Mark Dowie is the former publisher and editor of Mother Jones magazine and editor-at-large of InterNation. He recently retired from the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where he taught science, environmental reporting, and foreign correspondence. His works have won nineteen journalism awards.


An old man learns how to die from a poet facing death.

For the entire six months that Mark Dowie became friends with Judith Tannenbaum, they both knew she was going to die. In fact, for most of that time they knew the exact hour she would go: sometime between 11:00 AM and noon, December 5, 2019, which she did.

Judith was a poet, writer, activist, and artist who worked for decades teaching and collaborating with imprisoned lifers. Beloved by her community, Judith told almost no one when she was diagnosed with an incurable disease that would cause her immeasurable pain. Instead she chose to end life on her own terms.

When they met, Mark Dowie had already been working for years to advocate for physician assistance in dying for terminally ill people in his home state of California. He helped many friends along this path, but it wasn’t until he was introduced to Judith through a mutual friend that he came to a profound new understanding of death. Mark and Judith created a two-person “death café,” a group devoted to discussions of death.

They talked about many things during Judith’s final months, but the rapidly approaching moment of her death came to inform and shape their entire conversation. Death was, as she said, “the undercurrent and the overstory of our relationship.”

Judith Letting Go supports the right to plan one’s death, but it is ultimately about the lost human art of releasing everything that matters to the living in preparation for the inevitable.