Chris Jepson: The end of your choice

Chris Jepson

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“An old man should have more care to end life well than to live long.”@— Captain J. Brown

For you, Gentle Reader, is there a specific moment in life when you cross that inevitable line and become, well, uh, old? How do you know when that benchmark has been achieved? When the band plays and you pass on dancing? When FOX News is on and your mind isn’t? When your thoughts are narrower, more constricted than your arteries? How about when you receive a mailer, out-of-the-blue, on planning your funeral?

Yes, that’s the ticket, literally, a free dinner to a pre-planning seminar on owning your final arrangements. Actually, I played with the wording on the mailer. It literally reads, “We all make plans: wedding, vacations, retirement. It’s an important part of life. And it makes a difference, especially when it comes to your own final arrangements and memorial service.” I prefer my version, “to own your final arrangements.”

I embrace the perspective of Epicurus when he offered, “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” Ah, but the inherent flaw with that line of reasoning is, sure, if you do not exist, it would be a challenge to be concerned with dying and, yes, when you no longer exist, how can death be a concern? The rub, my fellow traveler, is while we are alive dying most assuredly concerns us.

I confess to disappointment over human lifespans. Some turtles, lots of trees, even some sponges—SPONGES!—have longer lifespans, years longer than human beings. Where’s the fairness in that? I regularly offer a toast to “More.” More art. More camaraderie. More beauty. More life. More.

A “fun” philosophical question for the dinner table is, “Would you rather die five minutes too soon or five minutes too late?” Would you rather die in complete control of your faculties, rationally managing your end, or be reduced, for example, to walking vegetable matter because of Alzheimer’s disease?

I was prompted by a corporate mailer to consider my arrangements by planning for death. That’s nice. One problem: Any planning is for after-the-fact, after I die. I find that an incomplete scenario. I am much more interested, particularly for my loved ones, on the circumstances of my death, rather than how inexpensively they get the old man (that’s me) in the ground. If I do it right, I will own my death as I owned my life.

My thoughtful corporate death-planning partner emphasized in their promotional materials the idea of “Dignity.” Not necessarily dying with dignity, but rather being put in the ground with dignity. What a hoot. If I was stuffed and ultimately mounted on the wall as a venerable candleholder, I could care less; I am after all dead. No, where death and dignity meet is when you are still alive and lucid.

I recommend Boomers make a gift to America (spare the U.S. Treasury the horrendous Medicare costs associated with end-of-life care), make a significant gift to future generations and die with dignity, die on your own terms. Own your death as you lived your life.

Dying isn’t the question. Never is. It’s when. It’s how. Make the living will. Have DNR tattooed in four-inch letters on your chest. Have the phenobarbital and Jack Daniels readily accessible. Have people around who share your values and your reverence for quality of life. Live life well until you choose otherwise.