Second Thoughts About Knowing
Last week’s column discussed the advantages people might have if they knew actually how and when they were going to die. Such foreknowledge would allow for them to thank all the folks who have bestowed so many blessings on them over a lifetime; to apologize to those poor souls they have offended or let down; and to plan for a glorious homegoing celebration (funeral). Oh Happy Day!
The problem with the above scenario is that not all the different endings of life allow for planning, thanking, farewell speeches, banquets, and parades. Too often the end is sudden and horrendous: ravished by cancer, struck by lightening, killed in a car crash, or beheaded while scooting thru an icy field on a snowmobile, not seeing the wire fence ahead. How often do you hear that “he was feeling good when he went to bed, and then died in his sleep from a heart attack?” The variety of ways life can come to a sudden end is almost infinite with most causes being very undesirable. In other words, how am I going to feel and react if I know that I am going to slip on a bar of soap in the shower and fall, cracking my head on the tile floor, never to rise again. I die wet! I die clumsy! I die nude! How can I plan around this!
There are two disturbing realities that come into play if one could know how and when they were are going to die: the first is the mental agony of living with the information that your demise was not going to be tidy and painless, but one racked with unspeakable suffering and misery. These are thoughts that no one wishes to entertain no matter how stoic one might be about life’s innumerable cruel endings. We find reassurance and comfort in believing that while horrendous endings do happen, these fall to other people – and certainly these tragic adversities will not descend on us. And if I do catch a cancer, I need to believe that I will be able to endure the painful treatments and surgeries and that I will live many years cancer free afterwards. If I stroke out, new medicines will quickly restore my brain to normal function. If my kidneys fail, there is a transplant immediately available to take care of the problem. In other words, we choose not to accept the brutality of life’s tragedies but instead, we embrace hope, faith, and happy endings, dwelling not on the many harsh realities of life.
The second upsetting hurdle in making your farewell pleasant and well-planned is that you assume that when your time comes you will have the presence of mind and the physical strength necessary to pull it off. The more likely probability as you approach your final day is that you will be in a diminished state – sick, weak, perhaps sedated, just hanging on by a thread. Party, Schmarty! Oh NOT so Happy Day! The truth is that all your grand ideas, bucket lists, farewell blessings, thank you’s, etc.. will most likely die undone along with you.
BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE! Actually the message here is DON’T WAIT!
Since it is reasonable to understand that you, the one leaving, will not have the strength, the mojo, or the time to pull off your noble farewell, you need go get a move on today! You need a Plan B to take care of these splendid sentiments and actions way before your final curtain. Do it while your dew is still on your pumpkin. You can still leave this planet with class, dignity, and style. You don’t have to wait until it is too late if you start today! Here is what you can do to assure that your farewell will be a elegant success:
1. Make a list of all the people you want to thank, apologize to, reconnect with, reward, console, share, donate, help, recognize, etc., and then set up a schedule to visit, write, call, email – whatever and then DO IT! All these altruistic sentiments should be at the top of your Bucket List, not a lot of self-indulgent fantasies such as a trip to Patagonia or a hang-gliding lark off the cliffs of Torrey Pines in California.
2. Tie up all loose ends. Make a will spelling out who gets what from your pile of earthly possessions. Make sure all your debts are paid and your survivor is left in good financial condition. Get rid of all the junk you have accumulated over a lifetime: don’t leave this mess behind for your loved ones to clean up.
3. And finally, select a nice photo and write your own obituary: don’t leave this very important task to chance or to a disgruntled relative.