Aging With an Edge: Two Laughing, Dying Ladies

Getting older is not for the faint- hearted. It's for all of us.

Ruth and Jan, separated by a gulf of age and circumstance, never met but they had in common the ability to look at aging, sickness and death with a guffaw.

Jan would come to my home for her counseling and my kids would ask after she left “You two seem like all you do is laugh. What the heck is so funny?”

Well if you were a fly on the wall you would have witnessed a woman who over a 10 year time had 7 major surgeries on heart, lungs and other places that you would not want to know.

Each time she found out she was due another invasion into her thoracic cavity or nether parts she had a one person monologue that left me not her in stiches.

One time she exclaimed that they were building a wing at Stanford just out of the proceeds from her multiple surgeries.

She never lapsed into self pity or denial. She faced the unbearable with a heart of a comic who can see that the body is an illusive machine destined for breakdown and disrepair, ultimately headed to the scrap heap of grave or firestorm.

Another blogger put it this way in their story--“You are going to die”

But we don’t have a choice. You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent.

Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial. “Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through,” Conrad wrote in “Typhoon.” “Face it.”

He was talking about more than storms. The sheltered prince Siddartha Gautama was supposedly set on the path to becoming the Buddha when he was out riding and happened to see an old man, a sick man and a dead man. Today he’d be spared the discomfiture, and the enlightenment, unless he were riding mass transit. 


Ruth, Ruthie, “Hey Redhead” Katchkala (little duckie) was my mother and on the 9th of February she would have been 93.

She died of a protracted, painful, cruel battle with jaw cancer and ironically she had not smoked for forty years. No matter Doctor death will exact its toll if that is due.

When discovering that she had cancer her first thought was how to make it easier for others. Her last thoughts in the Cancer doctors office when he told her that there was nothing more they could do was that she had a lots of pills that cost a lot and could she donate them to someone?

In between life was like this with Ruthie: She never despaired- always honest but full of joy over the fact that she was still here and kicking.

Very close to the end and after three very debilitating surgeries she took my daughter Caitlin to see the second Lord of the Rings and her biggest concern was would she be around for number three. Alas, she missed it by three months.

I remember arriving at the surgery unit to visit her after surgery number three and I could hear laughter and giggling from down the hall. There was Ruth holding court, fresh out of anesthetic and wisecracking with the nurses.

What is most striking about Ruth and Jan is their sense of presence and regard for life and living. It just so happens that accompanying their bliss of being is mind bending bubbles that seems to come out of the pain in laughs.

I feel blessed to have been in the company of these two women and can only aspire to a no-self-pity sort of dying.

On her death bed, after almost four days of what looked like a coma, Ruth popped up from her pillow and opened her eyes that had been shut for the whole time and loudly with gusto said to my brother and I.“Never forget that I love you!”

Not likely.

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John.Maher February 03, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Don't gorget the great quote about death from W.C Fields: On the whole, I would rather be living in Philadelphia."
Elad Levinson February 03, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Thank you both John and Frank, I write this for the dialogue it causes too and both of your additions were worth writing the blog- we must be of the age that we all recall the greats-W.C. and Bette!
Frank Simpson February 03, 2013 at 07:51 PM
As to being of a same or similar age...all I will say is that I am old enough to know better...most of the time :-) Look forward to more posts from you.
Phoebe Jones February 10, 2013 at 03:24 PM
What was it William Saroyan said regarding death...he hoped God would make an exception in his case. Great article & I only hope many of us can approach death with this type of humor & grace.
Elad Levinson February 10, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Dear Phoebe, Thank you for the beautiful quote from Saroyan- I guess we all wonder if there will be an exemption from the process of aging but we all also discover that the only influence we have is how we meet it. Warmly, Elad


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