Ellen Alive 1

Yesterday I spent several hours with my sister on her bed. She has terminal lung cancer, and these are her last months. We talked about sex. She likes thinking about the parts of her life she has loved. She is bothered by a cough and shortness of breath. She has begun a new round of chemo that, best case, will extend her time here.

She has been writing letters to the people she wants to say goodbye to, and they are neatly stacked in a drawer. She said, “I became obsessed with writing. It was focusing to think about my relationship with each person.” She looked off at a small statue of a horse that used to sit in the living room of our parents. She said, “When you read my letter to you, promise me you won’t correct the grammar and spelling.” I said, “I’m a lousy speller.” She said, “The grammar. You will find an ‘ly’ missing.” I said, “I promise.”

This morning I called her and said, “What do you think about posting comments on this stage of your life? Death is a private experience, but it is also a social one, and the way you are dying, as a resolutely secular person and with the benefit of excellent health care, now threatened, are public concerns.” She said, “Okay.” I said, “You will read everything before I post it.” She said, “Fine.” I said, “People will say you are ‘brave’, and I will tell them, ‘No, she is living her death the way she lived her life: eyes open, determining her fate as much as is possible.'”

She is extraordinary, and I have no words for the feelings stirred in contemplation of her exit. So I am not imagining that stage. We are together, and we are living in the moments we have. She is sharing her weed and Xanax with me. She is a good sister.

We have a few requests. Please do not recommend treatments, however well-intentioned your suggestions. Please do not invoke religion or spirituality in any form. Ellen is a cultural Jew who does not believe in god or religion. I am an atheist. We think metaphysics promotes much of the destruction in our world now.


We are comforted by this collaboration and welcome comments of support and other responses to what we share. We like reviewing the past. We recently learned more facts than we had previously known about Andre Glaz, the psychoanalyst who treated us both, sexually molested me, and has turned out to have been a sexual predator on a vast, culty, Jim-Jones scale. Ellen wants to know everything she can while she is here. I love her so much for this and a zillion other reasons.

Ellen and daddy wedding

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