Editor’s Note: As we find ourselves finishing out 2017, which has been the dreariest and most depressing year in my memory, maybe it’s a good time to stay away from politics and think about something only slightly more depressing ... we’re all going to die, and some of us are a lot closer to this abyss than we’d like to think.
the Christmas card season over, there’s little reason to care about opening
the mail. Envelopes filled with cash are rare, no one writes letters anymore
and, as Jerry Seinfeld said, “Without bills, magazines and junk mail, there is no mail.” In particular, one large envelope has been lying
on my kitchen table untouched for months, even though I specifically requested
the paperwork inside.
To prepare for the approach of “The Big Dirt Nap,” my lawyer sent me forms for “The Oldie Trinity”: power of attorney (POA), living will and not-quite-living will. Based on my queasiness about aging and death, I’ve been treating these documents as if they were dusted with weaponized anthrax.
Friedrich Nietzsche (or maybe it was W.C. Fields) wrote: “Life …what good
can you expect of any endeavor that ends in death?” We’re all afraid of the
Grim Reaper — from those who believe they’re headed for heaven to those
worried they’re going to hell to those of us convinced that neither
destination is real.
shouldn’t be afraid. Mark Twain sensibly asserted, “I do not fear death. I
had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not
suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” During all but a tiny fraction
of the universe’s estimated 13.7 billion years, we’ve all been blissfully
unaware. The belief that mankind’s microscopic life span entitles us to
immortality is pure arrogance, and not a wisp of evidence indicates we go
anywhere other than back into the void from whence we came.
over the millennia, the suspicion that we’re all DOA — born with an
expiration date and an unknowable fate — has spawned literally thousands of
religions. It inspires pyramids, cathedrals and mausoleums, and it created the
Pearly Gates, Dante’s Inferno, eternity in Paradise (with 72 virgins) and, my
personal favorite, reincarnation. However, after endless theological debate,
holy wars and holy books, we don’t know any more about the afterlife than the
being the case, we baby boomers need to begin our end-of-life (EOL) paperwork
with a POA. Designating someone to act on your behalf is a tacit admission that
your mental faculties are likely to shut down before your physical body, which
can be an unsettling idea; however, for us senior citizens, it’s probably not
an entirely foreign one.
find yourself standing in the kitchen, staring stupidly at your cabinets, unable
to figure out why you got up from the La-Z-Boy in the den? Ever go to the
supermarket to buy paper towels, only to return with a dozen items, none of
which are paper towels? Do you randomly forget names and even words that are as
familiar to you as your own name? Do you spend way too much time looking for
“misplaced” items, such as your car keys, only to find them in inexplicable
locations, like next to the flounder in your freezer?
glass-half-full interpretation of this mental deterioration is that it’s
nature’s way of easing our path to the EOL. So don’t think of a POA as
something you’re doing for yourself; instead, consider it a gift to the future
caregivers who’ll have to deal with your inevitable decrepitude.
In contrast, the living will, aka healthcare proxy (HP), is for your benefit. My primary care physician has done such a good job keeping me alive that I’m about to become the only male in my lineage ever to collect social security (if Trump, Ryan, McConnell, et al., don’t confiscate it to fund tax cuts for the Koch brothers). However, there may come a time when I want my life span to be “less skillfully” managed. Someday, I might even want a physician who has a picture of Dr. Kevorkian hanging next to his medical degree.
the plug” lists will vary from person to person, but, for most of us, it’s a
Chinese menu of bodily failure. Three from Column A and a couple from Column B
could have you looking to go POF (pillow over face). It’s distressing to think
about the number and combination of potential geriatric symptoms — from
incontinence to gout — that might make you decide you’ve had enough, but
it’s worth specifying, along with the decision whether to include a DNR (do
not resuscitate) in your HP.
distressing is potential pain. As someone who’d take Novocain for a teeth
cleaning — if it weren’t for that big, scary and sharp needle — nothing is
more frightening. One has to admire those courageous enough to endure pain and
hardship to cling to life, but I’m not one of them, and it’s an outcome
I’m planning to avoid.
there’s the will — a legal instrument that causes as much familial strife as
booze, gambling or mistresses. Rule of thumb: The fewer the assets and heirs,
the less stress. With no children, nieces or nephews, I’m not facing difficult
choices. My wife is six years younger than I am, and I take enough medication
daily to kill a small ox (while she takes none). Women live six or seven years
longer than men anyway, so I suspect the final dispensation won’t be my
Hence, I won’t be losing any sleep as to how my will disposes of my earthly possessions. As the disgraced, but perceptive, comic Louis C.K. put it, “What happens after you die? Lots of things — they just don’t involve you.” Ideally, my widow spends our last dime five minutes before she expends her last breath, and there’s nothing to leave behind.
line: There’s no right or wrong way to fill out your EOL paperwork, but you do
need to do it. It’s my New Year’s resolution … so … yeah … one of
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