Woman who chose death over dementia wrote of her unfolding end

By Avis Vermilye
Posted 2/21/19

Avis Vermilye chose to end her life by fasting, rather than succumb to Alzheirmer's. She died in December. This is a selection of her writing.

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Woman who chose death over dementia wrote of her unfolding end


Editor's note: The following selections are pieces of writing by Avis Vermilye, who chose to end her life by fasting, rather than succumb to Alzheimer’s. Read the companion pieces in this special report including a reporters’ notebook, an article about the religious, ethical and legal issues of medical aid-in-dying, and the latest on House Bill 90 in the New Mexico Legislature.  

Butterflies on my mind

Ever since I stumbled on a butterfly wing during a long walk decades

Ago, I've

Been periodically fixed on the image of butterflies. When I decided to

Get a tattoo (at the grand old age of 79), it was of a butterfly.

I never gave a great deal of thought to it ... just every now and then

The image of a butterfly popped into my mind.

Suddenly, just in recent days ... maybe weeks ... I can't stop thinking about those magical creatures. Somehow, they began speaking to me about impermanence ... about the flickering messages of beauty

that come into our lives without preamble, and disappear without trace.

How does that speak to me in particular? Transience. The fleeting

days, months, years of our lives ... I am at a reflective time in my life,

and look back at the many chapters in my life ... as so many butterflies,

flitting in ... some beautiful, some so speedy in their flight and touchdowns

as to be scarcely noticeable. Just as part of the environment that I scarcely

pay attention. BUT with the return of that image from long ago, I

realize how my life has been like that … flitting from job to job,

relationship to relationship, drinking the nectar offered at the time,

then moving on to the next in hope that its flavor might be better.

Nothing is permanent. Not your life, not mine ... not the planet's …

all is in transition. Now here ... now gone, a faint recollection now and

then reminding us of a time of beauty, of success, or longing ... and then,

just like the butterfly, gone. Just like that. Nonetheless, my heart had

been touched ... feelings of delight, of warmth, of sadness, regret,

even perhaps, some remnants of anger ... at things not done, things wished

for and unfulfilled …

but for all that, a sense of fullness and gratitude at having been touched

with such beauty.

Sighting a butterfly, even for the briefest moment, is to me proof of creation's

bounty, even in the midst of turmoil.

And so ends this brief tale of butterflies.

(August 6, 2018)

untitled poem

Glancing up at the sky --

my home to be,

inviting me to come

dance with the clouds.

untitled poem

Tiny white butterflies

dart here and there --

blessings in flight.

September 17, writing group

So now what?

I feel so scattered.

What does it mean to have the courage to change?

... My time on earth may be coming to a close, but my life is full beyond measure …

I lift my eyes to the clouds, knowing one day I will be dancing among them,

Laughing with delight and an indescribable feeling of joy.

Fantasy? Possibly. Probably. But does it matter? I don't think so.

July 16, writing group

I've been a "putter offer" most of my life - I lived in a kind of perpetual tomorrow. Someday I'm gonna ... when I've done this, accomplished that, letting today slip by before I realized it, and had only unfulfilled dreams to occupy my mind. "IF ONLY" became a kind of mantra ...

But age, experience, and some mysterious, interior "knowing" has led me to the glorious, and freeing space of NOW, in all its richness. Getting rid of things that clutter up my life, making friends with a few people much younger than me, Sure, I have moments of regret, of sadness ... but they are fleeting, and I am left feeling a kind of inner joy that is freeing, and filling me with a light heart.

July 1981

God spoke to me this week. Sometimes strident, sometimes soft, sometimes mute, His voice followed me, and I heard. I heard Him beneath gothic arches, brilliant panes of glass, sitting in the early morning circle of silence, punctuated by birdsong. He spoke to me from the mountains, a message of time and patience, from the sun slipping silently and scarlet behind these hills. He spoke of searing beauty. He spoke simply, of fragmentation and wholeness - creating harmony out of chaos - of making use of what is at hand, however humble. He spoke all of this through handmade quilts and corn husk dolls, hearth brooms and willow baskets.

Communion for one

...Taking off my shoes, I stepped onto the grass, wet with dew. I looked up at the moon as if to say, "See? I heard you!" The moon stared back silently, still beckoning. Walking across the moisture clad lawn, I relished the unfamiliar, spongy feel of the earth beneath bare feet. I headed directly for the stately row of trees I had seen from the window and continued on past. There was yet another row of trees some yards distant that ran parallel to the ones I had just come through. They created a kind of glen, or secluded corridor, quite hidden from the house.

Eyes closed, I let myself be in that space, embraced by the majestic silence of the dark trees. The air stirred ever so slightly, like a caress. Another invitation. I took a few deep breaths, opened my eyes and looked up through the glistening pine needles at the moon. On an impulse, I shrugged off my robe and let it fall to the ground. I suddenly felt shy and awkward. This was completely unlike me. It seemed foolish. It also seemed right. I could not NOT do it. The night, the moon, the dark soft earth and the towering trees were working their magic. I had listened to the stirrings of my body and soul as they responded to the call of the night.

Looking around to make sure there was no one in sight, no one spying, I slowly lifted (the) nightgown over my head, tossing it on top of crumpled robe on the ground. I felt rooted, like the trees all around me. Scarcely breathing I allowed my naked body to relax in the unaccustomed setting. I had never felt so totally vulnerable. … Moving around a bit, I gradually claimed more space. I spread my legs apart and stretched my arms toward the sky, head thrown back, exultant. I felt utterly free and totally at one with my surroundings, loneliness forgotten. It was an astonishing feeling, unknown yet strangely familiar. As though this was how I was meant to feel, how I was meant to be.

Lying on the wet grass, sprawled out as I used to do as a child making angels in the snow, I stared up at the moon, feeling blessed ... baptized. My heartbeat seemed to originate from a place deep within the earth. Never had I known such peace, such a deep sense of oneness, of connection with all creation. Time ceased to have meaning. I could have stayed forever in this cradle of earth, moon, trees, stars.

But the moon, having worked its magic, began slipping away. I knew I must leave this hallowed place. Darkness was fading into dawn and would soon give way to daylight and the waking of the world …


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