Up In Smoke
The other day I wrote a bit about teddy bears and other silly mementos to mark the passing of a human. The gist was if anyone tries to memorialize me through the use of a teddy bear or a crucifix, my dead soul will violate the physical laws of the Universe and haunt the crap out of the person or persons who committed that atrocity. [No link; I’m too lazy to dig it up this AM.]
A few days later, I came upon this:
It’s a Chicago Cubs-branded urn, sold by an outfit called The Eternal Image Group. Some perverse part of me wants to have my ashes sequestered eternally in something like this.
Then again, wouldn’t that be the equivalent of hell? (Which, BTW, I don’t believe in but if my Earthly remains are shut away in a Cubs urn, I would indeed be in hell.)
[h/t to Bleed Cubbie Blue.]
I Wanna Die
Zeke (L) & Rahm Emanuel
[Photo by Annie Leibovitz]
Zeke, a noted bioethicist and medical school professor, says he wants to die at 75. This flies in the face of everything we’ve stood for in this holy land. The search for eternal youth and pushing back our mortality have been driving forces in America as much as eating sawdust-y fast food, screeching about taxes, and trying to catch glimpses of sideboob.
The mayor’s bro isn’t up for living to the ripe old age of 100. Now this is something I’ve been saying for years. Why would anyone want to live past, say, 85 even? Sure, sure, sure, you may point out that one oddball, that outlier who’s 89 and still swimming laps and going for long hikes. I hate that guy anyway, no matter who he is.
He’s a scourge, an indictment, a reminder of what an achy, flatulent, overweight, in need of a nap curmudgeon with a scalpful of precancerous growths, a prostate the size of a cantaloupe, arthritis in every joint, achilles tendonitis, a bum hip, balky knees, hair over every inch of my body, wreck I am. Man, I hate that guy.
That slim, trim, maniacally grinning, running, swimming, salad-eating 89 y.o. loon is proof of nothing. There’s one of him for every million other 89-ers who can barely get out of bed in the morning and/or can’t even remember where the floor is.
Aging is something that can’t be beaten. Breakdown is built into our very cells. Hell, stories have been written since the time of the ancient Greeks about the folly of humans who find a way to live forever. Fraudsters like Deepak Chopra to this day makes scads of dough trying to convince the criminally gullible that they, too, can live indefinitely.
Ivan Albright’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
Zeke Emanuel writes that yes, dying is a loss, both to the dead person and her/his survivors. But, he points out:
[H]ere is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
I have a pal whose parents lived in the Netherlands. They were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. It wasn’t that they were told they were going to die within the next three months but, in that country, there is no mania for life, no compulsion to live even if living is only a technical distinction. They elected to check out, together, at a time of their choosing. They threw a party for themselves and then, with the help of the Netherlands’ health care system, they went to a place and were ushered out, peacefully, with dignity, and well before the cancer that was growing within them could turn their lives into hell.
That makes a lot more sense than tilting against the windmill of death.
My mother, almost precisely a year ago, was found an inch from death on her bedroom floor by my brother. She’d been laying there for three days. Poor Joey had been overwhelmed with other responsibilities and problems and, for the only time since she’d turned frail and elderly, hadn’t checked in with Ma for those days. Wouldn’t you know it — that’s just when she fell and shattered her hips next to her bed.
When Joey saw Ma laying there, he was certain she was gone. She wasn’t, though. I wrote at the time that I wished she had died then and there. I knew that, alive, she’d be sentenced to a “life” of misery. And so she was.
Ma lost her home. She spent her remaining five months in hospitals and nursing homes, something she’d told me countless times she couldn’t even bear to think about. She was in great pain and she gradually lost touch with reality.
Oddly, some members of the fam. shook their fingers at me. How could you wish our sweet mother/grandmother/great-grandmother to be dead? they said.
I answered, Because she wasn’t really living.
Emanuel writes of those who’ve bought into pushing death back as far as it can go:
So American immortals may live longer than their parents, but they are likely to be more incapacitated. Does that sound very desirable? Not to me.
The situation becomes of even greater concern when we confront the most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities. Right now approximately 5 million Americans over 65 have Alzheimer’s; one in three Americans 85 and older has Alzheimer’s. And the prospect of that changing in the next few decades is not good. Numerous recent trials of drugs that were supposed to stall Alzheimer’s—much less reverse or prevent it—have failed so miserably that researchers are rethinking the whole disease paradigm that informed much of the research over the past few decades. Instead of predicting a cure in the foreseeable future, many are warning of a tsunami of dementia—a nearly 300 percent increase in the number of older Americans with dementia by 2050.
Half of people 80 and older with functional limitations. A third of people 85 and older with Alzheimer’s. That still leaves many, many elderly people who have escaped physical and mental disability. If we are among the lucky ones, then why stop at 75? Why not live as long as possible?
Even if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.
I’m with Zeke. I’ll be more than happy to check out at the age of 75. Just stuff my ashes into a Cubs urn. They still probably won’t have won the World Series by that late date.