April 05, 2011
We all have a shelf life and a sell-by date. Modern medicine and mores keep us around far too long. A friend of mine’s grandfather recently took his own life. A widower and WWII veteran, he simply decided a prolonged decline was not quite his thing. He cleaned his home, set his calendar, put a plastic bag over his head, and secured it with a scarf. It was his decision and moment, the act of a profoundly brave man.
Scratch the surface of most men and you will find a Beau Geste element that wishes to die whilst charging an enemy with a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other. This is precisely how one relation died in the Great War; sadly, he was only 21. In previous eras, death’s closer presence gave life its definition. Today we feel aggrieved and cheated if death should even intrude. In the same way that nips, tucks, and facelifts have transformed celebrities into grotesque and plasticized shadows of their former selves, so medicine has postponed death and dehumanized existence. We claim that life is sacred and then go about devaluing it. Nature is kept at bay and the Grim Reaper sits in reception at every care home growing bored, flicking through the magazines, and gagging on the smell as we insist on clinging on to complete another jigsaw.
How totally bloody depressing. There must be a way to swallow-dive gracefully to eternity rather than be carried there on a litter with dementia and soiled underwear. An old friend of mine once suffered a heart attack in her garden. As her daughter rose to call for an ambulance, the old lady ordered her to do nothing. She fully understood her time was up and had no desire to be revived, to be probed and prodded, to join the endless queue of geriatrics constantly shuttled between home and hospital. She passed away in the garden she loved with her family and dogs at her side.
This is our life and it should be our death. Both have been hijacked. The Anglo-Saxons believed that human existence was akin to a bird flying through a great hall’s open window and spending a short while in the warmth and light before heading out once more to the darkness. They would be perplexed at how their descendants have allowed that bird to flutter aimlessly and crawl toward the end.
When her elderly mother is being particularly obnoxious, a friend of mine takes Mum in the car and slowly circles a roundabout in front of a local nursing home until the warning is understood and the old lady says tersely through gritted teeth: “Get me out of here….”
Infirmity and old age should never become a reason to be forced off the planet. But we would never unleash on our beloved house pets the indignities we foist upon our elderly. In extending life for the sake of it, we conspire to cheapen it and remove all meaning. DO NOT RESUSCITATE should be our creed.
Count me out of this bullshit. When my mental faculties and bodily functions go, I wish to be chloroformed.