Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 187 How will death come?

Peter died in his bath tub while reading a book and drinking a glass of wine. He was seventy four. He had obsessed about his own death for years. He had a bad, very bad, heart for perhaps ten years. He worried that he would die in pain; that he would die alone; that he would run out of money. He worried that he would be a burden to his children; that he would be tied to tubes and machines in hospitals. None of it cane to pass. Here he was in his own home, taking his ritualistic evening warm bath with a specially built board stretched across the top of the tub to hold his book, his glass of red wine; candles burning and, of course, his ashtray. Peter loved to smoke. Death came in very civil fashion.


This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.


“Figure out how you think you might die and you are almost guaranteed that it will not happen that way”. I read that line in a book perhaps twenty years ago. I don’t recall the name of the book but I do remember the line. The book was written by some doctor who had studied death and dying. He made a believer out of me. As we age we keep hearing about friends or even strangers that die and it reminds us that we are a bit closer to our own death than the day before.


Considering one’s own death has to be natural and universal. I’m not sure all animals can do it or even if any animals can. I recall seeing a wildebeest selectively shot amidst a heard on the plains of the Serengeti in Kenya. The other animals seemed to pay it no mind as it dropped dead. They continued to graze until we approached in our land rover. I’ve always wondered if humans are the only animals that can contemplate our own mortality.


I guess if one were to create a list all of the different ways one might die that list would be very long indeed. It makes sense that we would more likely than not miss predicting the ultimate method or cause for an individual person, ourselves included.


The only person I ever knew who predicted his own death in a certain manner and saw it come to fruition was the father of a student of mine in Alaska. He developed an inoperable brain tumor at age 81 and quickly decided to take his own life. He had prepared for this act for many years as a member of the Hemlock Society.


For sure he did not prepare for the tumor on the brain but he did accept and prepare for his own death. When the end became emanate he did not hesitate to implement his own demise.


He called his children who lived far away. They flew home and goodbyes were said. He arranged a piece of plastic, duct tape, a plastic tube, a small container of helium. He purchased two video cameras to document the event for legal reasons. He asked his children to turn on the video cameras and leave the room for at least an hour. They sat in their car and waited. Then they went to a coffee shop/book store and talked. When they returned the cameras had shut off and the room was silent.


Life should be a focus on living rather than dying. Peter spent a great deal of time worried about death that ultimately came in a most serene way. The doctor probably had it right in that we are most assured of missing the prediction of how any of us might die. We may as well have another glass of wine.


This is Retirement Talk.




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