The long and lonely night has just begun


I’m going to die one of these days.

I had successfully ignored that fact for a large chunk of my life. Then two things happened that made it impossible for me to ignore it anymore.

First, a little less than thirty years ago, I started having babies. Once that happened, I realized that I wasn’t allowed to die until my children don’t need me anymore. Now, of course, my children and I might disagree as to what “when they don’t need me anymore” actually means but that was my thought. Now, this year, my youngest will turn 18 — and I think we’ve hit that point. I think they could survive without me now.

So, according to that lone criteria, I can die now.

The other thing that happened, about 20 years ago, was that my own mother died. Once your parent dies, mortality kind of kicks you in the face … or it had that effect on me, anyway. My sense that I was safe because my parents stood between me and the Grim Reaper has no basis in reality, of course. Plenty of people outlive their children, for a variety of reasons. I didn’t even know that irrational idea was there until my mom died. But, however it was, her death made me stop and think about the fact that one of these days I, too, was going to shuffle off this mortal coil.

I thought about it … and then I forgot about it. After all, I was only 35.

Fast forward to now … and I find myself thinking about my mortality a bit more often these days. Not in any kind of morbid way but I’m thinking that, at this point, I’m probably closer to my death than I am to my birth. I don’t feel like I’m running out of time — I’ve still got quite a bit of kick left in me, I think — but I do feel, as I put it to Gina, that I am approaching the sunset of my life. And I have some thoughts about that.

I’ve been thinking about my kids and how I would like to make the tag end of my life as easy for them, and for me, as I can.

I think it would be nice to be able to retain some dignity. I hope I have a chance to say good-bye to them.

I would want my choices to seek or dispense with medical treatment for any chronic conditions to be respected.

I would not want to be kept alive, by machines or well-meaning physicians, if my body can’t keep me going on its own.

Death is natural, as natural as childbirth and menopause. I want to be allowed to die when my body is done.

I want to be allowed to die in my home, if that’s possible. It might not be possible; I might need some help with pain management, if it comes to that. At any rate, I don’t want to be forced into a living situation that demeans me or in which my decisions get ignored.

I want my end to be as peaceful and gentle as possible (obviously not possible if I get hit by a bus), for me and for my children. I don’t want to be a burden to them.

I told all this to Gina yesterday. It was a good conversation and I can’t imagine being able to have it with any of the other three of my kids. Chronologically, of course, David is the oldest of my children. For all practical purposes, Gina is the eldest and she has already accepted principal responsibility for making sure that both David and I are taken care of when I get closer to my end. I hope and trust that her other siblings will support her. I think they will; I have faith in them.

And as for me … well, I expect I’ll be around for a good twenty years yet. Maybe even more. I don’t think I’ll be dead tomorrow. On the other hand, from where I sit, twenty years isn’t really all that long.

I’m good with that. I think there are two things you can do in this life to make the thought of death particularly terrible for yourself. One of those things is to pretend to yourself that it isn’t there. People need to make peace with it, in whatever way they are inclined. That’s just human nature.

The other is to focus on it so much as it gets closer that you wind up dying long before you’re dead.

I don’t plan to do either of those things.

(Thanks for talking to me about this, Gina! I really appreciate it.)

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