June 11, 2023

What Mark Twain Didn’t Say, But I Do

Ken, I’m hearing that you’re dead, died a week ago, in fact.

Would you let me know? You can easily contact me dead or alive.

You will get my “Away” message on email because I’m out of town, but I’m using my phone to access email.

If you are dead, you know that I love you. 
If you are alive, you know that I love you.

Guess I must love you, huh? — Kim

I received this quite shocking message the other day from an old friend and one of my favorite NDErs, Kim Clark Sharp.

I can’t find my reply, but I know I alluded to an apocryphal quote attributed to Mark Twain who was alleged to have said, but never did, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In my case, they were at least premature.

But it seems that these rumors, like myself, refuse to die because only a few days later, my friend and fellow NDE researcher, Jeff Janssen, sent me an item about me that he found on ChatGPT, which indicated that I had actually died in 2021, which was news to me. (However, I knew that the first iteration of ChatGPT had actually ended in September of that year.)

Still, this was a bit unsettling because in fact I was already having some intimations from my chronically ailing body that my time might be running out. After all, I am now about to turn the corner toward 88, but I have no confidence or even wish that I will reach the end of the block to my double eights.  

Consider: I grew up with three male cousins. Two of them already died around the age of 80, and my remaining cousin is now 83 (and will probably live into his 90s since his dad – not a biological uncle to me, however – lived to 99). I’ve already outlived all the male members of the maternal side of my family (I know virtually nothing about my father’s relatives, but my dad died at 41). My mother lived until she reached the age 88. So, realistically, and perhaps actuarially, how much longer can I expect to live?

I am not going to burden you with a recitation of my bodily troubles. I have no interest in striving to become Ken, the Kvetching King. I have alluded to them in some of my blogs already. Suffice it to say, they are just getting worse, and life has become more difficult for me in recent months. Even now, my eyes smart when I use my computer. (I will be trying some special fit-over glasses to reduce blue light, but I am not hopeful that this will solve my visual problems.) Well, Scott Peck told us long ago in the first sentence of his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, that “life is difficult.” Indeed, especially for old duffers like me. If Hitler hadn’t already used the title for his book, my motto might well be, mein kampt.  

I actually don’t read German, but I know there is a cumbersome German word for what I’m experiencing these days: lebensmüdigkeit, which I believe translates into something like “weariness of life.” It is one step down from the more familiar “weltschmerz.” 

One of the signs of my coming end-times is more difficulty in reading my books. It’s not just that reading text is often more difficult for me, but that after I eat lunch, I can drowse for hours while trying to read. Well, babes sleep a lot after they are born and old men do, too, before we are born again into another kind of life.

Recently, I had wanted to write a new blog about the wonder – and the peril – of trees. I had read an article called “What We Owe Our Trees” by the Harvard historian, Jill Lepore, who also is a staff writer for The New Yorker, that had rekindled my interest in this topic. Since she referred to a number of books that I had already read and was currently trying to read, I was eager to try my hand (actually, both of my remaining hands) to craft my own blog on the subject. But I quickly and regretfully realized that I would only wind up mostly paraphrasing Jill’s article while adding only a few literary flourishes of my own. What was the point when she writes so much better and far more knowledgeably than me?

Instead, I will just encourage those of you who think you might want to read up on this subject to consult Jill’s article, which you can find on this link:

You might also want to read Peter Wohlleben’s wonderful little book, The Hidden Life of Trees, and if you’re really ambitious, you could get ahold of a copy of Richard Powers intricately plotted novel about trees called The Overstory. Powers is one of the most extraordinarily gifted writers of our time, who apparently knows everything about everything. His books are jaw-dropping, mind-bending wonders.

But reflecting on all this and having already written my last book on NDEs, A Near-Death Researcher’s Notebook, this year, which actually sold a lot better than I had supposed, it occurred to me that maybe it was time to bring my blogging life to an end as well. So this is also to let you know that Ken Ring is about the ring down the curtain on the Ringdom. As I know I have said before (it is one of the afflictions of old age that one repeats things one has already said) that I am running not only out of time but out of ideas to write about. A caveat, however:  I am not saying that I absolutely will never write a blog again. Only that I at this point, I have no plans to do so.  That’s why if you should wander by the Ringdom any time soon, you will just see a sign saying “Gone fishing.”  

