Thinking about death every day

A new smart app helps with that but do we need to do it

Photo by Hannah Wernecke on Unsplash

When I see announcements about people who have died in their eighties, it makes me a bit nervous since I am 82. But why do I even worry about it? Like the guy who told the doctor, “My arm hurts when I do this” to which the physician responds, “Then don’t do that.”

Thinking about this began when I saw an ad on Instagram for WeCroak©, an app that purports to send daily quotes so one can consider dying.

Today it is Emily Dickinson, “Dying is a wild night and a new road.”

Did that make you better?

Many years ago when one of my dear friends died suddenly in his sixties, I sat down with a counselor to talk about a new awareness of my mortality. In her wise way, she asked “What do you fear about dying?” As I tried to respond, I remembered my father’s comment when he had a heart attack at a very young age. “I am not afraid of dying but I hate the thought of how my death will make my family feel.”

So, that’s it in the proverbial nutshell.

I watch a lot of detective series on my various TV streaming sources and so I see quite a few, probably too many (fictional) murders. Because of the suddenness and the violence, every single time, grieving persons ask, “Did she suffer?,” “Was he afraid?” or some other impossible question.

On the spot, law enforcement or funeral personnel are taken aback, usually offering words of comfort rather than trying to respond. Answers would be sheer speculation anyway. Maybe the instant stopping of heartbeat or a morphine-induced dreamless sleep comes at our end.

Violent ends such as auto accidents may include longer dying but often there is a blessed unconsciousness. As for an airplane crash, I always remember the comment John D. MacDonald made when he had to fly from his boat slip in Fort Lauderdale to Chicago for heart surgery. He said, “The airlines may kill you but they won’t hurt you.”

When I read this essay back, it sounds a bit macabre. However, if you talked to the young(!) developers of WeCroak© they might say just the opposite. While I am not sure how long I am going to be able to take popup notifications telling me “Remember you are dying,” they do have a useful thing going.

The trick is to use it for engaging life with more awareness. That way, people, places and things will come into much sharper focus. If nothing else, you can end up more loving. And isn’t that what life is all about

The Least Important Reason To Reject A Supreme Court Nominee

But a good one in my opinion

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Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

If I made such a list, I might have at least a dozen objections to the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States.

My list wouldn’t include her gender or religious affiliation or the fact that she is a stereotypical Trump woman, pretty, white, blonde with a ditzy voice. None of these has anything to do with being an impartial, competent jurist.

There would be significant red flags on my list, however. That she is anti-LBGTQ+ or determined to block safe abortions in the United States, are high on the list.

Here’s the thing, though. When she gave her acceptance speech, from a written manuscript, she mispronounced two words, which either obfuscated or blocked the meaning she intended.

So my questions are, how could a Notre Dame professor make such mistakes, and if she does, how could she be a candidate for the Supreme Court?

The words were poignant and mores. Amy Coney Barrett, nominated by President Trump, and sure to be confirmed by the Republican majority in the Senate, can’t understand and correctly pronounce her own words. Damn.

Poign·ant /ˈpoin(y)ənt/ adjective — evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret.

I like to screw up this first one on purpose for the fun of it by saying “pog-nant” when it should be “poin-ant” (as in boing). That Barret said it my way was startling, but at least a little humorous to me.

The problem is the negative effect it has on the listeners. Most people know what it sounds like so it is jarring; it makes it hard to stay with the sentence.

For those who don’t know how it is supposed to be pronounced are not listening all that carefully anyhow, so it goes in one ear and out the other.

Mo·res/ˈmôrāz/ noun the essential or characteristic customs and conventions of a community.

Saying “mores” the way this ‘brilliant’ scholar did, bothered me much more(!). What does she even mean when she mispronounces the word?

The way Barrett said it sounded like a toddler who wants “mores” cookies. It reminded me of the campfire treat “smores”.

In the context of her talk, she wrote it to mean, “more-rays”, as in eels. However, since she mispronounced it, it meant nothing.

Amy Coney Barrett shouldn’t be confirmed to the high court but in the end, it seems, she will be. With this President, we expect pathetic appointments, but the US Supreme Court should be different. A 48-year-old partisan, right-wing nut ought not to get a lifetime spot in such an important body, one of the three branches of our government.

Reflections For Father’s Day 2020

Remembering my dad after his death 50 years ago

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

My father died in 1968, sitting in his recliner, popping M & M candy, and watching TV. These days I am doing pretty much the same thing he was at the end, except my sugar of choice is Famous Amos cookies.

He and I also share a similar disability. Our legs gave out on us.

It was never clear to his doctors what was wrong. He gradually lost mobility in his forties and, although they diagnosed him at an advanced medical center, the only answer was “nerve deterioration in his lower spinal cord.”

