There's been something I've not been saying explicitly the last week or so, for several reasons, but it's time now to properly, clearly, out it.
I thought that writing this next line would be easy, but instead I find myself explaining to you how it isn't. And I thought my usual blunt approach, the raw and obtuse foil to my more baroque and wordy stylings with which you are all surely familiar by now would carry the day, yet I hesitate. Fear? Naturally. But of what, precisely, I must first resolve. I see now I have already prevaricated in the very title of this blog post. Ah yes, that's probably all it is, vanity again - just not wanting to be seen as an overly dramatic or self-indulgent attention seeker - a wanker. Pfft. Too late for that now, eh? So here it is, the line that should have been birthed a paragraph ago:
I'm actively dying now.
Active, as in making very conscious choices that will hasten my ending, and now, as in ... well, as in now.
Here is a short story, as a way of trying to explain how this has come to pass, and what it all means.
Consider now an old Inuit woman, nearly toothless and almost blind, sometime not that long ago, living much as her ancestors had done for generations in the frozen North. She has lived a long and love-filled life, with all its ups and downs, and the signs of it all show clearly on her beautiful face. Various extended family members these days take turns chewing her food and placing it gently in her mouth that she may swallow, and helping her with the minutiae of everyday life in the communal igloo. Being an elder member of the clan, she is perhaps even more greatly loved and respected by all, and it never needs saying that as long as she wishes to live that everyone will make every effort to ensure she's as comfortable, happy, and involved in life as possible. She can no longer do so many things now - cut up the seals or fish brought in, stitch the sealskin clothing, or even help much with the very young children, as would normally be her due. Life is hard in marginal lands, and she knows full well she is a burden on the limited resources available, in a scheme to which she has less and less ability to contribute. Not that anyone minds in the least, they simply acknowledge the burdens involved as part of their life's sometime inevitables, and she knows this also. Her world, perhaps like yours or anyone's, is made up as much of others as it is by her internal goings-on, and the older and wiser she has gotten the stronger and deeper the bonds and empathies with her family and communities have grown. She knows they are concerned about her, that they are that bit more vigilant to her strange night noises, attendant to any minor changes, always wanting her to be as well as she can on her way closer now, closer now, to dying. She knows how much she is loved, and knows how much her love is valued by others too. She knows they feel her pains, and already in their own ways are grieving her impending death.
In the igloo, sitting around the small stove, it can happen that many hours pass wordlessly in a comfortable companionship, with people doing little jobs, or playing small games, or dozing, and in one such lengthy silence our old lady rouses herself slightly with a little shake of the shoulders; just enough so that she knows she is in everyone's attention for the moment, and simply, softly says "It's time for me to go outside now." There is no doubt as to the meaning here, and there is no great commotion either. One by one, tearfully, the family members come around and press in close, and whisper things of fond memories shared, of scraps of life and love, offering blessings and gratitude, sensitive even now not to tire her out too much. For they know and fully accept that her existence has changed in just these past few moments. Our old woman has crossed a line inside: Her experience of All - her own self in body, mind and spirit - and those things that complete her; the way the world is reflected back to her, the way her life ripples out through others and her experience of their hearts and souls too, has passed a divide. There is no inside/outside differentiation, you see – the feelings and needs of her kin and her spirit surrounds are just as real and valuable to her as her own, and in the quantum of her experience of life, the mode of carrying on is now no longer right.
It is neither a selfish nor a selfless act. It is not a sacrifice to the greater good of her family, but it is partly that. It is not a wish to avoid further suffering, but it is partly that. It is not just the result of long and clear thought and meditation – though yes, it is partly that – but importantly it is just as much the result of an Intuition. A message, a voice, something Divine, it is pointless trying to name it – just the sure knowledge that it is time now.
She will shortly leave the igloo, alone, one last time, to walk a little distance away while she still can – this is important too – to find a good spot to just sit, and wait for the bear that will come and return her being into the great cycles of All.
I crossed just such a line very recently. The details are more personal and close to my protected home-ness place than allows me to feel right about sharing here, but when it came, I can tell you it was very clear.
The line has been there in my future, as a near-certainty of experience for years now. I've seen it there and thought long, thought hard, softly, fleetingly, and every which way about it on this journey, and I always did have a sense that I would know it as a moment, a line that once crossed was going to change me in some way deeply. I can tell you what that line is, for me.
It is a line between a life whose mode is to go on living, enjoying what great things that being alive has to offer, even as I grow and increasingly accept the inevitability and looming closeness of my death, with an eye for quality of life, and some expectation of continuance involved at its core, to a life where quality remains important, but the focus is less on quality of life and more on the qualities of death. A life that invites death in now, actively. I have lived long enough, and the lingering part has become too long, yet it is not quite 100% time to step off the edge; that is another line I shall probably come to shortly. It is time to take steps to hasten the end, and I have begun the process.
I am truly sorry if I am causing hurt by doing this, but something I have come to accept as I connect with those loved ones near and far is that there is pain anyway, with empathy of my condition and direction. This is perhaps just a different, and much shorter, form of pain I offer out to the world, and for which I take responsibility. So I am sorry. But I am also, quite unequivocally, bathed in the light of a far greater freedom than I think I have ever known, having crossed this line, and I suspect this might radiate out to you as well. That would be nice.
