Dying With Dignity: TheCase forAssisted Suicide

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If you’ve not seen the final episodes of the Netflix original series “Grace & Frankie”, then be forewarned:  this post has spoilers.

The series, now going into its third season, has broken several barriers that still aren’t dealt with often enough in mainstream television.  In the first season we meet Grace (played by Jane Fonda) who is married to Robert (Martin Sheen) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) who is married to Robert’s law partner, Saul.  At a dinner where the two women assume their husbands will announce their retirement, they instead announce that they are in love with one another and wish to end their marriages in order to be together.  What’s striking about this isn’t that the men are gay, but that at the age of somewhere between 65-70 they have decided to throw away comfortable and reasonably happy existences in order to live their true lives.  What ensues is both hilarious and moving with all four leads carrying out their respective roles with humanity, humor, dignity, frailty, strength and love.  Along the way, the show deals with often-ignored subjects like sex and dating after 65, drug use, adopted children, marriage and friendship, family dynamics and more.

In the next-to-last episode of the second season, we are introduced to a dear friend of Grace and Frankie’s named Babe, who has returned home after a long absence.  Taking Frankie into her confidence, she confesses that her cancer has returned and that she has chosen to forgo treatment this time and essentially go out with a bang and not a whimper.  To the observer, Babe appears to be healthy and in excellent (and spunky) spirits.  The truth is that she does still feel good and that is why Babe has chosen to die before she deteriorates, while she is happy and fun and feeling good.  Although somewhat conflicted, Frankie eventually agrees to help Babe carry this out and part of the plan is to throw a big party for herself and her friends.  Grace, on the other hand, struggles morally with the issue until she, too, finally breaks down and shows up at the party near the very end to pay her respects to Babe in the way that she wanted, not the way Grace thought that things should be.

In another spoiler alert, I will confess that I deal with a very similar situation in the sequel to my first novel, “Red, White & Blues”.  I won’t name the character, but someone finds out that their cancer has returned and decides to forgo treatment for the very reasons that Babe does.  This character asks for support from their friends and gets it, although there are struggles both moral and practical.  A party is held where everyone in attendance is aware of the outcome.

In a world where death and dying are very nearly the most taboo subjects that we face, “Grace & Frankie” dealt with both in a sympathetic, loving and realistic way.  In Babe’s mind, death isn’t what scares her, it’s dying that does-illness, sickness, chemo, exhaustion, pain, false hope and loved ones that suffer as you deteriorate before their very eyes.  The same fears that face my character and why the case for assisted suicide or euthanasia is important and misunderstood.  Bravo to the show and the actors for the fresh and realistic portrayal of a subject that needs more discussion.

Naming Fictional Characters

baby Name Books

I take naming my characters pretty seriously.  For my novel, “Red, White & Blues”, I wanted to have everyday names that could be easily related to by most everyone.  The names of my main characters, such as John Clark, Pete Clark, Sandy Porter, Sarah Somerton, Louise Sinclair, Edie McCabe-even Mike Blackhorse-were chosen specifically for their simplicity.  With characters that I wanted a little more impact, such as Morgan Stewart, the President of the fictional motorcycle club, “The Souls of Liberty”, I chose a stronger name, but still left it easy to remember.  For my “resident artist”, I chose Haven Hartford, a somewhat unusual name, but again, pretty easy to remember.  I wrote this book with the express idea that no matter what the situations are, it could be easy for everyone to relate to.  I also wrote my book using simple language, but that is a subject for another blog!  The main sources that I use for naming my characters (usually both first & last names) are two baby name books that I have had for years:  “Name Your Baby” by Lareina Rule and “The New Age Baby Name Book” by Sue Browder.  The latter is obviously for the more unusual or ethnic-inspired names.  When developing a new character, I nearly always know what they look like before I have their name, so I do take that image into consideration when I start searching for their name.  It’s fun to browse the books, looking for that perfect name to pop out at me!

