I woke up this morning thinking about dying. No, I didn’t “think” I was dying, just thinking about the subject in general. I’m not hung up on the subject and am in great health (thanks in no small measure to my dear and caring wife) but recently I came across three articles about dying. Before I share these articles let me say at the outset that I don’t know when I will die and I don’t know how I will die….but I do know where I intend to die. More about that later.
The first piece was an essay in the New York Times titled “My Own Life” written by famed 81 year old neurologist Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks announced in his essay that his cancer from some years back had returned and metastasized into his liver leaving him with just months to live. I cannot hope to condense his words into a paragraph and do him justice so I will pick a few sentences. Sacks wrote “over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life, on the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.”
The second item on dying was a review of a new book titled “The Age of Dignity” by Al-Jen Poo. the book is subtitled “Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.” She writes about her experience with her grandfather and his death in a multi-bed nursing home room shared “with six other people, half of whom were completely silent, while the other half expressed their misery in loud, painful, cries. The room lights were kept off, while a sickly fluorescent light in the hallway flickered. The place smelled like mold and death. It was my heart-wrenching introduction to dehumanizing institutional care” she writes. Al-Jen Poo’s book is a wake-up call to America where 10,000 people are turning 65 each day and will continue to do so for the next 19 years. Where will the caregivers come from and how and where will these tens of millions live out their lives. I’ve ordered the book and will share more in a later blog.
The final items was an article in the Mail Tribune this morning regarding a series of presentations on death and dying titled “Facing Mortality: The Elephant in the Room.” The presentations are sponsored by Choosing Options, Honoring Options (COHO) and the next presentation on February 26 is a play based on the story of a brilliant scholar battling ovarian cancer. This will be followed on March 12 with a discussion on “choosing levels of late-in-life treatment.” On March 19 there will be a theatrical presentation called “Mom, Not at Thanksgiving!” about trying to have a conversation about dying. The final session in the series will be on April 16 on creating advanced directives. Pre-registration is required at http://cohoroguevalley.org or by calling 541-292-6466. All presentations are free and will be held at the Asante Smullin Center. A $10 donation is suggested.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t know when I will die. I don’t know how I will die. What I do know is that, if I become incapacitated, I can die in my own home, perhaps in what is now my office, looking out the window at the glorious foothills to the West of the Valley and my wife by my side. Through careful planning we have created a home environment that is, well, to die for. It’s never too early to begin thinking about end of life planning.