The Unmentionable


Here we are Over70s teetering on the edge of the twilight zone between life and death and yet many of us are more than reluctant to mention the words death and dying and even less eager to discuss the socially incorrect subjects particularly in the US where philosophically we act as though death is not a viable reality – so let’s ignore it for as long as possible and that usually means right up to the very moment of prolonged death.

By the age of 75+ we have lived full lives, raised our families, enjoyed grandchildren and lived our many adventures. Yes this is a glorious world and we know that we are not immortal and to pretend otherwise is the great denial of the inevitable,

There are so many aspects of death and dying to consider – from Elisabeth Kubler Ross to Sogyal Rinpoche and beyond. This post will focus on a very controversial subject as presented by Ezekiel Emanuel MD in his 10/14 The Atlantic article “Why I Hope to Die At 75”. It was exciting to read his view; basically I am in full agreement.

There are numerous reasons why Emanuel, 57, has made this stand. He quotes Osler’s medical textbook The Principals and Practice of Medicine: “Pneumonia may well be called the friend of the aged. Taken off by it in an acute, short, not often painful illness, the old man escapes those cold gradations of decay so distressing to himself and to his friends.”

Emanuel is not interested in prolonging his life in any manner; I agree and have already decided not to have open heart surgery, chemo or other extreme procedures and I hope to die with whatever comes first to take me. And like Emanuel I will gladly welcome palliative care if needed for pain.

Emanuel thinks everything goes south at a fast rate after 75 years including one’s ability to contribute to work and the world at large. All functions rapidly diminish and there is basically little one can do to extend the good life. Who wants to spend the final years debilitated mentally or physically, living in a residential care facility isolated from all one care about.

Unfortunately this is a difficult subject for most people. I read the first paragraph of this post to an Over70 friend and she implored me to stop, it made her heart ache and she didn’t know a single person who talked about the subject. She went on to say that at 73 she had not made one preparation for death………… will, no adoption arrangements for her pets etc.

Why on earth are we so fearful of death; it is the great liberator. Ignoring its existence does not influence its arrival one way or the other and much is lost by saying it isn’t so, particularly when the avoidance is maintained up to the moment of passing.

There is no one size fits all at the moment of death, the important ideal is to die in peace knowing all your affairs are in order, your loved ones know they are loved and that life has been a glorious blessing with no abiding regrets. This is kind of difficult to accomplish by ignoring death’s existence on the near horizon; death is always walking beside you and needs your friendship not your denial.

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