I remember when I first started writing these blogs when I was in my early eighties. My first blog began with these imperishable words: “What’s it like, waiting to die? Of course, it’s different for everyone. I can only say what it’s like for me. On the whole, it’s rather boring.”

Well, that was then. At that time, as you might recall, I indulged a conceit, joking that it was my hope to reach the age of 1000 -- months, and then check out. Well, I have long shot past that marker, and am about to reach 1050 months of age. Now, I am just impatient “to go home.” After all, writing has been my life and, in recent years, my salvation. What will I do with myself if I can no longer write? Sure, even if it becomes harder to read, I can watch tennis, but that is scarcely a raison d’être for living. Solitaire, anyone? 

But, rest assured, I will find something to do even if it is only to watch the clouds roll by when sitting out on my patio. And lest you misconstrue things, I want also to reassure you that, except for the occasional bad day or scare about my latest somatic inkling of ultimate doom, I am not depressed. I’m actually happy most of the time and still grateful, despite everything, to be here. After all, I’ve had a good run, and have had and continue to have, many blessings in my life including of course the love and devotion of my children, the loving care of Lauren, my longtime girlfriend, and the love of the friends who still remain in my life.

And, to be sure, I’m grateful to those of you who have been reading my blogs all these years and especially to many of you who have taken trouble to write to me. I hope you’ve been at least occasionally amused by my musings and otherwise entertained, perhaps even edified, once or twice, by what you’ve encountered in my blogs. Feel free to stay in touch, if you like. At least I can still do e-mail. As the Chinese say, non ti scordar di me.   

I know I’ve also said in this somewhere, in one of my books perhaps: A famous general of my time, in giving his farewell address, said “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” So do old NDE researchers.

But not quite yet, however. I promised my old and dear friend, PMH Atwater, a veteran NDE author many of whose books I have in my library and whom I’ve known for the last 45 years, that I would read her just recently published autobiography, Edge Walker, before I become a posthumous author myself. I’ve just opened the package containing her new book to find it inscribed with a very loving dedication to me. Of course, the font is small, which will be a trial for my poor eyes, but I will persevere, dear Phyllis, don’t worry. A promise is a promise, and unlike my wedding vows, this is one I mean to keep.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Brian Anthony KraemerJune 11, 2023 at 5:34 PM

    As the Chinese say, non ti scordar di me? Was this before Wuhan or after Wuhan? Of the many things I've enjoyed about your blogs is your desiccated sense of humor, much of which is lost on me, but when I do pick something up I think myself quite intelligent.

    My father, as you know, is three months older than you. He is under hospice care now and has no desire to live. His mind has given up, but his body has not. He just wants to sleep, but there is one noticeable detail about his personality I must mention. He still has a keen sense of humor. He is still entertaining with his intelligent wit, his subtle irony, his clarity in spite of nearly leaving us.

    Ken, feel free at any time to regale us again with your thoughts. And I agree with Kimberly Clark Sharp. Feel free to make your presence known to me at any time, before or after your coming transition. If I make it to the next realm sooner, I will do the same for you.

  3. At almost 88, you're still making valuable contributions with your blogs, books, and sage advice and wisdom to those trying to follow in your footsteps. THANK YOU!

  4. I have a friend who would like permission to quote from your book(s). Can you e-mail me at richardadinges@aol.com?

  5. Our death is certain.
    Circumstances surrounding our death are uncertain.
    Facing uncertainty causes us to pause.
    Be calm and know
    You can never be mere dust,
    You are so much more to so many who admire and love you.

  6. Before I go to sleep, one of the last things I do is snuggle against my pillows, heating pad on back, trusty iPad on lap, and travel to the Ringdom to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Thank you for all the knowledge surrounding the wonder of life, the great reading recommendations, and the lovely humor and authenticity about this incessant, intolerable and incredibly sweet aging process. I love you dearly and wish you well wherever you are Ken, watching the clouds from your patio or looking down at them from somewhere above. ❤️❤️❤️

  7. It's strange to consider the possibility that once we have the stable physics two way communication would be a given. Not that we don't have some things now , just that most understand there is a making of peace with uncertainties. All of this of course begs the question of what a writing schedule on the other side looks like