In Honor of John Lennon’s Death

I remember the day that John Lennon was murdered very clearly.  I also remember the aftermath that seemed to stick around for years.  because this was such a pivotal event in my life and would definitely be even more so to my characters from “Red, White & Blues”, I address the situation in the sequel.  Here is the excerpt that covers the tragic event:

 

December 8th. Wes is trying not to nod off as he watches the final few minutes of Monday Night Football. The game is tied at thirteen; the Patriots have the ball when Howard Cosell makes the announcement.
“An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all of The Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”
Wes sits up, disbelieving.
“What?” He begins to channel surf, looking for more news and finally lands on an interrupted broadcast of The Best of Carson.
“Oh God,” he mutters, his head shaking.
He picks up the phone and dials the number that Jimmy had given him.
“What?” What is it?” Sandy says, startled out of her sleep. She reaches over and turns on the bedside lamp.
“Sandy, it’s Wes Meyers. Have you heard?”
“Heard what?”
“I’m coming down there,” he says, and hangs up the phone.
When Sandy answers the door, Wes’ eyes are glassy with tears. As he tries to speak, his lips tremble.
“What?” Sandy asks alarmed.
Wes sighs, covers his face. “John Lennon’s dead,” is all he manages before breaking down.
Sandy stares uncomprehendingly.  “What? What do you mean?”
“Oh, God! He was shot! He’s dead!”
Still not understanding, Sandy puts a hand on Wes’ shoulder. He turns toward her and sobs into her chest. As he cries, she realizes that it must be true.
“No!” she says, crying herself now. “No! No!”
They hold each other, cry and talk until dawn, when exhausted, they finally fall asleep.
In the morning, the news reports come in with all of the devastating details of the murder. It seems as if the whole world has stopped spinning.
Morning Glory Café closes early. It seems that no one can stop crying long enough to take orders.
At Full Throttle, the reaction is similar. John sits in the office with Salem as the radio plays endless Beatles music behind them.
“It’s terrible,” Salem says. “He was such a peaceful man.”
“Yeah. So was Pete. I just don’t understand this world sometimes.”
The following week, Lennon’s grief-stricken widow, Yoko Ono, calls for ten minutes of silence to remember her husband. Nearly every window seems to have a candle burning behind it.
Wes has joined Sandy for the vigil and afterward, he rises from the couch and goes over to the turntable. He pulls out Double Fantasy, the last album that John had released with Yoko. Sandy squints from her spot on the couch, trying to identify the cover. Wes holds it up.
“No,” Sandy says. “Not that. I can’t take it.”
Wes nods. The personal and deeply emotional songs about their son, Sean, and their own marriage are just too sad to hear just yet. In fact, it would be years before Sandy could listen to it again.

Sequel to “Red, White & Blues” Now in Rewrite & Edit Phase Or “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Editing, Part Four”

My last post on this subject was way back in June.  Sadly, I don’t have much to report at this stage as my reader hasn’t finished the manuscript yet and so we cannot discuss all the possible edits and changes that need to take place.

So what does an author do while twiddling their thumbs waiting?  Start a THIRD book, of course!  Yes, it’s crazy.  I had intended for “Red, White & Blues” to be a stand alone story, but having created such a huge cast of characters and because there was so much more of the timeline to cover (since it ended in 1977), I went ahead and wrote a sequel.  Two, I thought, would end it.  Once I began the third part in what could potentially turn into a trilogy, I thought that it could work.  Then again, it might not.

Writing a sequel seemed logical.  Many readers told me that they became so attached to the characters that ending the book was a bit sad for them as they realized that they would never know what became of them in the years that followed 1977.  The second book focuses on the growing children of the main characters as well as dealing with the very scary beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the 1980’s.  While many of the characters are familiar, new ones are also introduced.  Asher and James are a gay couple in the heart of the AIDS fight; a new love interest emerges for Maura and twins Salem (Nick) and Alex Lund become closer as they face a dark and dangerous threat to one of their own.

This third installment is going painstakingly slow, so I am not sure where it will end up (in the recycle bin?  as a new manuscript?).  I can only admit that I am hopelessly addicted to my characters and their lives and if I don’t write about them, I feel lost.  We writers are a very strange lot indeed.

 

Battling Depression Through Writing

I have depression.  And anxiety.  I used to take medication for these conditions, but after ten years of not having any real feelings about anything and gaining ten pounds, I stopped using it.  Now I’m back to being subjected to intense emotional swings, near debilitating anxiety and crying spells.  Do I regret stopping the medication.  No, not at all.  I lost ten years of emotion and I need to feel to write.  My characters are deeply rooted extensions of myself.  Their emotions are mine and I want to share what they feel and experience accurately.  So I sit in front of my computer and tap out scenes that I hope convey realistic emotion.  I also use my novel and the upcoming sequel as an escape from myself through my characters.  Being artistic and having an emotional temperament is difficult for logical types to understand.  And having this type of personality makes it very difficult to hold down traditional jobs.  My mind is constantly in my fantasy world and that is where I like to be.  I think this makes me a good writer, but creates for me a difficult existence in this world.  I am sure that other creators will understand how I feel.  Just wanted to share this as I’m having a particularly difficult day today.  Back to writing…