Sunday, December 04, 2005

Thoughts About My Future

I’m thinking about how long I want to live.

Years ago, in a philosophy book, I read a fictional discussion between two men discussing death. One man believed we have an optimal time to die and that we can miss that time. That passage has stayed with me and is becoming more relevant. My mother is 88, lives in a nursing home and, most of the time, is unable to answer even the most elementary question such as “Are you cold?” I have a sister who is an RN and cares for my mother. Most of the time my mother refers to Gale not by her name nor as daughter but as “my mommy”. Her body continues to live but she is gone. Perhaps, she missed her time.

Recently, I purchased Andrew Weil’s Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being. The book speaks not to extending our lives but to maximizing our health and our enjoyment of life during our natural life span. I find Weil’s summary of medical science and research exciting and intriguing. I find his discussion of doctors’ and corporations’ greed, manipulation and lack of ethics to be disheartening. Scientific research, corporate developments and marketing strategies are combining to create a stratified society that will be untenable. I do not want to live in the future that appears to be on the horizon.

Weil quotes a woman of 102 who comments on a doctor telling her, when she was in her mid-sixties, that she would probably live to be 100.

Don’t wish that on me, I told him. . . . All those people who want to live to 100 – what’s so good about it? Tell me – why do they think it’s so great? I feel alone. I can’t go to the store myself. I’m a burden. No, I don’t think I’m happy I’ve lived so long. As for people in their thirties who think they’d like to live that long – don’t they realize the world is just getting worse and worse? Don’t they read the papers? I don’t think you’re going to like it here when you’re 100. . . .The world is going to be upside down. . . .Ninety. . . . That’s a good age. That’s old enough.

I don’t want to live without a sense of freedom, a sense of control over my decisions and actions, a sense of joy and excitement and discovery and contentment.

My theology has evolved. No longer do I believe in heaven, hell, judgment or a vengeful God. My theology has distilled to one concept: “life is a gift to be enjoyed”. Death holds no fear but life without enjoyment and independence and some control holds great fear. I hope I’ll have the wisdom to know when – and the strength – to take a final hike to a beautiful isolated place and meet my time – my right time -- with a sense of gratitude and contentment. Somehow, this seems natural and good and right.

15 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

I feel rather troubled by the end to this post. In my view we never really know what is going on in life or what is just around the corner. There may be some value to being looked after (losing independence) that is not immediately apparent. I used to visit an old lady regularly in a retirement home and, although she and other clients were rather bored, they still offered something as human beings.

12/04/2005 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Bonita said...

I've worked around the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living for over 16 years. One old woman (104), was dancing, fell, and broke her hip, which killed her...I'd like to go out like that.

Strive for the greatest happiness, even when in a wheelchair - you can still move your feet around on the floor and hum a little tune.

12/04/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Gaye said...

My grandmother lived to be 101; she used to say "Lord, did you forget where you put me?" The more independence she lost the more unhappy she was. When she died her mind was sharp; her body was failing her. The thought of being a burden on others manifested itself in frustration and agitation. She was a happy woman until she decided she had no purpose. I'm sure she's happy now...

12/04/2005 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Buffalo said...

I intend to live until I die. Anything less or anything more would be either a waste or redundant.

12/04/2005 03:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Booley said...

Like Rob, I find the end of your post troubling. If life is a gift, then it is bestowed upon us by another. Do we have the wisdom to determine when that gift has no further value? If my life in an elderly, infirm state seems of no value to me, perhaps it becomes of value to another if I can manage that challenge with grace and dignity. My grandpa, who lived to 92 with good health, regularly spoke of missing his wife, who died 30 years earlier. He longed to join her and struggled to be content with his reality. But, his example in those lonely years stays with me today. His reluctant life was a gift to me and he graciously allowed that to play out.

12/04/2005 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I believe that it is not how long we live that is important but instead, the legacy we leave to our children.

I believe if we eat healthy and exercise that we have a better chance of living a longer, healthier life.

