“Do you want to live?” my nieces asked my sister as she was rapidly declining.
“Yes,” she replied. But was “Yes” the true answer?
My older sister, Kathy, was in a lot of pain for most of her 70s. She used to love to fly down to Florida to be pampered by Ray and me. We’d always send her home a new person. But, for the past few years, she wasn’t able to handle the flight.
Kathy had doctor appointment after doctor appointment, and she’d tell me that she was ready to go.
My sister had a lot to live for: dear devoted girlfriends, six grandchildren who adored her, and three children who loved her “to the moon and back.”
Ray and I were talking about death with our friend, Lesley, who took us out for dinner. What a fun afternoon we had, which should have been enough. My senses were all stimulated by the sight of loved ones, the taste of rainbow trout, the smell of fried potatoes, and the sound of Lesley’s laugh. That could have been heaven if I stayed focused and didn’t start talking about death.
Lesley actually brought it up after listening to the latest podcast I did with Hayley Evans, “Are You Happy Without the Movie?”
We have a good friend whose husband just died. Their love for one another created a beautiful bond you might imagine would never break. The survivor was confronted with financial decisions for which he was totally unprepared. I fear that myself.
What makes us ready to die? What makes us want to keep living? Can we control the outcome?
“Let me live to see my daughter married.”
“Let me live to see my son graduate.”
“Let me live until we celebrate our 50th.”
Who are we asking to let us live long enough to see things to their conclusion? Does our will to live stop fluid from filling up our lungs? During the AIDS epidemic, some people blamed the deceased for not trying hard enough.
Is it harder to let go if you’re in a deeply loving relationship? Do older single people think about it less often? How much does religion quiet the nerves and untangle the web of grief?
Maybe I’m thinking about it more because my body is weaker and I’m writing my memoir. Ray is shredding all accumulated paperwork from the past 47 years. He doesn’t want me burdened with the task of figuring it out.
If you ask me, “Do you want to live?” my truthful answer is “Yes,” but there are days I feel I’m ready to go.
Many of us know healthy and happy people in their 90s. Are they that age because they want to live, or does willpower have nothing to do with it? I think it’s more about genes, although in many instances we can sometimes stretch out the inevitable to celebrate something meaningful.
Brian McNaught has been an author and educator on LGBTQ issues since 1974. Former Congressman Barney Frank said of Brian, “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it’s like to grow up gay." http://www.brian-mcnaught.com/