Dick Tracy: Let’s discuss ‘the great inevitable’
Woody Allen once commented, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
Lots of people, including me, feel that way. Death is a taboo subject in polite conversation. You don’t go there.
But let’s face reality: If life can be characterized as a horse race, I’m “in the stretch” at age 80, and can thank modern medicine, a watchful wife and good luck for getting this far.
A recent notice from my life insurance company politely notes that my policy will remain in effect until December of next year. Then, if I’m still here, they’ll send a small rebate and our relationship ends.
That’s fine with me.
One of my best buddies from my Sacramento Bee days, photographer Dick Schmidt, can talk with authority on this subject. He recently dropped dead at the Honolulu airport while waiting to board a plane home. No breathing, no pulse. But, because of the quick action of two nurses, who were also standing in line and who used a defibrillator and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he’s now recovering from open heart surgery.
Suppose he’d been relaxing on the beach instead of at the airport?
I was curious if he recalls anything about being, “on the other side.” But Jan, his life companion, says: “But then he doesn’t even remember his dreams.”
On a recent visit to Colorado, Felicia and I stopped for lunch in the rustic community of Nederland, where the major annual event is, “Frozen Dead Guy Days.”
The story goes that a man named Bredo Morstoel left money in his will to keep himself packed in dry ice (a cryogenic crypt) so that he might be revived at some future date when there’s a cure for whatever killed him. And for three days in March he’s honored by a parade and all sorts of activities including Silent Disco, A Coffin Race and a Frozen T-shirt Contest.
No, Bredo doesn’t take part. He’s “slumbering” in a Tuff Shed high above the 8,800-foot altitude community.
Now there’s a guy who refuses to “go gentle into that good night”.
Closer to home, our family practitioner laughs when recalling telling an 85-year-old female patient that all her “numbers” were excellent. To which she replied, “Oh, good! I’m going to die perfectly healthy!”
She, and others, have got things figured out.
When I was at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital getting a lengthy globulin infusion in advance of surgery, a number of cancer patients were there for chemotherapy.
Across the room, one such man, who appeared to be, “fit as a fiddle,” was talking to a nurse and she suddenly reacted with a start to what he’d said.
“Oh, don’t be alarmed, dear,” he said quietly, reassuringly patting her hand, “I’m dying.”
Remember the Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”? In it the story of the man who’s born old and gets younger each day unfolds at the New Orleans hospital bedside a dying woman as Hurricane Katrina rages outside. And her daughter asks, “Are you frightened, Ma?”
To which the mother answers, “I’m curious.”
Aren’t we all? Isn’t that a main reason for religion?
There are things I find more frightening than death. A long painful disease from which there is no escape. Or dementia. Some of our most fascinating friends have fallen victim to Alzheimer’s and it’s a human tragedy.
Happily, there are those who accept their fate. Go to the internet and check out deathcafe.com, a nonprofit gathering where people enjoy tea and cake and chat about dying. Does that give you the shivers? It really shouldn’t.
An example of the healthy attitude concerning the end of life is that of the late entertainer Carol Lawrence, who reached the age of 97.
Several years ago she was interviewed by a Wall Street Journal reporter who asked if there was anything she hasn’t gotten around to doing yet.
She had the perfect response:
“No, I did everything that I ever thought was marvelous.”
Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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