In my case, it is clearer, probably because research, imagery, and surgery have improved dramatically over these past decades. Spinal stenosis, where arthritis has squeezed the nerves so much that there is pain, loss of sensation, and muscle atrophy in the legs.

Dad used a walker to get around, dragging his legs along. I’m able to walk without an assistive device, but my gait is wobbly and my back pain makes the trip miserable. Once again, I have the significant advantage of medical discoveries; back surgery has given me many more possibilities.

My father passed down a few witty, if not profound, sayings I think of often.

“All good things must come to an end” is one of my favorites. It wasn’t always clear to what he referred, but I guess his demise illustrated its wisdom.

He also liked to say, “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” To back this up, when we worked early mornings, at a restaurant he ordered the same breakfast every time: One egg over easy with dry toast.

One piece of advice, which I am not sure I understood at first, was “Treat girls like you would like to have your sisters treated.” Maybe it was a very compact version of the ‘birds and bees’ thing, but it wasn’t full of information.

One of the deeper conversations I had with him was by old-fashioned letter writing. After my father’s first heart attack, three years before his death, I starting writing him regular letters. Most of these typed pages with erasures and backspace corrections were typical. “How’s the weather?” “The car had a flat.” “Lake Michigan is frozen.” “Did you watch Bonanza on Sunday evening?”

Once, in contrast, I started a thread, more revealing for both of us. Having finished seminary and struggling with what it meant to have a calling, I said I felt that he had pressured me to enter the ministry. His response shook me: “On the contrary, I wanted you to go into business with me.”

Realistically, it was far too late. His disability had long past shut down Turner Distributing; the little refrigerated truck gone, the hot dog steamers sold, and the customers now had other vendors.

Like so many points in life, one turned me toward another future. When I succumbed to the merciless lure of the southern Methodist Church and became a pre-ministerial student, selling hot dogs on Jacksonville Beach boardwalk fell by the wayside.

As they say in 12-Step groups,looking back on “shoulda, woulda, coulda” makes no sense. Yet it still intrigues me, this Father’s Day, to think of many more driving all over Jacksonville with my Dad

Are you like me or is your father still around? If so and you can, at least chat with him and find out where you might have had past misunderstandings. It will enrich both of you.

If We Are White, Will We Ever Get It?

A lifetime of white privilege, along with personal obliviousness, blinds us

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

As a white man, I have been racking my brain. What can I write during days of protests and nights of violence after the police murder of George Floyd?

Maybe, nothing. Or at least very little.

In the same way that I refuse to ‘mansplain’ women’s reproductive health, I can not know what it is to be non-white. I am not even sure I can imagine.

What I have experienced from my childhood to now, is a cycle of ignorance and white privilege. All too often, I accepted it without thought.

My parents did not work at instilling bigotry, but I nonetheless grew up with unconscious racism. It was and is deeply systematic in Jacksonville, Florida.

There was ‘nigger town’, or only slightly better, ‘colored town’. The homes and businesses there could only be called shacks.

We had a black maid who had to ride the bus an hour to our home. I don’t remember her being called ‘girl’ but I often heard black men referred to as ‘boy’.

My churches and schools were all white. There were white beaches, they allocated only certain areas of the ocean shore to blacks.

I wasn’t until I was in graduate school and had black classmates that I realized how much prejudice lurked in my subconscious. Thanks to the generosity of a few of them in small group conversations, I saw how oblivious I was.

I have come so far and felt so supported in this journey away from ignorance that it is easy to forget how different that is for the black experience.

I am 80, white and male. What if I was black?

In this time of outrage and violence, it would fill me with hopelessness and despair not only for me but as much so for my country. Too many times before when the hurt boiled over, we didn’t learn and change.

Yet, now I see the postcard on my office wall: “I always entertain great hopes”. Can I? Can you join me? If so, we have to change ourselves first. That is the work we must do.

There Are No Winners In The Race Against Time

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

A few weeks ago, when I was feeling morose, I said to my wife, “I feel my time is running out.” To which she responded, “Oh boo, it is for all of us.”

I knew my preacher spouse is profound, every Sunday I am more and more impressed. But this gem is one for the ages.

I am 80. People don’t live too much longer than that. Sure, there are plenty of nonagenarians and if I get there, I will shoot for 100.

Meanwhile, making it to next week feels challenging enough. Here are some thoughts about that.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As a former marathoner, I always cheered for the tortoise. I ran, but in the middle of the pack.

I raced for my personal win. No headlines noted it. I knew, though.

That is why, these days, I consider walking to the end of the block and back a victory.

Stopping for Rest is Just Fine

That same profound wife went into a cleaning frenzy yesterday, with significant results. I didn’t take part.

Our son and I spruced up the kitchen floor, but I had to stop often to relieve my back pain.

I was quickly back to my recliner, reading, or doing the New York Timescrossword puzzle. Could I give the excuse, “I was trying to keep out of the way?”

