Episode 615 Death & Taxes
This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.
A few years ago a young high school senior got out of a car on Grandville Street in downtown Vancouver. It was in the spring; April or May. He had decided to join a different group of friends. He was riding in the back seat on the driver’s side. They were in the right lane. Grandville is a one way street downtown and when he exited the car door a city bus slammed right into him.. He had been a star athlete and a superior scholar. His future was bright and lying directly ahead; all over in an instant. He didn’t have time to prepare.
When things like that happen, it gives us all pause for thought. That’s not the way it is suppose to be. That’s not the way it is with most of us. Most of us have time to consider dying; especially we retired people. We have managed to the retirement phase of life. We have seen some of our friends die. We have read about others like the young man described above who died much too soon. Many of us have seen our parents through their last days. We know that death awaits. Why is it then that we hesitate or refuse to plan for this definite moment?
A few years ago a good friend of mine called to inform us that he was headed to a convalescent center. He had experienced a very painful night and could no longer manage at home. He took many drugs to alleviate pain. One of them was morphine. He had advanced to the stage where he must carry a morphine pump. He took a steady dose. The drug also played with his mind. He needed assistance.
He had mesolethioma – asbestosis. He was given six months to live. Two years passed. Hospice has been a weekly companion. The nurse became a “friend” in a way. He was in continual decline. His life changed ever so slowly. He continued to go to the gym – he lifted lighter weights and did fewer routines. He still went for walks; slower and shorter. He sat in front of a coffee shop and read. The rest of his life was spent in his small, darkened, silent apartment. This was as it had been for many years.
Life got more painful and difficult. Eventually he had to seek institutional care. He told us he would ended it all if he could. He described facing the wall and rubbing his hands and face against it just to get some physical contact - a sad story. He had no way to take his own life, but he had sought it that particular night. Later the same night he told me he had prepared a will, a health directive, and an end of life request. It was on his computer; unsigned and thus invalid. The following day we had him sign all the papers. It was the last day he was capable of doing such a thing.
His last two weeks were lived in a convalescent center. The smell of urine and excrement met us as we turned down the hall to find his room. He shared the dimly lit room with another man. The beds were narrow and minimal. There was one chair next to the bed. The closets were small to nonexistent. He was on a five day trial period. That’s what the hospice nurse called it. After that they would reconsider. If the pain abates; if it didn’t…
We don’t know how to die. It is something that is left out of our education, our culture, and our technological world. We have a ‘can do’ attitude about everything. We have coined all sorts of clichés to cement this attitude into our very soul. Though one sits on the brink of death it is a taboo subject. “Something may happen. Sometimes miracles happen.” We refuse to face the abyss. We have organizations to help us with this end of life: Hospice and Death with Dignity groups, and of course, organized religion. But many times we don’t consult them until it is to late.
My mind goes to considering death as I understand it in Ancient Rome. Death was not something to be feared. Death just happened. The soldier would fall on his sword rather than be humiliated in defeat. Life for most of us, including my friend, can be very bad as we near the end. There are many ways to die that might be a better choice.
There is an excellent low budget movie you may be able to find on Netflix that compassionately deals with this topic entitled “Paddleton”. It will stick with me till the end.
We all have on own thoughts on this topic. The difficulty seems to be in sharing them. We rarely talk about them. We rarely think about it. We rarely face it. I guess 'good ol’ American know-how' can solve lots of problems but on this one we many times fall short. It might be time we each give this topic a little air.
This is retirement talk.
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