Monday, July 30, 2012
HOW TO DIE
Joe Klein wrote the cover story on "How to Die."
He's a respected, award-winning columnist. He wrote, anonymously, "PRIMARY COLORS," a bestseller about Bill Clinton's run for the presidency; also other books and articles that I've enjoyed. And this cover story.
I didn't like the title of this cover story. I didn't want to read it. and even after I read it, I didn't want to write about it, even though I pay attention to Klein's opinions.
It was a long article about the death of his parents, who died a few weeks apart.
Klein let us know, in detail, that his mom suffered from dementia, that she was very weak as the end of her life approached, that she needed a feeding tube.
He described, in detail, his father's forgetfulness, dementia, macular degeneration, problems with his kidneys, and Dad's resistance to getting a feeding tube -- then, ultimately, getting a feeding tube.
Joe Klein explained his deep concern with following the "do not resuscitate instructions" in their wills.
I didn't want to read all that -- the moment I saw the red cover of Time, I was angry. I wasn't sure why. I just knew that I didn't want to share my thoughts about how to die in a blog post, a chatty-chat about death that would be read by other people who might feel the way I feel, about being invaded by someone else's experiences.
How do animals handle death? From what I've seen on television, I figure they skulk around, sniffing, bringing food, or whatever, that will make the nest, the home, their place of rest, more comfortable.
We have to die, and the moment that knowledge enters into your life as something that's real, you are changed, and changing. There is less joy, a different sense of time, an awareness and concern about every little ache or pain, and things like bumping into something, or a word you can't remember.
And then, there's the war with the mirror -- a wrinkle, eyes not seeing or hearing things, your hair ... is less. I sometimes feel I look like what Picasso was thinking when he made this self- portrait.
For me, it's important not to think about dying or decaying or what I can no longer do. Instead, I need to be in the now, in the moment of the day.
What keeps me going is, in a way, a heavy-duty compulsion -- a full-time watchfulness and pushing away of all unsolvable problems. Not mentioning them. I know them. You've got yours and I've got mine. It won't make me feel better to hear about yours, or tell you mine.
Reality: I've been worried about growing old since age 33, (actually before I hit 30). In show business, and "dance" is show biz, how you look is as important as talent.
So on and on Joe Klein went, telling us in wonderful detail, about the strength and intelligence of his parents, and how they lost, inch by inch, most of that. And he describes the decisions he had to make, to help them die -- decisions about doctors, hospitals, where to live, various treatments and medications -- based on what Joe felt his father and his mother wanted.
What did they want? What do I want? What do you want?
I want to deal with this myself. I don't want to listen to ads, sales people, doctors, or friends. I will deal with disappearance of the prowess of sight, hearing, taste, appetite, physical energy, memory, and my abilities to type out words.
I didn't like the way my father died too young . I didn't like the way Mom started cutting herself off from the world in her seventies, and continued doing this more and more, deliberately making herself dependent on uncaring hospital caretakers.
My thing is to stand strong, and if I can't stand, sit up strong.
In a weak moment I read this to my husband. He'd just finished doing a reading of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" with a cast of older, enormously successful actors who were, many of them, movie stars.
"I like what you wrote," my husband said.
"Well, I don't like it, I don't think what I've written makes a point." I said.
"Hey Em," John said, "All those guys I was working with -- every one of them is worried about all the things you mentioned -- about not being as good as they used to be, about losing powers, prowess -- about losing status." John named-dropped some major star names.
If you want to read what Joe Klein wrote, here's link to the Time article. Reading it will probably make you feel worse about the end of life, but at least you don't have to go out and buy the magazine.
My very first boy friend loved to sing rounds and taught me this one. I like the tune -- singing it cheers me up.