Maybe It Isn’t a Race At All

We have a small clock on our bedroom wall, and sometimes at night, I hear it. Tick, tick, tick, second by second. Sometimes it needs a new battery but otherwise is just ticks along.

Isn’t this the way our time goes? We look forward to something, expecting future joys but speeding too fast to see the ‘now.’

Who Really Wants to Know Where It Ends?

One of my races was Grandma’s, along the Lake Superior shore in Minnesota. It is a beautiful course that had a unique aspect. You could see the finish from the start. Although it began in Two Harbors, there, 26.2 miles away, was the Duluth skyline.

It was a mixed blessing. It was discouraging because Duluth didn’t seem to get closer. That same perception, however, made me keep my eyes on the lake and the cheering people along the way.

Astoundingly, maybe, this race against/with time is one where we are all participants. You can’t be a spectator. So instead of grinding it out, set your own pace. The only goal is to take one stride at a time.

A Letter to My 90-Year-Old Self

Right now will be my ‘distant’ past in 10 years; how will I feel about it?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Dear Much Older Warren:

If you are reading this, you made it!

Even so, you will recall there were many times it didn’t seem to be happening.

Remember COVID-19, when hibernation switched from pleasant to burdensome? It was a challenge to be both happy your home was virus-free while heartbroken about the deaths around the world.

I bet you haven’t forgotten the infamous colonoscopy shortly before your 81st birthday, either, have you? It was elective because you have always appreciated excellent health care. But fun? Not so much.

Then, how about the excruciating night of November 3, 2020? You knew Trump would go down, but you were haunted by the Ghost of 2016, so it never seemed a sure thing.

So, how will you look back on your eighties?

If it is anything like the previous decades, it will seem just a blink of an eye. Living with intention doesn’t stop time.

It didn’t help to read ‘inspirational’ quotes, did it? 
*Cheer up, things could be worse.
*Growing old ain’t for sissies.
*Age is only a number.

The makeshift workout routine made a big difference. Not Crossfit or some other torture, but just enough.

Then, how do you evaluate a loving partner? Or kind and caring children? I absolutely know they bolstered my spirit many, many times.

So now what? Shoot for 100? It depends.

Quality of life, as they call it, is the key. If you can still walk, can shower and dress yourself, don’t put too fine a point on it. After all, 90 is old.

Another factor, tied for the first position, is your relationship status. Should you be coming up on your fiftieth anniversary, you are good. Otherwise, how did you even make it this far?

It is essential to dismiss thoughts of death because they will drag you down. As our dear friend, Bill Coffin once said, “I have too much to do in this world to worry about the next.”

Do I have any advice? Yeah. Let the past be the past and get on with it. Who knows, maybe you will see 2040.

Sincerely, Your 80-year-old Self

Why do I expect bad news from medical tests?

Something has to be wrong; I Googled my weird symptoms.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Two or three of us have cups of barium contrast liquid which we must drink over the next hour. (It tastes as bad as it sounds)

The imaging waiting area of my hospital is half full. Most of us don’t look sick, but why would we be here if not? (This was a week or so pre-coronavirus cautions)

Why did I think this was a good idea? Shaun, The Good Doctor, saw a hospital housekeeping man burping several times and said he probably had pancreatic cancer. Sometimes I do that. So, I have cancer.

Ok, I hear you being skeptical of my self-diagnosis but, after all, Shaun Murphy, a young autistic savant surgical resident in a California hospital, was so perfect on his various insights that I couldn’t resist.

Fortunately, you can’t just walk in and order your own CT scan, so I had to go to a real doctor. I like her; she takes me seriously. (I didn’t mention the TV doctor — I still had some dignity)

She set me up for imaging of my abdomen, adding that pancreatic cancer never has symptoms until it is far advanced. Good grief, now I am worried.

The scan itself is not a big deal. It’s nowhere near as claustrophobic as an MRI and only takes less than 15 or 20 minutes.

It is necessary sometimes to have a needle inserted in a vein for more contrast liquid to be injected. The technician, kindly, explained the warm flush that would occur briefly.

A little voice says, “Take a deep breath and hold it.” Then in a few seconds, “Breathe.” After three or four of these quick images, I am all done.

Now comes the waiting. My father used to say, “Good things come to those who wait.” What the hell did he know? These results could be terrible.

I now start a routine of checking my online health account every half-hour to see if the results are available. After a day or two, I move into “no news is good news” mode and only look at it every few hours.

Finally, I just give up. That is progress and, like the watched pot, the results come through.

Some of the medical jargon was a bit worrisome but as my wise spouse pointed out, nothing you wouldn’t expect in an eighty-year-old man.

The final line, designed, I am sure, to highlight my silliness about results, was the best of all:

IMPRESSION: No acute inflammatory process in the abdomen or pelvis.

