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How Do You Know When You’ve Lived Enough?

on 5 November, 2014

Thoughts about the recent state sanctioned suicide in Oregon had me thinking.

Years ago when I was living in California and my parents were both alive and living in Iowa, I had a very strange conversation with my mother. As best as I can figure, she was about 65ish and had celebrated forty some years married to my father, given birth to ten children and experienced two of those children’s deaths. She had lived a fairly hard life, yet she had overcome every battle and gone on.

It was a simple statement and I don’t recall what brought the discussion to that point, but in a matter-of-fact tone she told me that she was ready to go. I think I stopped, stumbled for words and asked her to repeat what she said. She explained that she had lived past the point of the ages of her parents when they passed away and now that it was just her and Dad, she was ready to die.

I remember stumbling over words and probably said something like didn’t she want to be around to see her youngest grandchild get married (my son) or have his own kids? She was finally retired (as well as my Dad) and didn’t she want to enjoy her life now that she wasn’t living it for the sake of others?

I don’t think the conversation lasted much longer than that. I probably just dismissed her comments as crazy and brushed her words aside. My mom, in fact, would live another almost twenty years.

But those words have returned to me briefly from time to time. I think she was saying something pretty profound but I don’t think I was listening. As it turns out, those twenty years she would go on to live, were pretty much just existing – not at all living. She spent those years for the most part sitting in front of a television that she didn’t really even watch. Slowly, the things that had meant anything to her over the years, were discarded and she tuned out from the world. She still enjoyed when her children would visit, more so when they brought their children (and her children’s children). The younger, the better. It was about the only joy I recall seeing her have.

So, when does “life” end? We all have our own definitions, and for me, it will be when I no longer can coax joy out of those things and people who bring me joy now. My son – who is my whole world – and is the only reason my heart still beats. I have been truly blessed to have had a really great life and wouldn’t change one minute – even if I could. I’ve had a long and rewarding career which has given me the funds to do much of what I now enjoy… I guess for the most part you can wrap it all up under the broad category of “creating”… art, words, quilts, painting, etc. etc.

But I have always had health issues, including but not limited to, my weight, headaches, joint pain. Living round the clock with almost constant pain truly wears a person out – both physically and mentally. I have found a way to deal with it these past few years, but I am now finding that I am building a tolerance (or the headaches are getting worse) and the pain is more prevalent. I’d love to finally be free of that.

In some way, age seems to have stolen much from me: my youth, my looks, my vibrancy and my enthusiasm. More and more I find that all I want to do is sleep (probably a side effect of the drugs) and my energy and desire to do things wane more with each passing year.

A few weeks ago, my former sister-in-law passed away… and though we had only really met one another once I believe, it struck me when I was told that she was a year younger than me. She simply came home from work one day, sat down in a chair to relax for a few minutes and died. Her husband found her like that a few hours later. And though you may think that this sounds harsh, I think it is a great way to go. Go to sleep and simply never wake up.

I suppose that is why death has been on my mind lately. One thing that runs in both sides of my family is longevity… dying young in my family means you didn’t get to your 90th birthday!



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