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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.


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July 18, 2008


Oh dear, it just goes to show that being sharp is a mixed blessing. I laughed aloud when I came to "we're all waiting for me to die," I'm afraid. It was just too funny, so true, & I imagined the appalled looks on your faces. He is a wicked old man, and I suspect sometimes more appealing in your narratives than in the flesh. I'm thinking a more entrenched habit of kindness would have suppressed those words -- but kindness was maybe not the mission he was sent here with. Anyway. Much love to you all, and I hope the waiting is not too harrowing for any of you. xoxo

Yes, he *is* a wicked old man, but if he had any idea how much he's teaching us all....

Interminable purgatory. You really nailed it there. I don't know why the long, drawn-out journey. I wonder if there's any purpose to it. I watched when my husband was going through chemo and radiation. It just seemed endless. I can imagine how frustrated your father-in-law must be. Having to be taken care of, relying so much on others when it sounds like his whole life has been such an independent one.

You and your husband must be such a gift for him. Take care of yourself.


Oh Beth. May the waiting go as kindly as possible, for all of you. Thank him again for the stories, and thank you.

Adding my prayers right now.

I read this with tears and laughter. We know nothing of dying, really. And yet we'll all be expected to it, gracefully or otherwise.

I wish I could have had this level of honesty with my father.

At least I think I wish it.

I love your risky response, and it sounded like it paid off, like he felt the love you conveyed with it. He seems to like a scrape every now and then to feel alive, doesn't he?

Anyway, thanks for writing this.

i just want it to be said ... i think you should write a book of all you've chronicled here on this blog. i would buy it.

Yes, tears and laughter. Sometimes I'm simply relieved that my mother is now beyond speech, and, presumably, beyond the thought that should feed speech. Beth, what do you take away with you from these encounters that you record so vividly and movingly? What do we, at our age now, have to learn from all this?

Thanks, as always, and like mary said: Take care of yourself.

Dale, Pica: yes, well, what can I say? We're grateful that the kind and sweet side of his nature has surfaced more often these past few years, but I have to admit that his sharpness and lack of restraint are part of what make him so interesting.

Mary: yes, these things do feel interminable, and everyone feels pretty helpless. Clearly my father-in-law hasn't made up his mind that he's ready to die, or he would. It seems obvious to all of us that it's his will and stubbornness that keep him here - so the wait could be long! The decline continues and he is ever weaker, but he's still eating and drinking a lot, and certainly getting plenty of rest. We are only there for a few days every 10 days or so, so it isn't a constant for us. But yes - the travel and caring and coordinating are draining. We do get tired, and do need to take care of ourselves. We're trying. Thank you; I know you know!

Thanks, Leslee - I'm sure this is close to the bone for you; I thought of you as I wrote down that conversation.

Elizabeth, I'm glad you like the stories and I wish I could tell him so he'd understand.

Pascale, the honesty is a bit double-edged, but yes, I'm glad for it. We start out knowing nothing about death, but when you have the privilege of being this close to someone who is lucid and observant, it's a gift and does a lot to lessen the fear. I guess that's a big part of why I'm writing this down - because I see what it's giving us, and I want to share that if I can. He is still the teacher, and will be, it seems, right to the end.

Peter: you've got it right!

Thank you very much, Lisa. I'm certainly considering it. What additional material do you think is needed?

Dick: thank you for asking those questions. I've tried, I think, to let the conversations stand on their own so that other people can take away whatever they get, personally, without my own reactions coloring their reading - because this is a pretty emotional and personal topic to which we all bring our own life experiences or lack thereof. As I wrote to Mary, above, I find the fear of death itself is lessened by being around the dying. But I also realize I am much more afraid of the demise than of death itself, wondering how I would handle it, wondering if I'd be up to it, or if one's dying can have meaning or even help others? As difficult as my father-in-law is, he is still showing me things in his own fascination with what's happening to him. And he's like Socrates in that. I remember the first time I read Plato's account of Socrates' death - and how I wept, precisely at his intellectual lucidity, at the way the mind continued as it was, teaching, discussing, illuminating - and questioning. It's what I so much admire and love about being human; we find this tone in the Iliad, in Milosz' poetry - in many places - and it never fails to move and inspire me. So I think being middle-aged is the time when we can begin to internalize some of this. We won't all have full control over ourselves when we're sick or old, so it's worth considering how we want to be, how we might handle ourselves, because one thing is clear - even in dementia, people's basic personality often becomes exaggerated. As I watch his mind still trying to grapple with his situation, there is something noble about it, and although he deplores losing his sight, his hearing, his mobility, and most especially his ability t read and converse, he still has something going on in his head - he's still working things out. I want to be like that.

Oh god I just hope there's someone like you around when it happens to me...

When I first read this yesterday, I was moved to tears and had no words as thoughts of my own father's deterioration and passing overwhelmed me, even though it was not as painful perhaps as what you are going through. Can one ever not feel pain in these times? Coming back, everybody else has already voiced my mixed feelings. You write so honestly and clearly and lovingly, Beth! My thoughts are with you and J and his father during this painful wait - take care of yourselves. Wishing strength and much love.

Kia ora Beth,
I always find myself staring and thinking after reading your words. It gives me even more reason to fully enjoy my trip to the mountains. Getting older I never know how many more I have left and need to appreciate each moment. I think I might take Plato along with me. I recall being very moved reading that as well, and it has been many years since then. Kia ora Beth.

You write very well and so interestingly. I read and learn and ponder.

I wonder why you write "In your apartment in X", rather than naming the city/place?
And why the mysterious Lady W.?

Beth, these vignettes never cease to make me marvel at the tenderness and sensitivity of your dialogues with this fading but still so vital human being. His wry sense of humour and sharp awareness are still fully functional, in spite of his weakening body. This makes the 'long goodbye' even more painful for all concerned. I wish him a peaceful and merciful end, may it be sooner rather than later. Love to you all.

Even in purgatory, he is a fascinating man. I ache for you, for him, and for J.

My great grandmother began saying she was ready to die some three or four months prior to her death. She stopped talking, then she stopped eating. She was ready to go, and she went. He is obviously not quite ready.

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