Archive for the ‘Death and dying’ Category

On September 25th the world lost a true hero in the untimely death of Wangari Maathai.  Her story is one of unmatched courage in the face of oppression and of boundless optimism for the future.  A story where one single women stood up to political and social oppression and to environmental exploitation.  She fought for the reforestation of her homeland which she knew was closely linked with bringing economic justice to the women of her homeland.

Honoring Wangari Maathai.

Upon hearing of Wangari Maathai’s passing I felt a deep sense of loss, as if she had been personally dear to me.  But in truth I know that the loss I feel is not personal but rather that it stems from the realization that an incredible force for the common good has left us forever.

I will mourn her deeply.

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I’m sure you know of the man who was named “Dr. Death” because of his bold battle to bring the choice of physician assisted suicide to the terminally ill. 

As a person living with Multiple Sclerosis, and hence living with a very uncertain future, I have a deep interest in the topic of  ‘dying with dignity’.  I consider the act of ending my life at a time of my own choosing as a basic human right which no religion, state or government should be allowed to take away from me.

Of course, people commit suicide every day in the US and around the world.  And I have always thought that it is usually a desperate act, prompted by helplessness and suffering that simply is too much to endure.  But ending one’s life as an alternative to suffering the unending ravages and unbearable pain of a devastating illness, is in no way an act of  desperation. 

In fact, it is an act of courage and should be supported by society the same way we have long accepted euthanasia as a merciful alternative to the unnecessary suffering of a beloved pet.  Only here, with physician assisted suicide, it is the human being him/herself who determines IF and WHEN to die.  This is the complete opposite of a decision that many fear may be made by a second party on behalf of someone who cannot express their wishes.

In a previous post about how “To live and die with dignity” I shared Craig Ewert’s courageous story of how he travelled to Switzerland in order to find the assistance he needed to die his way and at a time of his own choosing.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/suicidetourist/

It seems clear to me that anyone who is brave enough to watch the documentary of Greg’s struggle with ALS and his final decision to die, will also witness the strength and the dignity of his final choice.

However, it is not the premeditated dying that is important here, but rather, it is the legal CHOICE people ought to have, that matters.   Even if the right to die were well established and acknowledged by the power of  law, not everyone would choose this path. 

My favorite example of such an individual is Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, who has clearly chosen to live in spite of having lost his body to the devastating effects of ALS.   

In his case, no  financial or scientific means are spared to enable him to continue his work.

He also is an inspiration to me and I admire him for his straight forward and unsentimental way of looking at life.  In his recent book “Grand Design,” he says: “There is no heaven or after-life …, that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”   He also states that he is not afraid of death, but adds: “I’m in no hurry to die.  I have so much I want to do first.”

So there you have it: more food for thought. 

I’d like to close by thanking Dr. Kevorkian for his committment to human dignity and by posing the following question: 

What gives a society the right to deny any person a choice in determining how much suffering is enough?  And WHEN and HOW to die?

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As the people of Libya are fighting for their freedom, the oppressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi is using deadly force to kill the demonstrators in the streets of Tripoli. 

Libya’s falling tyrant – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

I watch in horror as mercenary armies attack with live fire and fighters jets are used to bomb the defenceless population.  How long will the leaders of the “free” world stand by and watch?

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I learned that my friend Patti had entered hospice care – and this morning I learned of her early death. 

This dreaded news fills me with a sadness so profound that tears are streaming from my eyes as I compose my thoughts at the death of this courageous woman.  I scarcely knew Patti, but it did not take long to learn of her generosity and the loving kindness she brought to life.

I met Patti about a year ago when she e-mailed me in response to my post on dying with dignity.  At that time she shared with me the struggle that had entered her life after cancer had invaded her spine.  She was determined to love life for the duration and to fight the spreading menace to her last breath.  So she braved the treatments and endured increasing pain.  It was difficult to witness her suffering as it became increasingly clear that Patti was loosing her battle with cancer.   

This picture was taken in June when Patti and her husband Greg met us to witness the arrival of our new BARC berner Sammy.  Sadly, this is the only time we were able to meet.  Had things gone differently we would be planning our road trip to the 2011 Berner Specialty in California in early Spring.   We were going to take an RV and one Berner each and travel through the land, visiting as many of the BARC families along the way as  would have us.

But alas, dear Patti, it was not to be!

Your courageous battle is over and amidst the sadness I am thankful that your suffering has ended.  So let me salute you one more time with a poem that you surely would have liked.

Burning Bush by Alison Apotheker


I would like to belive that in the darkness

beneath the skin, the secret dark holds

the same volatile oil as these flowers

and will ignite the stricken

silence of this summer night.


And I would like to believe the soul’s

language resides there, and the unfinished phrases

of the dead ones, the ellipsis completed

in a crush of those dark green toothed

leaves and their scent of sliced lemon.


I would hope as well that the lightning

in its body finds rest beneath the soil

and knows, as sure as the capillaries

whisper of blood’s persistent passage,

that all will be remembered and spoken for. 


Rest in Peace my dear Patti and may Eternity cradle you.

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