Of course, future tests and procedures are still going to worry me. I know that, right? Maybe I ought to consider letting such unnecessary anxiety go. What do you think?

On Being 80 in the Time of Coronavirus

Sheltering at home is easier at my age but the challenge is other people.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Over the last year, because of surgeries, I have had to stay home, often confined to my recliner. So, this pandemic hasn’t caused me to change my daily routine that much.

What it has done is demand a new perspective, or at the very least, a reframing.

Normally, there is not much I have to do, except brush my teeth and, every so often, shower.

So, I can sit in front of my iMac to flip between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then when I feel more ambitious, check out the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.

By this time, I usually start feeling hungry and shut down the computer to wander into the kitchen. Big decisions await. Cereal and toast? Eggs? Maybe just a bologna and cheese sandwich, to carry with me to my recliner.

And so on, and so on.

Now, that routine has been disrupted, not necessarily physically but emotionally, by the Coronavirus pandemic.

In a state of what amounts to self-indulgent hibernation, I often let quirks of my family annoy me. Clearly, it really shouldn’t take a pandemic to change that waste of emotional energy.

More importantly, the big question remains, can I continue sitting in my chair focusing inward when there are things I can do for others facing this pandemic?

That is a rhetorical query, of course, because there are ways to reach out.

Here are some:


Careful not to be mean spirited, I can attempt to interject light-heartedness when needed. I say ‘attempt’ because some of my “being funny” can be very annoying.


Sometimes, I am not pleasant because I’m not thinking. If I did, it would be easy enough to stop and wonder if that is how I would like to be treated.

Connection (1)

As much as we sometimes rue “screen time” and are insulted by trolls, the Internet is a valuable tool to reach out to an unlimited number of others.

Connection (2)

Remember talking with someone on the phone? Texts and emails are important but calling someone and actually speaking with them can make a huge difference.

Taking these approaches can be tricky and won’t always work. Thus as counterintuitive as it might be, we might have to stop trying so hard. We’ve done enough. Sheltering in place is a big challenge so give yourself permission to slack off some of the time.

The challenge of this crisis has so many national and global aspects that it can be overwhelming. We need to narrow it down for us in our home. The above suggestions are a way of doing that. Try them.

begin here

a different order of time

“I had learned so much, I just had to think about it all for a while.”
Lynda Blackmon Lowery

It began three years ago, when the women’s ensemble I had sung with for almost 20 years took itself apart.  After the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, we had stumbled into some difficult conversations about race.  Powerful words, not carefully chosen, resulted in painful injury and broken relationships.  Two members of the group left.  Six remained.  In the months that followed, it was unclear whether we would be able to learn from our mistakes, find our way through the mess, grow in intellectual and emotional honesty and repair the damage.

For me, one of the consequences of this experience was the clear awareness that, as a white woman, I needed to learn more.

Waking Up White

A starting place was Debbie Irving’s book, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of…

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No Playlists for the 80-year-old Man

Songwriters know what resonates with their listeners who are mostly young.

In my mornings, I get up around 7 AM and see if I can stand without falling. If so, I head to the bathroom to pee and get a swig of Listerine.

Then, it’s over to the scale to either perk me up or remind me today is the day to go easy on the chocolate milkshakes.

Back to my side of the bed, I dress in morning gear: pajama-type pants, a top in a complimentary color, and socks to wear with slip-on loafers.

I grab my Apple watch from its charger and put my iPhone in my pocket.

Next is the daily medication sorting. Ziploc snack bag for those I will take around noon and just pick up three or four to take in the bathroom.

There, I spit out the Listerine, which has lost its sting anyhow, and brush my teeth. (You don’t know how much I look forward to the hygienist complementing my oral care)

Now it is time to get into writing action, so I head over to my computer desk to turn on the lamp and my iMac.

While it boots up, I put some bird seed in the window feeder and pour a mug of coffee. (Since my spouse has set up the coffee maker the night before, and because I just want to be nice; I take a mug to her in the bedroom)

Back at the computer, I sort the various auto-logon windows, put on my wireless headset, and open Apple Music.

Now, what do I listen to? I enjoy female jazz artists the best but their lyrics? Not so much. New love, lost love, seeking love, remembering love, never finding love.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for love in whatever form but there are no love songs that celebrate what a couple has after forty years of marriage. (Except perhaps Leonard Cohen’s “If I Didn’t Have Your Love.” Look up the lyrics.)

When one of us dies, the other may find new love but nothing like what we have. Nor will Apple Music have any lyrics to apply to that relationship.

Meanwhile, maybe there still can be a playlist for the 80-year-old man, not just the young love stuff. Classic rock, for example, with its anti-establishment rhetoric and all the freedom songs which are still very much needed today.

Of course, we could stick to instrumental music. Huh.