A Fork in the Road (Week #3 of “A Brief Pause”)

A few weeks ago I realized I needed to simplify my life to maintain focus on finishing my novel-in-progress. That is when I put this blog into what I’ve called “A Brief Pause,” so I would stop writing about matters of life and death and focus on fiction.

I have, indeed, been working on said novel, and I have come to yet another understanding of what it is really about. This seems to be the way of writing novels, or at least my way: their aboutness only becomes clear on the cusp of what seems like near-completion which turns out not to be near-completion at all. Another reminder that the process cannot be hurried.

At the same time that I’ve been working on fiction, I haven’t been able to lay aside thoughts about life and death. One can only do so much in the way of thought control. In fact, I have been preoccupied with death more or less nonstop, not in a morbid way, but with curiosity. My neurologist said, at my most recent ALS clinic visit, that I am doing well. That is a relative assessment. I know he has patients in far worse shape than I am. But my experience reports something different. I did not feel as if I was doing well when I fell in the bathroom last weekend and hit the back of my head on the toilet, breaking the seat. I do not feel I am doing well when turning over in bed at night is an ordeal. I do not feel I am doing well when my hands are too tired to type-talk with my friends.

I receive notifications about upcoming events and I think, If I were dead, I would miss that — how can I possibly miss that? I hate the idea of missing my niece’s wedding a year from now. I hate the thought of not being around to see my very good friend publish her next novel. I hate to not have the opportunity to publish another book myself. Yet, there are other things I think I might hate more — like descending into a life with very little agency, a process that is already well underway and seems to be speeding up.

So, there has been plenty to think about during my little blog vacation, as well as plenty to write. I keep cycling back to the idea of being at a fork in the road. When will I choose to end my life, a path I must travel alone? The question is with me all the time. Contemplating this decision, Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” comes to mind.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Check back next week for more thoughts on this subject. This is the month of gratitude, and I feel extremely grateful for the life I’ve had and continue to have. I also feel grateful to live in a state which allows someone with a fatal illness to choose Death with Dignity. Having decided long ago that I would be public about this journey toward death, I promise I will not disappear from this planet without letting you know first.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.