Everyone has something to offer and to contribute in life and that is the gift that is given to us, that we work so that future generations can have a better life.

Thanks for the post :)

12/04/2005 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

No longer do I believe in heaven, hell, judgment or a vengeful God. My theology has distilled to one concept: “life is a gift to be enjoyed”.

Although the end of the post (including the rest of it) may trouble others, but I say a big amen.

"It's not how old you grow; it's how you grow old."

12/04/2005 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger Smarts said...

I have no problems with your last paragraph. I agree with you. Life is a gift, and if you don't believe God to be the giver, well had it not been for your mother chances are...

We should give more thought to our dying. It is our last physical act and the gateway to the unknown. It seems the majority of people are so afraid of this unknown that they will sacrifice their dignity to artifically sustain life.

I am only 33 but have given a lot of thought to dying. I too want to die on my own terms. Whatever those circumstances are, I do not want the struggle of disease to be what I am remembered for, I do not want all the accomplishments of a lifetime overshadowed by the ravages of chemotherapy or feeding tubes.

But I will respect what it is each chooses for themselves.

12/04/2005 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger Round Belly said...

While others had trouble with the last paragraph, I found the part that dissagreed with me was the dismal view of where the world is headed. YES there are dismal paths it could be heading down, but at the same time there are many new, wondreful, exciting and enlightening path that it is heading for too. It is our choice to choose which paths we will let dominate our thoughts and reality.

12/04/2005 07:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often put this question into what I call "pioneer terms". If I were on a wagon train crossing the country and this illness came on me, would I most likely have lived or died? So often I see that the medical profession is all too willing to prolong the quantity of life with no consideration for the quality of that same life. My Mom had bypass surgery a few years ago. Now she's outlived Dad by 20 years, most of her (younger) siblings, a son, a grandchild, most of her friends and neighbors. She is bitter and it's not easy to be around her. Is someone stronger for her pain? At least I am more determined to live my natural life. I suspect the answer is always going to end up being personal, eh?

12/04/2005 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I rarely think about how long I want to live so much as how I want to live right up until the end: authentically, with all of who I am. By this I don't necessarily mean who I am NOW, but simply who I am at any given time in my life. I would never choose to be majorly mentally incapacitated, but if it became so, I still hope that I would go on living wholly to the best of my ability, however restricted that ability might be.

I have seen too much light shining out of lives that most of the world would consider damaged or diminished or unproductive to pronounce such a life over...even my own, although the thought of continuing in such a state is, yes, frightening to think of now. But then, at one point in my life, so was marriage. And motherhood. And mood disorder. Yet light persists. Not the exact same light I expected in my "perfection" (ah, the bliss of ignorance!), no, but light nonetheless, and I'm not so sure but that the brightness grows greater for what we often (erroneously) perceive as its obstacles.

12/04/2005 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Anonymous, you posted while I was pondering and poking the keyboard. Please don't think my comment was argumentative. You've got a definite point about the answer being individually personal.

In fact, looking over the comments here, I'm wondering how much attitude has to do with it rather than circumstances... :::continuing ponderance::: :)

12/04/2005 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger RC said...

I want to live such live that when the time comes and I'll look back, I'll be at peace-no regrets over what I have/didn't have done. I think that's important, regardless of in what you believe..

12/04/2005 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

It's such an interesting point of view, and actually I agree with it. It's just scary to think you'll never see these things surrounding you again, or the loved people... But I'm 17, I guess when I'll be older I'll will have accomplished many more things, and then I'll be able to see death as just a natural rest.

12/05/2005 05:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

My mother in law is turning 80 next year. She doesn't like the idea because it sounds "old". She says she still feels like a 20 year old inside and has a hard time with the concept of being older.

She's lost a husband, two sisters, one brother, a son and a grandaughter.

April 14th 2000 she married her second husband and began a whole new adventure.

She misses those who died, and she's in a lot of pain, but she's loving life.

12/12/2005 04:54:00 PM  

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