And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning that the lesson today is how to die.
Dying is something we all face, whether we think about it or not. For most of my life, if I thought about it, it was to find ways to avoid it.
I turned 58 years old a while back, and took a quiz to determine my approximate life span based on my family history and bad habits. According to that I have eight years left.
That’s not a lot. We all want to live long lives perhaps. But faced with your own mortality, the question becomes, is long life worth it?
I can make some adjustments to my habits and perhaps bump that figure up to about 90 years. I can keep a few of my vices and that figure goes to about 78. That’s an extra decade.
I don’t recommend anyone make lifestyle choices based on an online calculator. But it is useful to give you an idea what to expect.
I just watched my two parents die over the past ten years. Because I lived in the house with them, it gave each of them an extra 6 years or so without going into a nursing home. Dad checked out at 85, mom at 81. The question I found myself asking over and again while they were alive, is “would I want to be living that life at that age?”
For the most part my answer is no. There were too many health problems, too many things they couldn’t do any longer, and not enough things that they wanted to do that they could.
They didn’t particularly take care of themselves, but neither do I, though in entirely different ways. And I could find things to do where they settled for watching TV. I’m not interested in climbing mountains at 78. But I do want to be able to walk in the woods, or walk the streets even. I don’t want to be condemned inside a house.
I have a kid, and I love watching his life. I’d love to see grandkids if he does that. But I don’t want him going through what I went through. Even before I took care of them, they had become a regular worry because of various health issues. I dreaded the phone ringing for it could always be bad news.
When dad died, a year after mom, it was liberating. That might sound cruel to say, and it’s not to say I don’t miss them. I do. But a great burden was lifted from my shoulders, and my mind. That struggle for them, and for me was over.
Would I have felt they robbed me of time with them if they died a decade sooner? In my case yes, because we grew apart in life, but came together over the last ten years. If we hadn’t grown apart, I’d still miss them, just as I do now, but they wouldn’t have gone through the hell they went through in that last decade.
For my own life, that’s a trade I don’t mind making. The lesson there is stay close to the ones you love, because you might not have a chance to make it up later.
I grew up in an age when a common sentiment was “live fast, die young and make a good looking corpse.” I pretty much outlived that concept. But that lifestyle did cause damage, and I’m at the age now where I’m starting to see it. If you look closely, you can see how the final years will play out, based on where your system is already weakest.
Another question to consider is have I accomplished what I want to do? That’s not to be confused with have I done all the things I want to do, seen all the places I want to see. If you can answer yes to that question, you’re already dying, you body just hasn’t caught up with your mind.
I’ve pretty much done that. A few more years of tidying up projects and artistically, which is what was often most important to me, I’ll be satisfied. I’d love to do more, love to do better stuff, fame and riches would be nice, but I can pretty much look back and say “yeah, that’s me. That’s the message I want to leave behind”
I’ve loved, loved intensely and loved completely. If I never fall in love again, I won’t feel I was robbed. On the contrary, I’ve been luckier than I could have imagined. It took a while for it to happen, but in the end, I got to feel everything a person could want to feel from love. It’s not to say I don’t want more, I wasn’t ready for it to end when it did. It’s not to say that perfect life I lived for a short time I wouldn’t want to live out till the end. But for some of us, love dies sooner than our bodies.
Love is a matter of luck, as much as it is skill, or fate. It takes at least two out of the three to make it work, and all three to make it perfect.
Being my age and single is terrifying. There comes a time when you need someone to keep an eye on you. Without a partner, that means I have to pay them. One area in life I didn’t manage so well was financially. So the only way to pay them is to give up all I have and go into a nursing home when the time comes. Not having a fortune to fall back on makes that time come sooner.
For death doesn’t typically come swiftly in our era of modern medicine. It’s too easy to save a life which would have been lost in the past. Perhaps that’s the greatest horror of being in a nursing home. They save you from much of what would kill you, even if at that point you’d rather die. You can have a living will, but your heart has to stop before it really kicks in. To achieve death, you need to be unwatched when the symptoms start.
There’s always suicide, and sure, if you’re facing a horrible end with no other way out, that’s a viable option, despite what the law and morality might consider right or wrong. But to me, that’s kind of like cheating death. I’m not sure it takes kindly to that.
Now give me a good cause to ride out and meet death, and I’ll take that. That noble charge into the face of an evil and overwhelming enemy is a noble way to go. But those opportunities are in short supply lately. Dying from a drone strike isn’t particularly heroic.
For me, the goal is to beat the decline. When the grade gets too steep to keep from sliding uncontrollably, I’d rather let go entirely. Using dad’s lifespan, that kicks in about 78. So with that in mind, I can keep some of my bad habits. Bad news for my liver I’m afraid. It might have to work harder right up till the end.
So from a practical viewpoint, the goal is to minimize further damage, heal all the damage I can, and keep my mind intact.
It’s the latter which is most important. There are those who never have physical health but lead a fulfilling life if their mind is vibrant. I don’t want to still be alive when my mind tells me it’s time to stop. I want the brain to outlive the body.
And I don’t want to die in my sleep. It’s just as important as being born. Do you really want to sleep through that to avoid knowing it’s coming? Shouldn’t the goal be to be ready for it?
We should be ready for it every day of our lives. If you pop off tomorrow, you don’t want to leave unfinished business. Unless you want to be a ghost, and if you do, that’s one way of increasing your odds. So yeah, I’ll keep some lose ends dangling, just to haunt my kid with.
Because you never know when death might come out of the shadows and lay his hand on your shoulder. and ask “are you ready?”
For me, if I’ve Iived my life the way I should, and am living that way still, the answer should be, “always.”
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So confident I’ll go his way
Whistle to him and the passing time
My death waits like a bible truth
At the funeral of my youth
Weep loud for that and the passing time
My death waits like a witch at night
As surely as our love is bright
Let’s not think about the passing timeBut what ever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don’t care
For in front of that door, there is youMy death waits like a beggar blind
Who sees the world through an unlit mind
Throw him a dime for the passing time
My death waits there between your thighs
Your cool fingers will close my eyes
Let’s not think of that and the pa*sing time
My death waits to allow my friends
A few good times before it ends
So let’s drink to that and the passing time
My death waits there among the leaves
In magicians’ mysterious sleeves
Rabbits and dogs and the passing time
My death waits there among the flowers
Where the blackest shadow, blackest shadow cowers
Let’s pick lilacs for the passing time
My death waits there in a double bed
Sails of oblivion at my head
So pull up the sheets against the passing time
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don’t care
For in front of that door, there is you
Top Image: Death, Stone detail, Castle Gould, Sands Point, Long Island, New York