"Goodbye with Gratitude," by Judith Tannenbaum

Judith Tannenbaum and her daughter, Sara. Judith exited on her own terms in December 2019.

"The distinction between life and death –my little life and the flow of Life – is fainter and fainter, more and more mysterious." -- Judith Tannenbaum

When the FEN coordinator called to tell me my application had been approved, she said, “Your only task now is to enjoy every moment.” Yes!

I’ve lived long enough with a great deal of pain, mostly from structural and nervous system problems – some of which I was born with, and some that developed over my eight decades. Physical therapists and pain clinics taught me a lot, and I was a good patient. I kept moving, did all my exercises, practiced relaxation techniques and deep breathing, and made good use of hypnosis and visualization. I worked despite migraines and crawling across floors when my back was in constant spasm. Also, I learned how to notice the world’s beauty, even in intense pain.

For the past 17 years, I’ve been the one primarily responsible for my now 100-year-old mother. Mom hasn’t been in much pain, but she’s blind, bed-bound, and unable to do almost anything for herself.

Her choice has been to keep living, and I’ve done what I could to provide for that choice. I’ve also known, very acutely, that her decision is far from mine.

So, when it became clear about a year ago that my chronic problems had gotten to the point where I could no longer do much of what I had been doing, I began to consider exit options. And when, a few months later, I was in an accident followed by both a difficult recovery and a post-surgery syndrome that greatly added to my pain, I spent lots of time lying on the floor – the only spot and position I could tolerate – watching the pictures in my mind.

I didn’t love the pain, but did love how memories floated in and out, first illuminating my life – and then letting go of it.

Life and death. Two distinct states. And also not.

The image I keep seeing is a fallen redwood tree, its apparently dead trunk teeming with life: lichen, insects, and so much more.

When a tree falls, more light beams through the forest canopy, allowing younger trees to grow more easily. Sometimes, there’s a “fairy ring,” a whole new generation of trees sprouted from the roots of a cut or fallen redwood.

The distinction between life and death – my little life and the flow of Life – is fainter and fainter, more and more mysterious.

Now, less than two weeks before the exit I have planned, deep gratitude is my most consistent condition.

  • Gratitude for FEN and the exit it shows me, which means I don’t have to live years more in severe pain and limitation.
  • Gratitude for the people in my life, beginning with my beautiful daughter and extending out to so many loved ones.
  • Gratitude for the trees and flowers and sunlight and shadow I pass each day on my slow, slow walks.
  • Gratitude for the work I’ve done, the places I’ve seen, the music I’ve loved, and the books and films that opened my eyes and my heart.
  • Gratitude for all I know and can’t comprehend.
  • Gratitude even for the inevitable suffering and pain of being human, especially as we try to stand upright amidst the huge planetary grief we all share.

As I prepare for my last moments, I bow in gratitude for my life and in gratitude for my death.

By Judith Tannenbaum