vintage to found the wine sommelier I have employed for this occasion. If this is to be my last red, it had better be the best. I would be open to suggestions. If you’re reading this and judging my choices, you would be wise to keep in my that this is my fantasy and my taste buds; consider your own selections if can go there.
Dessert: A very small glass of Italian Moscato d’Asti (lightly sweet, gently effervescent and low in alcohol, is mainly produced in the hilltop town of Asti, and in the nearby provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo in the north-western region of Piedmont).
When everything has been cleared away and right before I retire to my bed: French Armagnac — the best available; I’m not that fussy. Served in a large brandy snifter.
I have to say this was more fun than I thought it would be. My mouth watered the entire time I was blogging. I came to this conclusion: I should eat these dishes more often than I do. Although I always go back to one of my college professors who started each lecture with: “All things in moderation.” I wouldn’t want to hasten my demise.
What I Vowed to do this Week and How it Played Out:
I find myself very angry and upset with social media and the news. I get all caught up in drama with family and strangers over words; words worth fighting over, but it takes its toll. I decided to give myself a week away from all social media and the news.
It’s day two and it’s not working. I’m afraid the Corona Virus and American politics keeps me wanting more. I turn it on for a few minutes and then turn it off. It’s an addiction I cannot deny cold turkey. I’m telling myself that smaller doses are probably better for my state of mind. I spoke to friends over the weekend who are in a similar place. I cannot help but wonder what will come of this.
Day three: it’s getting easier. I guess like any addiction, time and patience will prevail. A little bit of news because of the virus and the democratic primaries, but I’m rationing myself.
Day Seven: Unsuccessful experiment on the news side; I couldn’t stay away. Definitely a lot less social media and that was a good thing. I feel like I experienced less angst. I’m going to try to cut back. I’m going to cut back.
I have also developed some sort of ache in my abdominal area. I’m not sure if it’s psychosomatic or real. The anxiety has to live somewhere; my head and stomach seem like obvious hosts.
Admittedly, I could not write about food when my stomach was bothering me. The good news is that I think I figured out that it was a machine I was using to stretch out my back at the gym. One of the staff members showed me an alternative machine that I believe will do less damage to my abdominal area; I’ve switched machines. It might also be a hernia — I’ve had two and it’s uncomfortable surgery to repair them.
Paco has been with me for over five weeks now. He has completed his pack of antibiotics and his tail rash is getting better (difficult because he wants to lick the area and I refuse to put a cone on his head). He’ll have bloodwork done in 10 days to determine whether or not he beat the virus. On his last visit, his red blood cell count and all other readings were normal. He is animated, playful, sweet, has a great sense of humor and eats well. When he first arrived he was anxious and skittish; for the most part he’s a well-behaved, “normal” pooch, with above average intelligence.
He a bit overly generous with kisses; a habit I may have a difficult time breaking.
I imagine I will always wonder if the people (person) who abandoned him will resurface and want him back, but I worry less each day. I have grown quite attached to my 3.5 lb. roommate.
He’s quite handsome, is he not? I intend to spoil him rotten. My
Not to worry, not checking out anytime soon, just reminding myself how fragile life can be. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone; therefore, I think it’s best for me to respond in the abstract and not name names.
What if you knew that you were going to die and you had 24 hours or less left to live? Would you want to be surrounded by those you love? Would you run away and hide from everyone? Would you tell people you cared about? Would you share things you have been holding back? Would you look back at memories? Would you end your life sooner in order to control the situation?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when considering just how finite life is. And by the way, the questions come up occasionally, not every day. There are statistics that guide us when we consider our lifespan. There are formulas based on how long your parents lived. Then there are calculations based on lifestyle. Genetics sometimes come into play. However, an accident may make all of those theories insignificant and irrelevant.
I had a pretty bad accident a couple of years ago that made me question life, death and how I feel about both. Up until the accident, I was fairly certain that I would grow old and cranky. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say I’m well on my way.
