Living a full life, facing the end
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 30, 2015


"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 am.

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 doctors.

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 News columnist.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

More of Barbara's Columns

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665