good aging/good death

I have done a bit of research into ways of having a good death when Death already stands over your shoulder. First I want to make clear what I am not speaking about.

  1. Physician-assisted suicide. This is a nasty can of worms and invites abuse by people who already wreak a fair amount of harm on their patients. Overriding their oath, already known often in the breach, to “do no harm,” seems like a particularly bad idea. I DO NOT support any such legislation, or any such action. It has turned into the slippery slope that had been predicted when Kevorkian went on a media rampage, with a depressed teenager in Holland recently put to death like an unwanted dog. Horrible, unthinkable, criminal.
  2. I DO NOT support suicide. The suicide of unhappy, often depressed or PTSD-affected soldiers and others, is an awful thing to do to self, which CAN heal, to those who love the person, and the whole world which has lost the potential love and other gifts this person may have conferred. I support a society that views suicide as a wrong against the universe-given self, and a tragedy all around. Life is an improbable gift; a good society recognizes it and does everything to help people treasure it.
  3. There are some people (viz below) who speak of “self-deliverance” which sort of mixes everything together, including lethal injections by doctors. Weirdly enough, when you search online for self-deliverance, most links that come up are about deliverance from demons. As well they might, the way pro-euthanasia groups have behaved, and the kind of legislation they have at times pushed for.

I speak of a self-chosen departure when natural departure is imminent, and continued existence is virtually certain to entail profound suffering. Some people may indeed choose the natural way, even if it means hospitals and ICUs. But generally, we do not wish it on other people; we recoil in horror, reading of or observing the suffering natural death often enough entails. We do not wish it on animals either, whether a beloved pet, or a wounded deer on the side of the road. There is no spiritual benefit by choosing more suffering over less.

In my foray into dying proper, I have obtained a rather well-known book Final Exit (third revised edition) by Derek Humphry. It is a disappointment, and I do not recommend it. It does have some useful things to say, and I will quickly summarize them. His advice is to discuss your wishes with your loved ones, to write them down, best in a document called Advanced Directive (Living Will and Power of Attorney for Health Care), that letters be written to loved ones, and to study carefully the options before you well before you need them. So far so good.

I want to add that I do not see a legal prescription of drugs that can (if so chosen) be used to hasten one’s departure, as doctor-assisted suicide. The doctor need not know. When I was dying of cancer, opiates were prescribed to me freely, and that is how it should be. Only the drug war stands in the way of people having access to the drugs they need, for whatever reason. I am opposed to treating adults like children who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Oh, on alcohol and tobacco, the biggest killers, free access to adults, and in the time of covid, an essential business! But opiates for people in pain? Let’s crack down! Let them buy it off the street and perish! Sigh. Another story.

So back to Final Exit. The foreword, and actually, most of the book is shameless propaganda for euthanasia, and I will not use that word again, except as in veterinary practice.

When it comes to self-hastened death, there are various options. Humphry dwells a lot on techniques that are fast and certain, in his opinion, as though prolonged sleep from which a person may wake is anathema. He discusses many suboptimal options, like cyanide poisoning and self-injecting oneself with a large amount of air. Not a good way to die, apparently, though fast. He also spends a whole chapter on more bizarre ways to die, via ovens, intentional freezing to death, household cleaners, large doses of aspirin, and poisonous plants. There is a chapter on death by starvation. Another on carbon monoxide poisoning in a car. A detailed and creepy chapter on putting a plastic bag over one’s head and taking some sleeping pills. Ugh. There is a thoughtful chapter on “when” and a strange chapter on dying along with your partner. Another one has a checklist of all to do just before.

Well, the “good” options are as follows:

  • Drug overdose (he favors barbiturates, particularly Nembutal, not opiates, and briefly mentions a few others, less suitable)
  • Inert gases (e.g. helium)

And that’s it. The reason he does not like opiates is that the killing dose for one person may not kill another, they’d wake up, and could end up in a psychiatric ward. Or the last sleep may last many hours (apparently that is counted as an inconvenience in his world). As I had mentioned, he seems rather obsessed about doing it quickly. To my mind, doing it slowly makes more sense, as long as I make sure I don’t end up in the psychiatric ward.

Apparently, his more recent book, only available online as an ebook, goes into greater detail on how to kill yourself with helium. Yes, a plastic bag over your head is part of it, you should practice beforehand, and it takes about 30 minutes to die. And if you should be found and rescued, expect brain damage and paralysis. I think I’ll pass.

My own take: barbiturates are quite difficult to obtain (even in Mexico, he notes), as they have been replaced by benzodiazepines as the prescription drugs for sleep and anxiety. He never comments on what one feels with barbiturate overdose, only that the taste is horrible and best washed down by a stiff drink. In fact, the pills are so nasty that antiemetics should be taken prior. Yay. Oh and if you should perchance wake from an uncertain dose, you may be kidney-damaged. Or you may stay awake and take days to die. I am sitting here scratching my head. Compared to a slow dreamy passing via an approximate dose of poppy derivatives? They are relatively easy to obtain, store well for a long time, taste fine, you’ll enjoy the feeling as you drift away, and if you should wake after all, all you need to worry about is constipation. End of story.


One of the recent books that captivated me was Michael Pollan’s How to change your mind. There are plenty of reviews out there, and this will not be a review. It’s more of a critique – not of him, but of the paradigm into which psychedelics have fallen. The book is recommended: a well written, relatively sober compendium of history, current research, and the author’s excursions into tripping with several substances.

The book is specifically about psychedelics, mostly magic mushrooms and LSD. These substances are non-addictive (some call them anti-addictive since they have been used to cure addictions), they quit working if used often, and are among the safest drugs out there, medicinal or not.

Psychedelics are used in modest, “esthetic” doses, and in heavy doses, which can lead to temporary ego disappearance and to mystical and healing experiences, as well as scary “bad trips” and poor decision-making. They have been of late used in microdoses (1/10th of the usual dose) to boost creativity and counter depression.

Pollan dwells mostly on the positives, and to simplify his long argument, these are as follows:

  • The experience can open up a crack in the edifice of materialist rationality
  • It offers the possibility of a mystical experience with greater ease than other methods like fasting or deep meditation
  • People who experience the ego-less state are inclined to think of consciousness as a property of the universe (rather than of brains), which tends to undermine secularism; mysticism might be an antidote to fundamentalism
  • Psychedelics can boost creativity and problem-solving capacity
  • They can help people overcome the fear of death, and change the experience of dying for the better
  • They can send a person or a culture down a new path that turns out positive
  • They can provide an active eucharist for a religion (e.g. União do Vegetal (UDV))
  • The radical suggestibility they occasion can, in the right hands and guided by firm ethical boundaries, lead to alleviation or cure of a variety of problems that plague humans, from stuttering to alcoholism
  • Coming out of the more profound version of the experience often allows the user to see the world “as if newly created” and caught up in the NOW
  • Pollan also suggests that they would “heal humankind” but fails to provide evidence (viz negatives).

Psychedelics at one time caused a moral panic in America, and I am still trying to understand the basis of the negative perception of these experiences among conservative folks that seems little affected by changed understanding and new research. Rod Dreher, a well-known conservative blogger, got attacked by his readership for doing a friendly review of Pollan’s book. I believe that if conservatives dared to venture into the psychedelic world, they could positively affect its cultural context, as well as add invaluable insights and language not linked to the left counterculture.

Now to list the negatives, as I understand them so far.

  • Psychedelics can trigger psychosis in vulnerable individuals, esp. where psychosis runs in families
  • The mystical experience they often occasion can lead to ego inflation and messianic complexes (like “healing humankind”:-); as well as a dubious sense of certainty
  • And can foster a feeling of invulnerability in turn leading to injury or death (admittedly rarely)
  • Temporary dissolution of the ego can be very frightening
  • They can lead to bad trips esp. in situations where set and setting has not been attended to, and users lack psychological/spiritual skills to deal with scary imagery and threatening entities
  • The experience of “unity consciousness” can mislead people into black and white thinking, seeing “separation” as undesirable and the self as prison
  • Radical suggestibility makes the individual wide open to manipulation and propaganda, and insufficient attention has been paid to this in the guidelines for sitters and users
  • Psychedelics have been closely linked to left-oriented counterculture and there is palpable lack of steadying (or just different) input from conservative journeyers and sitters, rebalancing the expectations and reporting of experiences
  • New Age music, altars, and promotion of syncretism has accompanied many settings (which amounts to propaganda and misuse of suggestible openness)
  • They can send a person or a culture down a new path that turns out to be negative, a dead-end street (viz Timothy Leary)
  • They frustratingly lead users to sentimental platitudes

There are two things that bothered me the most. The first is the lack of emphasis on dealing with radical suggestibility. Pollan makes much of the guidelines that have been developed by underground sitters who run psychedelic retreats. And they are indeed essential. But too little attention has been paid to the ethical boundaries of people who find themselves in the position to influence the experience of psychedelic journeyers. What sort of a thing will it do to your inner being to have to listen to New Age music for hours on end? Pollan calls it spa music, yet submits to it without demur. Even when it leads him to “places” he very much dislikes.

The second thing that struck me was the marked lack of spiritual anchoring that results in people accepting sets and settings that abound in New Age artifacts, music, prayer, and symbolism. Pollan admits that he does not have a clue about religion or spirituality, and so he allows himself to be led like a sheep to slaughter. Maybe the ethical guidelines could notice this vulnerability and address it? Just maybe? Since he has no idea how to pray or to make his own altar, he has others with axes to grind do it all for him. Should people diving into deep suggestibility get pushed into other people’s spiritual frameworks? A good idea he stresses is spending time after the experience unwrapping what happened. But is it really helpful to have it done under circumstances of more New Age ideation? There is a moment when his sitter tries to insist that Pollan’s hyperventilation-caused A-fib episode was really a “heart opening.” Pollan rejects that one in no uncertain terms, but there are other examples in the book that could use closer attention.

And finally, I would like it noted that in my view, the people who watch over psychonauts to keep them safe are not Guides, as they call themselves. The guides are the fungi, not the humans, and I find this self-designation presumptuous and inaccurate. “Sitters” is the more common, accurate and quite down-to-earth designation, though, naturally, less ego-inflating.

Don’t get me wrong. A measure of self-inflation is a key survival skill. If we steadily focused on naked reality in its gory glory and our own fragility and mortality and the given hardships of life on this planet, who’d want to carry on? Psychedelics can lift a person up. But even when you get yanked up by a fungal helium balloon, be here now. I am intending to let the fungal wisdom guide me, not my wildly rebounding ego. 🙂

Why am I telling you this? Because I have never taken a heroic dose of a psychedelic, and when I do, I want to do it my way. My guidelines, my rules, my own set and setting. I’ll make it public so that we can all compare notes. I think I’ll skip the music and use the eye shades only intermittently. I’d rather hear the birds or watch the snow falling… Many too many years ago, my magic mushroom experiences (of the modest kind) were always interactive, in the company of other journeyers; on two occasions a sitter was present as well. They were accompanied by visuals of shimmering transparent latticework and Southwestern Indian geometric patterns. Everything in the world seemed hilarious and I was four years old again. But this time, I will go deeper. Stay tuned.


When I moved to Colorado, I needed a new doctor to prescribe the two benzodiazepines I take for sleep. I had developed serious insomnia, was bounced around by a doctor who refused to prescribe anything that worked for me in the past, and after wasting a year with useless prescriptions, referred me to a pill shrink. This man was willing to prescribe benzos, but not at the dose I needed. I had to show up every month for a new prescription, he got paid for 3 minutes of work. He asked: what month is it today? Who is the president? Here is your new scrip. That went on for some time… and I still had insomnia. I had meanwhile found a psychologist to help with my PTSD, and he recommended a sleep clinic that had helped him. I went through the sleep study, happy I did not have sleep apnea, and eventually ended up with the two benzos I take at night.

When coming to another state, I contacted a clinic in the area who agreed to help as long as I do psychological therapy with them as well. However, “prescribers” do not have the kind of DEA license my doc had in Florida, so I have to report monthly and chase various people after the prescription. I went through about 5 hours of intake with various people, and now it turns out that I have to go through a “reevaluation” of our treatment plan every three months with my psychologist though completely unnecessary. And when I called for the refill of my benzos as instructed by the psychiatric “prescriber” I was told I must consult with him first. About what? I am about to taper off my dose with the new prescription, we had agreed on the protocol, and there is yet nothing to report. But I must see the nurse and then the psychiatrist next week anyway. Someone’s rule. Plus, to add insult to injury, this clinic will force me to piss into a cup to prove I am actually taking the benzos and not reselling them on the street! I am guilty until proven innocent by my urine. And several people get paid every month for something that took one visit every 6 months to a sleep clinic in Florida.

But when I was talking to the psychiatrist during my intake, something nice happened. He listened with care to my long-ago traumatic ordeal with eventually diagnosed pancreatitis, and how I was treated like a drug addict during that three-month misery and extreme pain. He wondered that I still had recourse to mainstream medicine after such experiences. I laughed. It took away that old sting. I told him I survived so far by judicious combination of mainstream medicine and alternatives. Now, that is no longer true.

On Sunday, being without a car that had overheated, I unpacked my old kick scooter, rode it on gravel and fell. I split my eyebrow; nothing alarming, but I bled like a stuck pig. So after I returned to our village, I consulted the neighbors at the café. One of them was an ex-medic, told me to put pressure on the wound, and said it would be good to wash it out and close. It was not a deep gash, but it needed a tad of help. I wondered if we had a medic nearby who could help me with dressing the wound. She called 911, our fire chief drove down the main street without traffic and without lights with the siren blazing, and when he got to me, informed me that he did not have the powers to dress even tiny wounds. Some bureaucrat somewhere decided that this small chore that I could do in a pinch myself, had to be attended to by an ER doctor half an hour away. I thought the whole thing was utterly stupid, and said so. The medic in the end convinced me to go to the hospital.

In the hospital, I was attended by a doctor whose mind was elsewhere. He ordered an unnecessary ct scan, then reopened the wound, washed it out, and despite profuse bleeding, offered either glue or steri-strips. I chose steri-strips, thinking I needed a couple of stitches, but feeling intimidated. So steri-strips were applied in a fashion that irritated my eyelid, and prevented me from applying pressure on the wound for fear of dislodging them. I bled for an hour. I have no idea if I will come out of this silly ordeal with a face gone askew. I do know, however, that my friendly coexistence of mainstream care with “kitchen medicine” as well as alternatives, is over. Mainstream demands that the doctor be in charge. No thanks. I will not again surrender my decision-making powers to a doctor, a nurse or a medic, as long as I am conscious. Rules first, money second, and patient a weak third. And common sense out the window. A dangerous combination.

But Moloch was fed.

Trust and let go. Climb staircases, open doors, explore paths, fly over landscapes.
— instructions given to patients at the NYU psilocybin trial

After looking into a good way of dying in my recent post, I had a sort of an epiphany. It seemed that thinking what it would be like to have a good last year of life (say), propelled me directly into considering how I wanted to spend my elder years. For a time, I became something of a pest to my friends and my psychologist, as they worried about my “obsession with death.” I tried to explain it was nothing like that… but… it seems that talking about one’s last years (be they 15, or 30, or hey, maybe the Grim Reaper is heading my way already) is one of the remaining taboos.

One thing that jolted me was the realization that if I truly aimed for “a good death” on my own terms, I needed to prepare well in advance. Just about everything I want, from shallow graves or sky burials, to plentiful pain killers, to the right dose for departure (& don’t you dare call it suicide!), and to the intriguing entheogens that ease the anxiety — if not outright horror — that surrounds death and dying, is illegal or at the far edge of possibility. Unless I acquire new skills and connect with people who are in the position to provide these things, now, I will be out of luck.

And then I thought… you know, this is kinda fun. Thinking of ways to make one’s last months on earth good… led me directly to thinking of ways to make my last x years on earth good. Nobody knows the day nor the hour. May as well have a path, or at least a guiding star. How about seeing one’s elder years in the expectation of enhanced well-being? Yes, one’s body begins to wizen, but the brain grows more complex and more open to new ways of seeing reality — if  provided with stimulation from daring new experiences, meditation or prayer, “smart foods,” and plenty of wrongthink! And since such brains are apt to be more creative, I may be able to figure out how to deal with the inevitable health issues not through the usual wheelbarrowful of pills that doctors push on older folks, but through herbs, supplements, body-aware movement, and an approach to life that takes me back to living boldly, living ALIVE, suffused with meaning.

So I took off running. I sold my place, moved to the edge of wilderness in Colorado. I am preparing to leave on an adventure of a lifetime. Bucket list? No, I am not ill. This is before you need a bucket list. I am going to climb again (both trees and rocks), ski again, thrill to danger again. Live in incredibly wild places, with wolves, bears, cougars, wisent and rivers full of fish. Spend lots of time with people and critters I love. Sing everyday. Contrive to get snowbound in a winter wonderland where you have to dig tunnels to get to the woodshed. Wander off on psychedelic adventures and fly off cliffs in lucid dreams. I have found an experienced herbalist who will take my (actually considerable but scattered) knowledge to the next level. I am particularly keen to learn to work with plants considered poisonous, as I had begun with my poke root hit-and-miss dosing. (Did you know that the infamous hemlock that killed Socrates is actually an excellent pain killer? It’s all in the dose. Even water will kill you if you drink too much of it.) I will find ways that suffuse the aging body with pleasure again, ways that heal old wounds and spark the feeling of youthful spunk. After decades of struggling with insomnia, I’ll learn to sleep like a cat.

A door at hands’ reach beckons into communion not only with other humans and with one’s inner self, but also with soil, critters, plants and fungi, and the universe itself. Babylon has none of these. Earthly paradise has all of them.

I will jump into all sorts of scary “crucial conversations” with gusto. Communism forced me into exile, and I am not about to live out my life seeing it creep back as a new form of totality, without throwing some sand in the gears of the neo-marxist machine. This time, that totality is fueled by politically correct bullies and sourpusses who have forgotten what free speech means, or how many people gave their lives so they themselves could say what they mean, and mean what they say, and nobody comes for them in the middle of the night as a consequence. It looks like the free speech barricades need manning again, as they do every second or third generation.

I will defy the laws that stand between me and empathogens so that my remaining PTSD, and severe stresses yet to come, can be negotiated with grace. A new book’s popped up written by a woman whose severe depression of many years became drug-resistant. She enrolled in a month-long experiment with LSD microdosing and her world changed. Now she is out there rabble-rousing, working hard to bring LSD back as legal medicine. After reading Michael Pollan’s description of the ongoing trials using psilocybin to ease people dying of cancer at the NYU hospital, I had to ask myself… why wait for a mystical experience that takes away the fear of death for when I have one foot firmly wedged in the grave? Why not now?! Then I am covered whenever and wherever death comes for me. 🐺





Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

I have witnessed only two deaths. They were not good. My mother was whisked off against her wishes to die in a hospital and to be subject to an unnecessary autopsy she had been strongly against. We all gathered ’round to witness her struggle, her laborious gasping for yet another breath. I did not have a sense that giving her extra oxygen through her nostrils eased her passing. (This had been the sole reason my father chose to remove her from our home where she wished to die. Dying people have difficulties breathing. Duh.)

I described the recent death of my father in the previous post. It was a horrible experience for me, and infinitely more horrible for him. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Trusting the system, or for those with caring children, trusting that they will somehow manage to give you the good death we all deep down hope for… is foolish. The only person I know who had a good death was my grandmother. Still well, she dozed off one afternoon while her daughter, my aunt, was puttering in the kitchen nearby. And then she was gone. A lucky woman. But one can hardly bet on such luck.

Those experiences jolted me into a close examination of my own wishes and eventual options. I wrote a while back about ecologically sane disposal of the body. Since then, my final choice has become clear. I walk away. If a few of my remains are found — and I would be delighted to become food for one of the noble beasts, cougars or vultures if in America, and jackals or bears if in Europe — then I want them wrapped in a simple shroud, placed in a shallow grave lined with compost, with an apple tree planted over me. This of course goes against many laws in many places, but discreet action on private land remains a viable option everywhere. (There is yet another way, much simpler. Swimming out into the ocean. But I’d rather grow into an apple than a jellyfish.:)

Or perhaps by then there will be orchard cemeteries, and if I should have the misfortune to die in bed, that too would be lovely, my body nurturing a fruit tree the living could come and enjoy. And for a funeral? A simple horse-drawn cart, with a brass band playing the songs that sent generations of my ancestors to the next world, that would be the cherry on top.

I struggled mightily with the proper disposal of the dead, but it turns out that’s a simple problem. What about the dying itself? That’s where the real complexities enter in, and that’s where this insane world we live in makes things really difficult for those who would rather skip the usual: institutionalization, prolonged misery with one’s faculties radically diminished and one’s self-determination gone, often dying amidst strangers.

There are several issues that need thinking out, well prior to one’s actual need. Pain medications in an age of moral panics about certain drugs. Reliable lethal doses and access. And then, the most difficult one of them all: how to handle the fear and existential dread that falls upon those whose mortality suddenly ceases to be, um, theoretical. When I was told twelve years ago that I was dying, I was not only grief-stricken, and maddened by the rude and callous way the doctor handled the situation, but I also suffered from the realization that I was completely unprepared for… well, for what I am now calling the good death. I did have the time. I had no resources. I called the Hemlock Society for advice. They told me that the hospice folks leave plenty of morphine behind as they care for you. This is, I suspect, no longer true. Well. As it turned out, I used the time the doctor opined should be taken up to set my affairs in order to save my life instead. But that is another story, and another post.

So I was given a second chance for a rethink. While I believe that suicide is profoundly wrong for reasons too numerous to mention, the idea offers itself that to slightly speed the scythe that is already swooping down… calling it suicide seems a misnomer. It’s more of the last act of exercising the gift of choosing we were given at our birth as human beings. Many dying people refuse to eat — and nobody calls it suicide. (But really, isn’t starving to death, well, a somewhat sub-optimal way to go? Just sayin’….) If it is a kindness to ease the suffering of animals, why must humans endure the worst, at the mercy of often unmerciful happenstance? And being childless, I cannot console myself with idyllic pictures of a loving family gathering to say their goodbyes. It seems to me that when one’s life is done, and all that remains is waiting for the grim end, the kindest thing for all concerned is to make those last months as grimless and meaningful as possible.

I have been reading Michael Pollan’s latest: How to Change Your Mind. It follows his adventures with certain currently-forbidden substances (all hallucinogens, in his case) that he missed out on as a young man. One of the things the book describes are the scientific experiments, quite well corroborated, that demonstrate how the existential dread of dying can be substantially eased or eliminated by guided psychedelic experiences, enabling the person to make a spiritual turning that reframes the death that is coming. I remember when a dear friend was slowly dying of recurrent ovarian cancer — her last year spent being abused by one failing chemo after another, then the cold announcement from the doctor, and then the endless waiting… waiting… waiting… lying in front of television, resentful of the cruel blow of fate, and of death tarrying so. Bitter, too, against the Catholic faith she felt had let her down. She could have used help. But we were clueless.

Why not, instead, refuse heroic measures that swell the GDP with their false “palliative” promises and opt for experiences that bring one’s last days full circle into the meaning of it all, in the largest possible sense? This intimation of meaning which we can only guess at, but which is, experientially, within reach? For me, roaming the wildish lands and communing with critters (human and non) I have loved all my life would come first. And second, I would wish to have available to me all the substances given to us by God-Cosmos-Gaia exactly for the purpose of easing our pain, experiencing parting pleasures, expressing the love we feel without the usual restraint, seeing the meaning of our life with fresh eyes, and finding strength to face the beckoning transformation with grace.

Which leads me off on an exploration.

