"My mother used to say,
'If you live to be 70, that's all God promised you.'"
From an interview with Ruby Timms, age 85, in the May 2013 National
Geographic, a story about long-lived people.
Curious to know where Ruby
Timms' mother got that idea, I looked up Bible quotes about age: not
counting Methuselah and God's conversations with another patriarch
in which the age 120 came up, I found Psalms 90:10, "The years of my
life are seventy, or even by reason of strength, eighty."
I like Ruby's idea that
I've reached my promised age; it takes off some of the pressure to
get one's share of something. If you use modern demographics, we
Americans might be expected to reach the present record high average
of 78.8. I'd felt my dad was somewhat cheated, dying at age 70,
until I read the Ruby Timms quote; it was comforting. He passed
peacefully, as did my mother at age 86, both still mentally
themselves, which I consider the biggest blessing of our lives. The
only years I'll count for myself are those in which I remember who I
I also hate the idea of
dying suddenly and not noticing until it's too late. So now that I'm
reading the obituaries before the comics, I've decided to begin
anticipating my own demise and start preparing for it.
First thing I did was find
the living will I filled out years ago when I was helping my mother
with hers, and took it to my primary care physician's office to be
fed into the computer; I carry a copy in my purse. But I've read
lately that a new document "medical orders for life-sustaining
treatment" is allowed by recent changes in Massachusetts law.
So this week I downloaded
the two-page form. One fills in the little circles that apply to
what one wants re: cardiac arrest, transfer to hospital, intubation
and ventilation, dialysis, artificial nutrition and artificial
hydration. Next year, Medicare is planning to pay our primary care
physicians to discuss these with us during our annual visit.
This would all seem rather
simple had I not mentioned this to the nurse who was fixing the
giant blister on my foot last month, and was asked that if for some
reason I passed out, did I want to be resuscitated?
From a blister event? She
smiled and I realized these things may not always be as simple as
they seem. The "life-sustaining" forms don't give one a chance to
fill in some of the background, like are you in the process of dying
soon anyhow? The living will covers this adequately, even
poetically. The second form is probably mostly useful when having
that discussion with one's doctor.
The careful outlines in
proposed "right-to-die" legislation are much preferred: In those
I've seen, you do have to prove you are dying anyhow and, ignoring
eager heirs, just want to choose the kind of death you prefer.
My own preference might be
a firing squad as I yell "Live free or die!" but no matter how bad
government has become under Obama, I don't think that's the kind of
demise I'm likely to face, so, never mind. Just as well for those of
you who survive me and may have to live unfree. Think about this
during the coming election cycle.
My back-up preference is
the one thing I liked about Obamacare, or at least the parts of it
many suspected were there — the chance
for people who are dying to choose to leave on their own terms and
by the way, before they use up another billion dollars of useless
end-of-life care. This may have some validity, may be the plan
behind the Medicare decision to pay for the discussion with one's
However, when money enters
the equation, society must be very careful what power it hands the
government; but certainly, unlike Social Security, the amount we
individuals paid into the Medicare system will be used up quickly
and then we'll be on a government welfare program. Medicare itself
will be bankrupt before our middle-aged kids get to use their own
contributions. Not fair.
Once one is old enough for
Medicare, and terminally ill, I don't get this clinging to life
thing. The reason we're called mortals is that we can never have
expected immortality, so why is death such an unwelcome surprise to
some people? I've admired Dylan Thomas' refusal to "go gently into
the good night" as I admire defiance in politics, but in the end
this useless resistance is just silly.
My version of final
defiance is addressed to those who fight my choice because of their
religious principles or addiction to power. Whose life is it
anyhow?: Mind your own business.
I always want to ask the religious ones: what about dying bothers
you? Not ready to meet your Maker?
I'm ready now: If I find
myself dying after having lived a full life (according to Ruby Timms'
mother), I'd feel ungrateful to complain. So sad, to read the
obituaries of those who didn't make it to 70, those who saddest of
all, didn't get beyond childhood or youth.
Over the years, as a fan
of J.D. Salinger, I've come to believe in reincarnation, especially
for the young ones who didn't get their full chance the first time.
I'd consider it for myself but already trying not to imagine the
world as it might be sooner rather than later, before I even
actually die! I don't want to come back already hooked up to the
machine that might soon be replacing our bodies as we live connected
to our electronics.
Maybe I'll just once again
express my gratitude for the extraordinary time in which my
generation of Americans was able to live —
and pass on to some kind of eternal rest, in a hammock, surrounded
by my pets and garden flowers who await my happy soul.
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem