Last Words

Years ago, while in graduate school, I took a sexuality course at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), co-taught by Drs. Raymond Rosen and Sandra Lieblum. Dr. Rosen provided the rigor and dry humor that sex can have at times; whereas, Dr. Lieblum engaged us with her brilliance and energy, instilling fun and passion, while disseminating information around the topic of sex.

I would like to focus on Dr. Lieblum. Two of my favorite memories of her were the annual Sex Week she hosted at the medical school, and her conceptualizing a rather stimulating disorder, Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS).

Sex Week was a weeklong conference on and about everything attractive and repulsive regarding sexuality. It was informative and disquieting. It left me exhilarated and, most certainly, sheepishly intrigued.

Regarding PSAS, I leave you this link:

Sadly, in May 2009, Dr. Lieblum was in a serious bicycle accident, which contributed to her untimely death in 2010. A friend of mine, who was very close to Dr.Lieblum, informed me that in Dr. Lieblum’s last months of life she lost her ability to sensibly, orally communicate; she responded to questions by reciting past lectures from her years of teaching and speaking at conferences. No longer was she able to answer a question directly, and the frustration was horrifically clear upon her face.

Dr. Lieblum played a significant role in honing my human sexuality interests. Needless to say, I was rather unsettled by the information of her deterioration.

I own a book entitled, Japanese Death Poems. It is a compilation of poems written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the verge of death. To be present in the moment of our final transition is an enviable treasure that many of us are not afforded nor comfortable embracing. In the book, there is a poem by the Japanese Monk, Goku Kyonen, followed by a description of his final moments:

          The truth embodied in the Buddhas
Of the future, present, past;
The teaching we received from the
Fathers of our faith
Can all be found at the tip of my stick.

“When Goku felt his death was near, he ordered all his monk-disciples to gather around him. He sat at the pulpit, raised his stick, gave the floor a single tap with it, and said the poem above. When he finished he raised the stick again, tapped the floor once more and cried, ‘See! See!’ Then, sitting upright, he died.”

Wow! I am tremendously envious of his conscious dying. Imagine being that present during our time of transition!

The passing of Dr. Lieblum and the Japanese Death Poems book shook me. I’ve been pondering my concluding moments, my final gesture, and my last words. What will they be? Will I be cognizant of all that surrounds me? Will words be vaporous, or will they still take shape on my tongue, in my brain? Or worse still, will I be just a slab of babbling, discomforting flesh?

I once heard a speech delivered by the ever-engaging, renowned, international spiritual advisor/humanitarian, Tony Campolo. At the close of his address, he referenced some words he had once heard: “When you were born everyone was happy and you were the only one crying. The question is – when you die will you be the only one happy while everyone else is crying?”

If I have my druthers, in that final moment, I imagine myself as a broken record, a conscious, but mumbling, perfection; giggling uncontrollably, chanting to no one and everyone. My incantation construed with the vocabulary so oft spoken in both my professional career and personal life: I am beautiful; you are beautiful! And in those closing seconds, I’ll post my final, boyish smirk, winking at all who surround me, delivering a nod, and letting everyone know that which is unspeakably known:

It is finished.