  • What are the best ways to deal with the pain that often accompanies one’s last months– and which, in its infinite unwisdom, this culture stigmatizes and prohibits — allowing you to walk into the proverbial hills despite your bad back and your bum ankle or the cancer gnawing at your insides? When my mother was dying, my father — being in the cancer research business — pulled some strings to obtain for her what in those days was the most effective way to deal with severe pain. This Brompton’s Cocktail (then commonly available behind the Iron Curtain) was made up of morphine, cocaine, heroin and alcohol. It is still illegal today. The mix was adjusted to the needs of the patient — he or she could choose to be more or less alert, more or less social. Why do we put up with a medical system that puts politics above patients’ needs?!
  • What is the best way to speed the scythe as you can walk no more, and wait in the hills for the blessed scavengers to transform your death into new life? The internet is vague about the dosage (maybe 300 mg of morphine might be enough; but what about a person whose previous months had included plenty of pain medication?). We need expert guides who can advise. And we need doctors who will allow us to build up a cache for when the day comes, well in advance. I think I will mix mine into creme brulee…
  • And finally, what is the best way to use those divine substances that grant us the mercy and vision that in normal consciousness would likely be unreachable? The peace beyond understanding. The rightness of Being. The rightness of Death. The hope for another adventure awaiting in the beyond. The deep gladness that one’s death serves life. A whole new gestalt in which the universe opens its arms to you and welcomes you home. This, as I understand it, the new generation of psychedelic researchers are focusing on. But they need not stop there! How about drugs given not to quell pain, but to suffuse with pleasure a body that no longer can do it on its own? What about pills or herbs that would bring happy, vivid dreams? What about hypnosis that would help the person relive the most meaningful days of their life?

If I am granted the foresight and the knowledge that the time has come, I will walk away into the wilderness to offer my body to the living. That too will require preparation and scouting out, depending on the season and my strength. I suspect it will take more than just putting on a backpack and heading west into the Rockies, as I had naively imagined. Maybe an old cabin might come in handy. After all, it could be winter. The very last adventure of this earthly life ought to be grand, don’t you think?

And when I am gone, the friends I have left behind will shield their eyes when a vulture or a raven flies overhead, and wonder if I am flying along.

annies home: Turkey Vulture




A few years back, there went by a news story about an event in Holland. Apparently, the Dutch have decided to… is there a good way to say this?… to kill their elderly. The human being in question — a lady with Alzheimer’s — apparently had her wits about her when the doctor tried to administer the lethal injection and fought back with alacrity. Then, the doctor asked the family members to hold her down. Then, he put her down like a sick dog. I was shocked. I remember being glad that this sort of thing does not go on in America.

I took care of my aged father for several years. He was relatively well, though his mind was sometimes better and sometimes worse. Living with him was very trying, because — and this was a lifelong pattern with him — he was a personality disordered man. I will not describe the scenes that sometimes went on between us. I will just mention that I had a dear friend nearby who regularly rescued me and let me stay there while my father raged and carried on. The last year of his life he suffered a fall, but recovered well, and his ct scans showed a healthy 91-year-old.

One evening, my father was unusually talkative. We discussed his future, and whether he would be willing to give assisted living a try. I was surprised and glad, because he rarely talked to me, and because we carried on a good discussion without his use of hearing aids. A hopeful sign, I thought! We went to bed agreeing to speak more on the morrow.

I woke at 5 am with him banging on my door, yelling, incoherent. I opened — a mistake — and when he lunged against me, trying to keep the door open, he broke my arm. I called the cops who quieted him down. Then I went to ER. When I came home and prepared my father’s breakfast and pills, he began to stalk me, telling me he wanted me out this instant. After giving him the pills, I locked myself in the bedroom. All was quiet for a few hours, then the yelling and banging on my door began. The door shook in its frame.

I called the cops again. They spent about three hours here, trying to calm him down, getting abused in turn. My father even struggled with them physically — I don’t know where he found the energy. I confessed to them I was worried that he was going to try to poison me, and they advised me to keep all my own food in the bedroom, which seemed an insane piece of advice. Is this how I should live? Eventually, they realized that he was past any signposts of sanity, called the medics, slapped the Baker Act on him (“dangerous to self and others”) and took him to the hospital, where my father tried to kick and hit personnel. They gave him some anti-psychotics that made him worse. Eventually, with great difficulty, they found him a bed in a psychiatric institution.

