Selected Radio Commentaries
by Peter Wotton
Old is... / Beautiful Sunset / Peter's Goodbye
Old is... Old is when the snows of many winters tint my hair
when my skin is crazed like ancient pottery
when my joints creak
and my toenails turn ugly.
Old is when I can look back and see who I really am
when I can look ahead and know where I'm going
when I don't have to prove myself any more.
Old is a time for hugging and snuggling
a time for active remembering
a time to live in a state of love.
Old is when death stands beside me and whispers
"LIVE! I'm coming!"
Peter shared with his listeners the return of his prostate cancer and the changes this final illness brought to his life. He talked frequently of his desire to approach his death with "grace and dignity." In commentary #717 broadcast in September 1996, he said, "I believe in the value of the process of dying, and I'm most interested in modelling a 'graceful death'." In commentary #999, he wrote, "I find myself in the enviable position of someone who is ending a good life, a rich life, and I think my foremost thought has been to help younger people to reach this point in life with grace and dignity."
His poem, "Old is..." was included in "Poetic Thoughts" commentary # 702 broadcast on June 17, 1996. "The Beautiful Sunset" commentary # 709, was broadcast on August 5, 1996, two months before his death. "Postscript - Peter's Goodbye" was broadcast on November 4, 1996, the day after he died.
The Beautiful Sunset
# 709 -- August 5, 1996
Last month I reported that after a 16-year stand-off, my prostate cancer is now out of control. So far it isn't causing me any pain, but there's no question that the end of my life is now only a year or so away. Meanwhile, my kidneys are not functioning well, and this is sapping my energy
and keeping me rooted to my recliner. But all in all, I'm not suffering. I manage to get outside almost every day for a short walk, and I like to sit in the sun.
I live in Alpine, near Monroe, except for one day a week, when I drive to Eugene to get my mail, answer e-mail messages, and try to clean up a lifetime of accumulated belongings. I also get to attend my weekly men's group meeting, which is very important to me. We've been meeting for sixteen years at the Unitarian Church in Eugene.
Alpine is my idea of a mini-heaven. We have a little house -- the nice word for it is "rustic" --and 20 acres of woods with two streams. Beavers work periodically on one of them. Flower gardens and a large vegetable garden round out the picture, with extra treats such as raspberries, strawberries and grapes. The vegetables are fenced against deer, but gophers and other pests are very much in evidence. Butterflies and birds, especially humming birds, add more color and excitement to the scene.
So my physical state is not too good, but it's stable. What's it like, knowing I'm going to die soon? I've actually had a lot of preparation for this. When I was 56, I had a heart attack, which reminded me rather vividly of my mortality. Since then I've gained a new appreciation of life.
I've also had hospice training, and taught a course called "Dealing with Death as a Way of Life" at LCC for two terms. Even so, when my doctor told me my cancer was terminal, I was shaken. Even when you know death is inevitable, it's a shock to know it's near. Could the diagnosis be wrong? My doctor is thorough, and I believe him. Should I be looking for miracle cures? As a public health professional, I've followed the laetrile fad and others, and frankly, I'll stick with my doctors. They tell me there's nothing more we can do.
Acceptance is the final stage described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, following stages of denial, anger, and bargaining. I believe I've reached the stage of acceptance. I've had a good life. There's no unfinished business that I'm aware of. I have a lot of friends, who are being totally supportive. We even have a 90-pound Malemute, who is as loving as any dog I've ever known.
Perhaps best of all, I find that I'm really enjoying what amounts to almost total retirement. I've resigned from everything except Elderberry Wine, and I'm somewhat surprised that I don't miss all the things I was involved in. I spend a lot of time watching television and reading. For the first time in my life, I'm reading fiction instead of non-fiction. I know the darkness is coming, and I'm enjoying the beautiful sunset.
This is Peter Wotton with Elderberry Wine, KLCC's weekly salute to the older people in our community. And my message for this week is: Sunset is a magical time!
Postcript - Peter's Goodbye
#1000 -- November 4,1996
When I first learned that my prostate cancer was in its terminal stage, my friend Tripp Sommer at KLCC asked me if I'd consider doing a sort of post mortem program, a goodbye that would be aired after my death. Well, I've said several times that my voice is such a strong part of me that I expect it to go booming on after I die. So why not?
Ever wonder about messages from the "great beyond?" I grew up in the era of spirit rapping and seances. I didn't believe in them then, and I don't believe in them now, but through the wonder of radio, you are now actually experiencing such an event. If I can indulge in a bit of whimsy, I'd like to report to you as if I were able to communicate from wherever I an right now. This is my own personal belief system I'm talking about, and here's how it goes.
There's nothing here. No angels, no harps, no St. Peter's gate, no long-dead relatives, nothing. There's no spirit guide, no light at the end of the tunnel, no reincarnation of any kind. What's most important to me, there's no "ME." The piece you're hearing was written as I was sitting in my wonderful recliner, back in October, 1996, with a beautiful Vivaldi piece in the background, with our 90-pound Malemute, Babe, inelegantly scratching her ear, and with Carol just outside in the greenhouse picking some more flowers to brighten up the house.
People tell me, "Well, you really don't know, do you, until you've been there." Well, in my flight of whimsy, I say I'm here, and there ain't no here here. As my friend Gary Koyen says, "Life is not a dress rehearsal."
Life is what it's all about! We're born. We die. What happens between those two momentous bookends is what matters. Every second we spend thinking about or worrying about other lives – past or future -- is a second we're not living in the moment. When I think about the richness, the complexity of my life, I wonder where some people get the energy or the time to investigate their past lives or to speculate on lives to come.
Before I died, I truly enjoyed living in my own heaven. I'll admit I had something to do with creating this heaven, which was as close to a "heavenly reward" as I ever wanted to come. My goal. at least since I began to "grow up" at the age of 40, was to live my life in such a way that it would enrich the lives of others. I didn't live for other people, I lived for me. And I learned that if I did that honestly and gracefully, other people seemed to benefit.
My hope was that my physical condition would allow me to follow this principle right up to the moment of my death. I know that my needs created a strain an my various caregivers, and in this, my last Elderberry Wine, I want to express my deep gratitude to those who stuck with me. My immortality lies in you who are listening and in you who have listened to and known me. I will live on in you and in all your ripples.
This is Peter Wotton with Elderberry Wine, my last salute to the older people in our community. And my message for now and for all time is: Good bye, my dear, dear friends!
"Elderberry Wine" is copyrighted by KLCC-FM. Permission to rebroadcast or publish the commentaries must be obtained from KLCC-FM.