Something happened and I’m not sure quite when. Sometime in the past ten or so years I started counting my years left rather than my years passed. There was a time where I would look at the few things I had achieved in life and run through how much else I wanted to do. Then, sneakily and without any warning, life turned around and I felt there was only just enough time left to do some of those things.
The other day I read an article about where we die. I’d never really thought about this. I knew a few people who are now dead. Some were around my age at the time, and died suddenly, in one case violently, others from the sudden onset of illness. Most have been older relatives. Some of these died at home from heart attacks, some died from illness in hospital or palliative care. I’ve never really thought about the options of where we die.
That’s not to say I haven’t thought about death. Someone very close to me has a chronic illness and I’ve thought about her death in an abstract sense, mostly around the the idea of my loss but also about her acceptance of her situation. I’ve thought a lot about whether someone should have the choice to bring on their own death; why suicide is such a taboo subject; the mere idea that it is acceptable stirs such strong emotions. And then that corollary to suicide, euthanasia; once again a subject that can cause extreme reaction.
What I’ve never thought about is where we die. What options do we have? We all know that death is coming one day, perhaps not with a scythe and a black hood (although I have a weakness for scythes and quite like Death in Terry Pratchett novels), but nevertheless inevitably. I suspect that the question isn’t so much where we die, but where do we wait for death, if we wait at all. What options does our society offer and what could be done differently?
We all know someone who seems to have resigned from life, and is marking time until death comes. They behave as if they’re old, they have no drive, no plans, no aspirations. I’m sure I’ve been unfairly judgemental of people I know like this. Who am I to say that their choices are the wrong ones? I haven’t lived their life, I can’t be inside their heads. Maybe in their situation I would behave the same, maybe I will at some time.
Is it the duty of others to try to distract someone from their impending end? Is it our responsibility to discuss it? Does talking of death lead to preoccupation? I don’t expect simple or general answer to any of these questions. Perhaps all I should consider is the personal and specific. I want to continue to live until I die. I want control of my environment and familiarity if I know my death is imminent. I want the choice to end my life if I am convinced that it is no longer worth living.
I’m sure I’ll think more about the end of life. Perhaps age will bring depth to my understanding. For now I feel very alive. I know that I ache more than I did ten or twenty years ago, I see age spots, wrinkles and grey hairs that catch me by surprise. Equally importantly, I enjoy the perspective that experience is bringing. My reactions are becoming more measured, I feel with passion tempered by familiarity.
Age is inevitable. Death will catch me one day. I’m not going to rush it, though. I see so many people much older than me doing wonderful and constructive things, sharing their experience and taking on new challenges. One of the things that I’ll take on is gaining an understanding of what those who are travelling before me are discovering, and hopefully contributing to increasing the options available to myself and others.