I attended a dinner party a few days ago and raised my blog topic for this week. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say in a relaxed social setting. I don’t usually share my own thoughts until after I’ve heard from others. As with any difficult subject, some people prefer to avoid the matter altogether and this time was no different. One of the things I love about people is how very unique we all are. It’s for this reason that I try my best not to judge. Our prospective can be polar opposite based on things like upbringing, religious beliefs, the truth we hold on to, and so forth. I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit to feeling strongly about my own beliefs; the power of personal conviction is essential for many reasons. Keeping that in mind, I don’t claim to be right, but I do think that what I am espousing is true for me; sometimes, that’s all that truly matters.
I posed the question to a small group of people sitting at the table after lunch:
If you knew you had 24 hours or less to live, what would you do?
The answers I got were interesting and understandable:
“I wouldn’t change anything; I’d want it to be a normal day.”
“I wouldn’t tell anyone because all they would do is cry and pity me.”
“I would be with a very small group of people I love very much.”
“I wouldn’t do very much because I would want time to slow down. When you do a lot of things, time speeds up.”
“I might consider ending my life sooner — when I decided it should end.”
“I would have a couple of conversations I have been avoiding.”
“Why, do you know something I don’t know?”
The thing is, do we truly know how we would behave until we are actually in a particular life altering situation? I could easily say I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was going to die, but in truth, if I knew it was the end and I became extremely emotional or scared, I might need to tell or want to tell someone.
What follows are some thoughts on why we live our lives as if there is no expiration date:
I love this poignant comic included in Brian Lee’s piece on living life as if we’re never going to die at Lifehack. Check out www.zenpencils.com.
We are complex creatures with hopes, fears, frailties and misgivings. Our highly developed brains allow us to tuck away thoughts and focus on things that make us feel good; I should note that some of us are better at this than others. We often behave as if our daily actions do not have consequences for the future. Vices and health related toxins are often imbibed or eaten without concern for longevity. It’s a curious human occurrence considering that most of us would like to grow old. So what drives us to recklessness? It’s as if there is a little switch in our brains that we choose to turn off when desire overpowers restraint.
It is no accident that the precise timing of our death is unknown. Imagine the chaos and emotional instability that would ensue. I think that animals have a better sense of death and what it means than we do and, therefore, have better dying coping skills. I’ve been with several dogs at the end of their lives and the sense of peace and acceptance I felt from these animals was both life affirming and beautiful. We live and we die and that is the true miracle of life.
As I consider complicated mechanisms for denial and delusion, it once again brings me to how I might deal with knowing when my own demise is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts that come to mind (not necessarily in order of importance):
There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to truly enjoy the wonders of the earth. The sunrise and sunset continue to amaze me and I take both in as often as possible. The smell of flowers and the feel of earth between my fingers, gives me great pleasure. I can only imagine that knowing these wonders would no longer be accessible would heighten my desire to experience them.
The people in my life who have shown me love and devotion would be on my mind at the end; I would hope that these cherished few would be nearby. I would want to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I still do not know that I would share the inevitability of my passing. We all know that we should be showing our love and appreciation often, not waiting until we are sick or dying.
I have loved food since I could smell my dad’s pizza in the oven when I was a wee toddler. My relationship with good food has never waivered and I hope I remain true to my passion until the day I die. I have been reading research about taste buds and how our sense of taste diminishes with age. I refuse to believe that this applies to me. My father and aunts and uncles on my father’s side, all enjoyed savory dishes well into their 80s. If I knew that my death was near, I would want to devour my favorite foods: shellfish, pasta and cake and a nice red of course. I know that knowing it was almost over would probably have an effect on my appetite; however, knowing how I sometimes eat and drink to feel better, I imagine I’d be hungry and thirsty. A very expensive armagnac would be a must have.
Being present and cherishing every moment of what life I have left, would likely be my mode of thinking and feeling. I have never feared death, therefore, I’m fairly certain i would be at peace with it.
I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
I would probably want to be on a good dose of xanax.
I have had many people in my life pass: my grandparents (three before I was even born), my parents, several siblings, close friends, teachers, co-workers and acquaintances. My mother’s brother died of a massive heart attack in his 50’s; how could I not consider the possibility of dying at anytime? Personally, I don’t find this morbid or sad.
Long ago I decided that if I had a fatal illness, I would travel (if I could) to a place where you could choose to die with dignity. If this were to happen, I would have an opportunity to decide how I would spend my final hours; all of this provides great comfort. I am not obsessed with dying, I am focused on living and making sure my quality of life is the best it can be.
The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about how you live your daily life; what are your priorities and do you consider and cherish the people and things that bring you the greatest happiness. Second, it is my belief that we as individuals have the power to change the course and direction of our lives. I felt stuck, misguided and unhappy in Maine. It wasn’t so much the place or the people, but an environment that was too comfortable and unchallenging. I moved to Europe in order to reboot, recharge, and start afresh. It’s not right for everyone, but it has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. Self-discovery and change can be as exciting as a new relationship; driving gleefully into the future with renewed hopes and dreams. Fear is what usually holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death. Put all of your fears aside and go for it. The unknown can be a wonderful and rewarding future. Focus on the image of a door opening to a paradise you never imagined existed; more often than not, we have the ability to manifest our dreams. I choose to manifest those dreams while I am still alive.
Not my car; mine looked a lot worse after my accident.
We’ve all done things in our youth that we regretted later in life. Some of these life events are silly and insignificant and others do irreparable damage to our psyche. Let me tell you about a mistake I made that has caused me pain and consternation throughout my adult life. As with many car accidents, the outcome of this one could have been tragic; fortunately, three lives were spared, but fear of the worst possible outcome, has tormented me for the past 40 something years.
I completed high school when I was 17 years old and started my first semester at Brooklyn College. It was a big, intimidating campus and I hated being there. My family had relocated to North Carolina for my stepfather’s business and I stayed behind. After not sleeping for months, I dropped out of Brooklyn College, packed up my very old and dilapidated Plymouth Valiant, and drove down to North Carolina to join my family. It wasn’t just that I hated Brooklyn College; I missed my family. School could wait a semester.
I knew that I would soon enroll in a college or university in North Carolina, but since I didn’t have a penny to my name, I needed a job first. Staying at my mother and stepfather’s house would not and could not be more than a temporary solution. They were both smokers and I hated my stepfather. Fortunately, back in the 80s, one could easily get a job with a high school diploma and rent was cheap in Salisbury, where my family had relocated.
Before I’d hit the south, I had never heard of cotton mills. Makes sense that after they pick cotton it has to go somewhere right? I was 18 years old, strong as an ox and willing to do just about anything to earn a buck. I was quickly hired for a third shift position at Cone Mills, a large cotton mill in Salisbury. Cone Mills made all kinds of denim at this plant. I figured I liked blue jeans and the money wasn’t bad. I was hired for the third shift, 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.; better known as the graveyard shift. Working in the middle of the night has its advantages, however, sleeping is not one of them. Your body is so confused about the time of day, you end up wide awake during the day, when you should be resting.
Greg, a new friend from work, would cover for me in the early morning hours, when I needed a few minutes of shut-eye. I would steal away to one of the shipping containers for a 15 minute nap; not ideal, but certainly helped get me through the night. Greg was a true southern gentleman and he saved me from losing my job on a number of occasions. He also helped me find a low-rent trailer home which ended up being the lowest point of my life. It was during this time that I met my neighbor Brenda who was diabetic and required a lot of attention. She had an eight-year old named Gene who needed a father figure and I was conveniently only steps away and and young enough to kick a ball around on demand. Gene would pester me to come out and play day or night. My having had few friends and a good deal of pent-up energy, made it difficult to say no to Gene. On one particular occasion, I wished I had refused him.