And this is where the system began to play me. I was, of course, a babe in the woods, and as the situation unfolded, I spent my days on the phone, trying to figure out what to do from one day to the next. And I toured many institutions that take in the aged. My father’s insurance would have paid 100% of the costs of him being in the mental hospital. But after zonking him hard with several different anti-psychotics, they claimed he was just fine now (after a week!) and I should make other arrangements. I had him transferred to assisted living — a very nice place as such places go. They did not tell me he had developed bed sores. (My father refused to move while he was there, making them believe that he could not — so I can’t really say it was all their poor care that brought those sores about.)

Was he well? Of course not. He shrieked all the way down from the hospital to the assisted living home. When there, my father — who you remember “could not move at all” in the hospital, started running around the assisted living place, barging into people’s rooms, and that even without his usual walker. He created such an upheaval that I was required to pay for round the clock aides to keep an eye on him. Eventually, we were able to ease off, and the home made arrangements with neighboring “memory care” unit (that’s where the Alzheimer’s people are) to take him during the day. He was also further dosed with anti-psychotics which nobody seemed to be able to adjust so that the crazies would stop but he could function.

Well, in the end, that arrangement fell apart, and he went back to the local hospital. There he lay zonked out of his mind, his sores getting worse, while they were trying to figure out what to do with him. There was some sort of an appeal to the state that took several weeks to resolve. Meanwhile, I was looking for a memory care place for him — and was lucky to find out near me, a small one that was run by a church, and people had individual attention. When the state declined the appeal, the church facility took him in. I was so glad then, full of hope that they would be able to get him off the drugs and back to being alive. It looked that way at first.

Then I ran into insurance problems. If my father had straight Medicare, the facility’s doctors and rehab people could look after him. But he had one of those HMO plans that demand the patient goes to certain doctors only. My BC/BS advisor went on vacation, the replacement was not able to get me either a competent doctor or a rehab person, and my father’s muscles went rapidly into permanent atrophy. When he came there, he was coherent, and was able to get up and have lunch at the common table. Within days, he was shrieking his head off, back on the nasty drugs, alone in his room. I came twice a day to check on him. He could still talk to me. I asked him if he was hungry or thirsty. He said no. Then he said: “I am afraid.” My father… whom I’ve never known to be afraid of anyone. That was the last thing he said.

The next day, as I was coming in, the director called me and told me I should talk to the hospice. This too was a shock. That day my father had refused all food (he actually crushed the spoon they were using to feed him some yogurt) and his message was clear. I was up till midnight making the arrangements, late Friday night.

The hospice got him a special soft bed, and took excellent care of his bed sores. They also got an attendant to be with him 24 hours a day. They made sure he was getting some water to wet his mouth, and eventually began to rub liquid morphine around his gums (though in my opinion, it took them excruciatingly long to get around to it).

My father died 6 days after the hospice took over. In three months, he went from a healthy albeit intermittently demented person to a corpse.

I came out of this ordeal with a case of PTSD, a frozen shoulder, and a lot of questions. I am writing this post to warn others. There were three problems with his care. 1) The anti-psychotics ruined his health. 2) The advice I was given was of the sort designed to “draw down” his assets (such a nice official phrase, eh?). He could have stayed in the psych unit until they stabilized him, at no cost to us. Instead, they lied to me. The assisted living home was motivated to go along with the lie, because they stood to profit by his monthly rent. And in the end, even the church place should have advised me that it looked like my father needed hospice, not moving to yet another institution. More money for them. (They did tell me, but after he had been moved, while assuring me it looked like they were wrong.) And 3), when I begged people to calm my father with opiates (which would have given him constipation but would not have turned him into a zombie) rather than zombifying anti-psychotics, they refused. Only the hospice can administer the opiates, they said. I had nowhere to turn.

So this is the way we kill the troublesome aged in America. The quiet ones — and I saw many during my sojourn through the institutions — lie in their chairs in front of the TV day in, day out, year in, year out. The hospice, btw, was free and excellent. Apparently, it is important in the United States to pour unlimited money into the dying. Why?

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