I realized the other day that next year, 2013, will be a milestone year for a couple of reasons. First it will mark 20 years of living here in Pueblo. Two decades. Sometimes, that’s just hard to believe. My daughter was 10 when we moved here. Just after New Year’s, she’ll be 30. Thinking about having a 30-year-old child is also mind blowing. The other milestone for 2013 is that I’ll be 56, and officially will come of age as a crone. Fortunately, my body has finally got the message. After several up and down years of dealing with all things sanguineous, this past September, I celebrated one full year without a period, thus making me officially in menopause. I wish I could convey the sense of relief I feel about this. I feel like I’ve finally reached the part of my life where I was meant to be. I feel more comfortable in my own skin now, than I ever have, and I’ve been pretty happy with this old carcass for more than half a century now.
Conversely, I also find myself thinking about death. It’s very difficult to talk about this kind of thing. We simply don’t accept death in our society–at least not serious conversations about it. There have been times over the past months where I have wondered, what would it be like? When I have been quite stressed or concerned about finances or any of the day to day things that we allow ourselves to be troubled with, I’ve wondered–if I lay down tonight and didn’t wake up, how bad would that be? I am not suicidal. I don’t WANT to die. But I think if you haven’t given your own mortality some kind of serious thought by the time you get to this age, that’s just silly. We all say ‘no one lives forever’ but how many of us really think about going?
When I was nineteen, I had to go under general anesthesia for the first time. Well, I had my tonsils out when I was three, but I barely remember that. I remember this, though. Surrounding circumstances were terrible, and I remember being in the operating room, surrounded by the gowned and gloved OR staff, and being given the gas or the injection or whatever it was. It was amazing. Imagine you have done a day’s worth of really hard physical labor–yard work, or moving someone, or your regular job if that’s physical. Imagine your muscles are sore, your feet hurt, your back aches, you are just beat. Then imagine you’ve had a hot bath, and you lie down on your bed and get under the covers. You’re so tired you can barely keep your eyes open, but you feel happy and satisfied–you’ve used your body hard, but it responded and did everything you wanted, and now you’re rewarding it by lying down to rest. Imagine that wonderful moment just before you drift off to sleep, how everything relaxes and you just…REST. That’s how going under anesthesia was for me. It was brilliant.
The procedure went fine. I woke up on cue, got through recovery, went on with my life. But later, as I thought back on the whole thing, I relized–if for some reason, I had NOT woken up, guess what? It wouldn’t have mattered! I mean, yes, it would have mattered to other people, my parents, family, friends, etc. but not to ME. I wouldn’t have known the difference. If all there was, was that last lovely moment of utter tiredness, then rest, well, hey…that’s wonderful. Amazing in fact. IF there was something else, IF my noncorporeal self had ‘broken through to the other side’ well, I’m sure that would have been fine, too. At that point, I really began to relax about death.
Long before that, some time in elementary school, ever precocious, I read the autobiography of Eddie Rickenbacker, WWI flying ace, race car driver, and Medal of Honor recipient. At one point in his life, he was in a terrible plane crash and ended up in a body cast for months, unable to move. He talked about the pain he was in, and how at times, it began to go away, and he began to drift toward sleep and feel that wonderful tiredness that I described above. Then he would do anything he could to move, to cause his mending bones to send shooting agony all through his body so he would wake up and come back to life. He knew that that kind of sleep was death and he wasn’t ready to give in. The whole story fascinated me. I still think about his story and how brave and determined he was.
So, is life all about pain? Sometimes I wonder. There have been moments, great, happy, astounding moments in my life over the last 20 years, when I have thought..now. If I died right now, it couldn’t get better. It would be on the highest note so far of a pretty darn good life. There have also been the low moments, times when I simply couldn’t see past the obstacles in front of me and the thoughts again turned to that blessed relief…”who would his quietus make…” Quietus, quiet, sleep, relief, death. It’s not bad to say it. It’s not bad to think it. Death IS a part of life. Sometimes, people just reach the end and need to go. That’s why I have such a different view of suicide than most people. Some people simply can only handle so much pain in life.
I spend a great deal of time involved, however superficially, in other people’s medical affairs. This week, I did three death summaries in one day–one a person my very own age. I see more and more folks are really aren’t that old with no good, very bad, horrible medical problems who spend more time inside hospitals than out of them. That, too, is probably why my thoughts turn toward death more than usual. Perhaps it’s morbid, but I think it’s only natural. It’s also why I keep going to the gym, stay active, stay strong and flexible. As I said before, this is not about a death wish, it’s only talking about a subject that too many people are afraid of. Like NOT talking about it will keep it at bay.
Life is good. Life is sweet. But life is also short, and in the end, we all get to that final lying down, the big sleep. No one escapes. It should be okay to discuss it.