Mid-day and a knock at the door. I had just settled into dream sleep. It was about 98 degrees and very sticky; typical July North Carolina weather; the kind of weather I despise. The trailer was an oven and Gene decided it was time for me to wake up. I hear the knock and throw the pillow over my head, knowing full well that I would never get back I sleep. I grabbed some shorts and a T-shirt, got dressed, and walked out of the trailer. Gene was jumping up and down, always excited about something or other, and I was groggy and semi-conscious. I told him that I would only get out of bed if we mowed the lawn together — I had a 6′ x 8′ patch of crabgrass outside my trailer door. Gene agreed, ran to retrieve his mother’s lawn mower and proceeded to tug on the cord to get it started. I watched him for a bit thinking this was a great way for him to release some of that crazy little boy energy.
After a few minutes of Gene’s panting and scowling, I offered to give it a try. It only took 30 seconds for me to realize the mower was out of gas. I said, we’ve gotta get gas Gene. The gas station was a quarter mile up the road and Gene got super excited about a ride in my new Mustang. He shouted to his mother:
“Be right back Momma, goin’ with Chris for gas.”
Brenda yelled back, “Okay boys, grab me a Cheerwine.”
The owner of the trailer park had a gas can in the community shed, but we couldn’t find the cover to the can. I figured we were so close to the gas station we could fill it halfway and avoid spilling gas. I probably hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. This third-shift business was not good for my sanity. I don’t even think I brushed my teeth that afternoon and that alone proved I was out of sorts.
Between the weather and being sleep deprived, I was making terrible decisions. Gene held the empty gas can in the passenger seat while I drove. I was still pretty excited about my new, gently used, black Mustang. It looked pretty good; however, a four cylinder engine and very little horse power, was nothing to brag about. It took less than three minutes from home to pull into the service station — I wish we had walked. Gene predictably wanted to pump the gas; I went inside to pay for two dollars worth and grab a soda for Brenda. If my memory serves me correctly, the can was about half full. I told Gene to put the gas can between his feet on the floor of the car and hold it while I drove us home. I approached the exit onto what was a fairly major road; in fact, it was called highway 70 even though it wasn’t officially a highway. The speed limit was 55 miles per hour, but I don’t think anyone drove under 65 on highway 70. The service station had recently added flags along front of the station to draw attention from the road.
I had to make a quick left turn onto the highway, so I approached the road looking to the left first. I recall having a difficult time seeing past the flags. I crept onto the highway a bit further so that I could get a better look. Seemingly out of nowhere, a tractor trailer plowed into the front left (driver’s) side of my car. The car flipped over at least twice. This was prior to seat belt laws, but fortunately, Gene and I had both buckled-up. It was pre-air bags, unfortunately. I must have blacked out because my last memory was seeing the truck and then I woke up in the ambulance to my mother’s voice.
She kept repeating, “Chris, Chris, it’s mom.”
I looked around in a panic and said, “Where’s Gene?”
My mom had passed the accident and pulled over to see if she could help, discovering it was me who had had the wreck. She told me that Gene was in another ambulance and that he was okay. Mom also told me that the truck driver was not injured. I wondered if she was lying to me. I did not get to see the car at the scene, but I’m certain that if I had, I would have thought that Gene was killed. My mom rode with me in the ambulance and when I got to the hospital, they rushed me to the operating room. My clothing was cut off of me with a scissor and I was poked, prodded and x-rayed. Later I was told that my face was pretty torn up from the windshield and I had banged up my left arm and leg. At some point they brought Gene into the room where I was being treated. He had a big smile on his face and ran to my side. Brenda was with him and she too was smiling. Gene was boasting that he had broken his collarbone and had to wear a sling for awhile. Brenda kissed my check and told me that she was happy that I was okay. Seeing Gene made me weep uncontrollably. It was such a relief to see Gene was alive and walking.
