When I wake up in the morning, I can open my eyes and lookout over Galway Lake without having to take my head off the pillow. How lucky am I to have come to such a place to spend my last days. Since Tari Lee and I move to the Saratoga Springs area we have been learning a little about its history. Sometimes I look out over the lake and think of the Mohawk Indians who must have stood on this same spot. There would have been no lake in those days, but there would still have been a vista from our hillside looking across a pretty valley towards a line of high hills on the Southern horizon.
Since I became a member of the Saratoga Springs UU I have felt as if I had become part of a clan, a group like the Mohawk’s had: a group with elders, and mature adults, weavers and hunters, young bucks and maidans, children. I see us all moving on the same path, through the same woods, as we travel from our sunrise to our individual sunsets. As we move along we take care of eachother. Those of us here now will almost all be gone in a brief 100 years. As will almost all of the 7,655,957,369 other human beings who were counted as being alive in the world in 2018. But the tribe’s membership will have been refilled and it will continue to support its members spiritually and physically.
I have become an “elder”. This October 9 I will turn 74. Since I was diagnosed with Ideopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis four and a half years ago I have known that I had a terminal disease which is gradually shutting down my lungs. I was well enough during that time to move back home from Taiwan, where Tari Lee and I had been teaching English for 9 years, and to help Tari Lee work with a modular builder to create the modular house which we now live in overlooking Galway Lake. Tari Lee designed the house so that it had wheelchair wide doors, and is laid out so I can move from my bed to the bathroom to the dining room table to the couch or to my study desk in jumps that I can still do physically. The challenge for me is that once I sit down at the end of a “jump” from spot to spot I am severely out of breath and my oxygen level drops down as low as 60 and takes several minutes to build up to 90 or so, which is considered safe. But I can still make my way around, and am semi-independent.
After the first shock of learning that I had a terminal disease I didn’t think about it much. I could still work and walk and get around easily. But once we got into our new house things began to change. I had to have a sleep study. It showed that at night my oxygen level dropped below 88, and that meant I had to be provided with an electrical oxygen making machine that I would need to hook myself up to at night. In time it became necessary for me to have an oxygen tube in my nose 24/7. And gradually the amount of liters of oxygen pumped into my lungs has had to be increased from 4 liters per minute to 6 and now to the machine’s maximum, 10 liters per minute.
But I have no pain. I am just sleeping a lot more, and my memory is becoming cloudy. Each day blends into the next. And I have open time to consider my mortality.
THE BLESSING OF IPF
I have titled this writing “Discovering Grace at Life’s End” because the manner that I have been given to die is turning out to be a blessing. As I move towards my end I have had a chance to reflect over my life’s journey in depth and to open myself up to spiritual insights which can swoop in unexpectedly. Most people, quite rightly, think it is morbid to think about death, and avoid it. They are right. We are here to be alive. But, at the same time, what is it like to know one is going to die pretty soon? Many people are in pain at that point. Or they are recovering from chemotherapy. There is no inclination to write about their experience. But I have leisure because of the nature of my disease. And I am an elder. So I have decided to put down thoughts as they occur for anyone who is interested to read at some point in the future.
There is no way to know how my disease will progress, or how long I have left to live. When I asked to set this page up I imagined that I could add insights and thoughts to it for months… but it is not to be. I am getting weaker each week, and I do not have the energy to do this project. But I do have the energy to add an insight which has deeply affected me, and my attitude towards dying.
A few weeks ago I had the strength to get outdoors on a beautiful sunny breezy afternoon. I was able to get down the steps in the front of our house to the terrace where I have a gravity lawn reclining chair. With me I brought a thermos of Yorkshire tea, my binoculars, an apple, my headphones and an iphone for music….. all little pleasures to enjoy as I sat out there enjoying the lovely afternoon. Suddenly a song bird flew in and landed on the telephone wire which stretches across the bottom of our driveway. After settling down it began to sing. I closed my eyes and imagined what those notes might look like on a sheet of music. I am not a musician, and I cannot identify what a note is just by listening to it. But it seemed to me that I didn’t hear any sharps or flats. Even if there were, there were no discordant notes in this bird’s song. I thought about that. Had I every heard a discordant note in a song from any kind of bird? Do all birds sing harmoniously? I opened my eyes and looked out at the lake. A gentle breeze was making silver ripples in the middle of the lake and then lifting off to gently tremble the leaves at the tops of the tall maple trees reaching up over my head. Clouds out over the valley were making their way from West to East. Suddenly I was hit by thought. It won’t be long before all this is here, and I am gone! No me! I had never had that thought in quite that way before. I looked out over the world before me, and it will continue after I have died, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of peace. What I was looking at was harmony. Harmony as a force in the universe as immense as gravity. Even chaos and violent eruptions and the collision of galaxies can be considered as being part of a greater evolving harmony. It struck me that when I die the elements which make up my physical being will all be redistributed, but none will be destroyed. They will become part of the harmony of the universe. I have no idea if there is some kind of afterlife. I suspect not. I suspect that like all animals, in fact all living things, we individually only have short lives. And that circle of life and death is part of a great harmony. I can settle for that, the idea that I will be returning to a great harmony larger than it is possible to understand. Ever since I was overtaken by this feeling I have been unafraid and at peace with this understanding that all this will still be here, but I will be gone. What will remain of Jeremy will be in the hearts of those who touched his life. I am filled with gratitude what I have been granted such a kind and gentle and safe ending of my days.