This is about that hard-to-communicate concept, the quantum of my experience. It involves things like my relationship with notions of home, and partnership with my wife, relationships with people and animals etc. I cannot see my wife's needs and desires as any more or less important than my own, and I know that she needs setting free too. I need to leave things like 'home' increasingly behind too. And that's OK. I get that there will be people whose personal morals and worldviews will cause them to judge me unkindly or wanting in some variety of moral fibre - so be it. I am sorry for bringing you another confrontation with your judgments, and can only hope that this is somehow right and good for you in the overall scheme of things. I truly have no ill will to any of you who think unkind or hurtful thoughts towards me in this. It's OK. It's sort of almost inevitably human anyway.
You may be wondering about details now, about what it all means in a day-to-day sense and it's only fair to be frank with you. This is my last Easter, certainly. Beyond that I cannot give you a date. But I can tell you my plan, all my own choices of course, but made with the blessings and support of those closest by and dearest to me.
Bluntness again, then: I am invoking the assistance of another plant sacrament to those already helping me so greatly in body, mind and spirit, to help me on the way – the dark sacrament of Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. Not the poppy or raw opium itself; rather its pharmaceutical and legal derivatives. You see, I have been living in constant pain of one or another sort, and using a pseudo-opioid that is quite the odd drug, in that it actually also 'blockades' all other opiates from doing much of their job, including their cognitive and mood effects, which is why it is often used to treat addiction. But it never really fully worked for the pain, and besides it is time to embrace the sacrament properly – I want the full effects now; even the bad ones. It is time to give up the constancy of pain; a now-outdated sacrament in itself, but one I thank for its lessons, perhaps fittingly at Easter time. Opiates (except for my old weird pseudo-one) are notorious for slowing digestive actions. Their use was directly contributory to my last hospitalisation emergency those many months ago now. I was trying to live on, trying not to lose weight, to enjoy life, to be normal but ... no. I am reminded of Zen master Yoda's sage wisdom from The Empire Strikes Back; "Do or do not - there is no try." I did learn a great, great deal from that time (the time of opiates, but from Yoda also), and much about the nature of myself and death. I understand the sacrament now, and its appropriateness and spirit.
I'm not meaning to euphemise drug-seeking, I truly do mean it when I speak of sacrament in that my worldview has it as axiomatic that nature (and by extension, through our agency, even science) provides us all around with the things we need for our journeys in life, and a key part of our spirituality on this earth has been through the use of powerful plants. They work with us in more ways than brute chemistry, of this I am entirely sure. What I want is for my gut's inarguably impending shutdown to happen faster now, and what I want is also to have support and assistance in spending more and deeper times facing the blank at the end, meditating on Nothingness, on absence, on death, and this is precisely what the energies of the opiate world turn towards. It's a shame this aspect is so overlooked in our dealing with this most potent gift, and the problems that result for so so many people. But then, we abuse so much that is sacred in nature, do we not?
And I'll be spending increasing amounts of time at hospice, away from home. This helps my experiential desires well; to have some peace and to be less burdensome on Meeta, in a way it actually makes us closer. Eventually there will come a time when I do not go home again, I think. It is most likely I shall die here, in respite. This very room, even; 8C. Next to Max, who has attained today his 'last goal' – his 74th birthday. Happy birthday Max.
OK, so, this is my plan, as much as there is one. I have switched drugs, and already things are slowing. I can see that for the moment about three feeds a day is all that is comfortable, and that's fine. I will of course lose weight as this carries on and diminishes. There will be pain regardless, discomfort, unpleasantness of sorts, to varying degrees along the way, I accept this. More pain than I am OK with I shall ask the sacraments to help with, and thus the cycle intensifies. My several symptoms will change and worsen, and new ones will doubtless emerge. I am already having a little trouble with some new things. You can see how this will go. At some point, accident or incident notwithstanding, I will most likely cross another line; the one where it is time to disengage from nourishment altogether, and possibly fluid too if that feels right, and from then we know my life will be measured only in weeks or days, not months.
For those who may wish to see me hold on tighter, or adopt a fighting pose and kick on, I am sorry for that pain of yours. That is not my way now. I accept you may see the world entirely differently; all I want to do here is show you what mine looks like, that you might have a chance at understanding. Of course there are options for living longer. They are just not right for me, of this I have utterly no doubt.
I do not know how much or how deeply I will keep up my conversations out here in the public light, I know my non-Facebooking wife is most fond of ribbing me that it will be “probably right up until the day you die” and for all I know she's right. Maybe not. I truly do not know how this will go. But I do know I will be spending more and more time 'in'. Please do not think that me sharing less means I love you all less, or that my incremental disconnection – my detachment – betrays some lack of good will or gratitude for you. Yes, you, personally. I hope you know I wish to speak to your heart.
I am grateful beyond measure for this life and all that I have experienced, and so very much of that, more than you can probably imagine, is changed and made better, deeper, fuller, more right, by your having been in it. By your being in it now. I will understand if you have to leave me early, turn away and not watch. That is fine; there are no 'shoulds' left. If you wish to reach out to me, I will respond as best, as graciously, as fully as I am able. Please do what is right for you in terms of this thing, whatever that is. For that is what I am doing, even though I know it may precipitate pains for all of us.
Thank you for witnessing this far.
So now you know.
Here I go.
If anyone wishes to assist in some way with the practicalities of my situation, the very best way is a contribution to my fund for a natural burial. It is my preference if possible to go back to nature bodily somehow - we have no polar bears here to perform this grace and sky burial is alas illegal here. Thank you.