Later that week my mother drove me to the car salvage lot to see my car. It was unrecognizable. Again, I wept privately. How did Gene make it out alive? I cannot erase the memory of that truck nano seconds before impact. I play it over and over in my head to this day. Where did that truck come from? How did I not see it? Was I unfit to drive that day? Gas spilled everywhere in that car and it didn’t explode; how was that possible? So many questions that will forever remain unanswered.
I remained on third shift at the Mill after the accident. Gene and I had a serious conversation about allowing me to sleep during the day; the accident matured us both a bit. I developed a newfound respect for cars and how dangerous they can be. Kids always go in the back seat now and I don’t drive unless I’m fully alert. If Gene had been killed or seriously hurt in that accident, my life would not have been the same. I have always had a hard time shaking this thought. I’m forever grateful to the gods that Gene was only minimally hurt and I’m fairly certain that that car accident was my wake up call. The scars on my face are a constant reminder of how precarious life can be and how fortunate I am.
On a break for the next few weeks. I’ll be taking my first trip to Wales on Saturday and reporting back what I experienced. See you soon.
There has been a great deal written about euthanasia; the dying process, survivors, and the law. Society has made tremendous progress with more states and countries passing laws that give individuals the right to decide when to die. When I was a teenager I saw a film titled Soylent Green (1973), and although the premise was disgusting (humans turned into food), it had a profound affect on me. In the film, when it was time for people to die, they were placed horizontally on a comfortable bed where filmed images of nature played all around them and soothing music could be heard in the background. I believe they were given a pill and soon after, they would gently fall asleep and die peacefully.
I wondered why this was not an option for all of us at that time and I continue to feel strongly that we all have a right to choose when and how we wish to die. Strictly my opinion and you certainly do not have to agree. Again, it’s about the freedom to choose.
Euthanasia is the termination of a very sick person’s life in order to relieve them of their suffering. A person who undergoes euthanasia usually has an incurable condition. But there are other instances where some people want their life to be ended.
I have twice in my life been asked to assist individuals in dying. On both occasions I found a way to help without actually doing the deed. Hospice is a true gift and certainly an option when an individual is nearing the end of life. If you’ve never been on morphine, trust me, the feeling of euphoria is ever present. It provides a way to see death through peacefully. However, the ability to walk, drive, or travel by boat or plane to a place of your choosing, where you can be assisted in choosing precisely when your life should end, is hopefully becoming a reality in more places. There are now eight states in the United States where assisted suicide is legal; Oregon was as early adopter and most recently the state of Maine made it legal. It’s sort of like the legalization of marijuana, slow and steady.
There are also many countries that have legalized assisted suicide: Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, to name a few. I have started to think about where I would want to go if I knew that I had only a short time left and that I might be a burden to those who love; a game changer for me. I do not want anyone to ever have to change my diaper. I know there are a few people in my life who would tell me that they would gladly do it; however, whether they would do it or not is irrelevant — if I can help it, it’s not happening. Because I have not travelled everywhere in the world (so much of the world to see while I am healthy), at this point I would probably travel to Switzerland for assistance. The natural beauty of the country and the gentleness of the people, would make it a more beautiful experience for me. And yes, I do see the end of one’s life as a beautiful thing. Not a tragic or untimely death; I mean the point at which one becomes at peace with the knowledge that death is inevitable and part of the life cycle.
So why does this topic make so many people uncomfortable? If someone you love is dying and they want to discuss assisted suicide with you, you could show them how much you truly care for them by listening and being open to this option. Here I go “shoulding” on you. Obviously, if you can’t handle the topic, you should not engage. On the other hand, attempting to talk someone out of it seems selfish to me.
I’ve already planted a couple of seeds with people I am close with, just in case it ever comes to this. I will seek support from those I know will be there for me. I would probably not share it with those I believe would judge me or try to talk me out of it.