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The Long Goodbye

Katy Butler On How Modern Medicine Decreases Our Chance Of A Good Death

It’s an interesting philosophical conundrum: Which self do we honor? The fully capable, legally responsible person I am right now, who says I don’t want any artificial barrier preventing the natural death that might await me? Or the less-aware self that I might become at a later date, who might say, “No, no. Keep me alive”?

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

The Art Of Dying

The palliative-care nurse came one morning and put her ear on his gurgling chest. He had pneumonia, she said. He was finally dying decisively enough to qualify for hospice. Thanks to our involvement with her program, he would not meet his death in intensive care after a panicked stop in an emergency room. The nurse called the hospital and made the arrangements, and my mother called an ambulance.

Locked In To Life

In a locked psychiatric facility you’re obliged to keep living — unless, that is, you’re extraordinarily desperate and creative about instruments of self-destruction: a half-pint milk carton, a Chutes and Ladders game board, a plastic spoon.

Blue Magic

Every Friday night when I was twelve, I’d watch my cousin Derrick, fourteen, get ready to go out with a girl or to a junior-high-school dance. He’d take thick dabs of a hair grease called Blue Magic and rub it between the palms of his hands.

Father Junípero Admonishes A Bird

I met Dabber Jansen in 1979 on a trip to Arcata, California, to see my ex-girlfriend, who was his girlfriend at the time. He was at work driving a truck for Eureka Fisheries when I arrived, and my ex warned me before he got home that Dabber was a redneck. To my surprise, the “redneck” turned out to be a self-styled radical intellectual, like me.

Fiction

On My Way Now

Today I walk the shoreline only in my mind, when I so wanted to walk by the sea, to feel the wind, to walk through the stormy weather, unafraid. I’m “being held,” I heard them say. For my “protection.” My body and the rest of me, aged eighty-seven years, sit in a tiny cell with whitewashed walls. I might pretend this to be a cubicle inside a monastery were not the devil wailing in the corridor, making free with a man’s body, crying with his voice a pagan slander on the day, possessing a man he’s bought at some slave auction where souls are up for sale. The devil buys the soul and gets the body in the bargain.

Readers Write

Cash

A birthday cake, a plastic bag marked “liver,” a lovely one-room cement house

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Quotations

Sunbeams

All men think all men mortal but themselves.

Edward Young

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