No, I’m not suicidal. And no, as occasionally tempting though it may be, I’m not killing anyone else, either.
But death has been around a lot lately, and it’s got me thinking about my own mortality.
My father-in-law has terminal cancer, and just found out that it’s spread throughout his body. After a lifetime of smoking, drinking, along with a steadfast refusal to eat healthy, we kind of assumed that he would forego any aggressive treatment at this point. It may buy him a few months, but at what cost to his quality of life? Last time he was in treatment, he was told in no uncertain terms that if he chose to keep smoking and drinking, that it would kill him. No ifs, ands, or buts. He lit up another cigarette, swigged another beer, and flipped a metaphorical bird to anyone to challenged him.
So you can imagine our surprise when we were informed that he’d decided to pursue radiation and chemo. For what purpose? Reality may have set in, along with the fear of imminent death, but it’s too little, too late. The cancer, at this point, has spread too far and been fed too generously. There is no chance this time, of wiping it out. The only possibility would be to delay the inevitable for a short time, leaving him sick and possibly unable to care for himself. The ultimate slap in the face to my mother-in-law, who has spent her entire life caring for others.
His cognitive functioning is now impaired, though, so whether that decision is legally viable or not is certainly up for discussion. (Not by me, however!) It should be interesting to see how this plays out, though.
January also brought about the first anniversary of Jedi’s death. Jedi was a good friend of the Ambassador, and the waves of grief that went through our house radiated for months after. In the year since the smile of an amazing fifteen year old kid went out, the community has pulled together in little ways. It makes me wish that the positive ripples could happen without the tragedy to poke the water.
My health issues, for now, are nowhere near debilitating or even serious. They’re manageable though annoying, and occasionally cause me to change plans on the fly. But what about later? What about that eventual time when my own kids will be waiting for phone calls after I see the doctor, wondering what my choices will be and how it’ll affect their own lives?
The Scientist has a phobia of aging/dying, so any conversations about that sort of thing tend to be shut down very fast. Years ago, in a medical ethics class, we had to draft and sign Power of Attorney and Living Will documents. He signed them as my executor, but didn’t want to discuss the details. I let it go, but even now he doesn’t want to hear anything about “when the time comes”.
But the fact is that at some point in our lives, that time does come. And while no one can know what the future holds, the odds point to me being the one to have more serious health issues first, as I have some impairments now. What to do? When I started to explain my feelings on this, some twenty years after my initial foray into it, the conversation was shut down just as fast. He simply doesn’t want to hear it.
I am a staunch believer in the power of choice. I support assisted suicide for those who make the conscious, cognitively sound choice to choose when their life will end. Suicide, when linked to depression, is one of the most painful decisions with horrific ramifications for those left behind. But when a person’s quality of life and physical wellbeing is failing, and they make a well thought-out choice to take their leave on their own terms, I don’t really see how the trauma would be that much worse.
Death is never an easy topic to discuss. Whether it’s our own, or that of someone we love, the loss and heartache isn’t something readily faced by most people. But for me, I would rather not be a burden, be it physically or financially or emotionally, on the people I love. My choice, my conscious, carefully-considered choice, is to avoid that mess. Let me clear in this: I am not depressed. I have no wish to harm myself or take my own life right now, or even any time soon. I’m talking about several years down the road, when time and a life well lived has taken its toll on my physical body to the point that it breaks down. When my dignity and my joy of existence falter, it is time for me to bid my loved ones farewell, and check out.
I fully realize that my choices are controversial, to say the least. Many religions believe that a deity is supposed to choose my time of death for me; that it isn’t my decision, but theirs. Really? Well, what if the deity had decided years ago, but some heroic doctor cheated it and saved me? Isn’t that flouting the decision as well? I know, I know…the counter to that is that if the deity had truly decided, then the heroic doctor would’ve failed. But I don’t necessarily buy that. Modern medicine has extended our lives long past the end of our quality of life. The almighty doctors can treat a disease to keep our shells intact for a while, but our souls stop being viable longer before.
I choose to be done with my physical shell when my soul is ready to fly away. As a believer in reincarnation, I figure I’ll be back anyhow, so it isn’t that big a deal.
We treat death as if it is a horrific thing to be avoided and feared at all costs, rather than just the next step in our cycle. I refuse to do this. While I have no desire to have lunch with the Grim Reaper any time soon, I also have no desire to sit outside my body as a spirit, just waiting for someone to finally stop trying to scrape together a few more minutes. When the time comes that I make the decision, I will share it with a few trusted people. I will gather my friends and family to celebrate my life, and I will convey the love I have for each and every person I value.
But after that, I will peacefully make my way into the next realm. I will take the hand of those who have gone before, I will kiss the ones I leave behind, and smiling with the joy of a life well-lived, I will go quietly into that good night.