Erin's Journals

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Just a thought… People don’t take trips; trips take people. [John Steinbeck]

Very few of us talk about having a choice in our deaths, do we?

(Hey, Erin, that’s a cheery start to your journal…what happened to you this weekend?)

Actually, plenty, but my thoughts have been about heading down this road for some time. Come with me for the ride; there’s a cruise at the end!

First some background: there are three things that have set this 60-year-old (to whose obituary my contemporaries and elders would say, “so young…” and a few others would mutter, “has she shut up yet?”) aboard this train of thought.

  • A long and detailed visit with our lawyer about our estate plans: who will get what, when, and so on. It took me days to shake a deep sense of sadness. With no children, but two grandchildren and a planned timeline for inheritance, it’s more complicated than many. Of course, like most couples, whoever goes first, Rob or I, will leave everything to the other. I hope to heck it’s not me. I’m not set up for this.

  • My dad’s decline. The man was a good father, a wonderful grandad, an upstanding person and, to me, the embodiment of intelligence, kindness and integrity. At 90, he is in the tightening grips of dementia. He’s otherwise healthy, cheerful for the most part, enjoys his meals and the company of family around him and has as good a life as he can (thanks to my sisters who make sure he gets the care he needs, climbing through flaming hoops at times to do so). But it’s still desperately sad to see him need help to shower, to take care of his personal hygiene, and so many practices that any fully able person takes for granted.

  • Time. I’m 60. Rob’s nine years older. We look at our little dog and can only hope to share the rest of our lives with her. That’s where we are.

Okay, I’ll pause here. I’m going to get a lot of advice, some of which I’ve found by doing the research: “meditate,” “don’t focus on it,” “live one day at a time,” “set goals,” “life is a terminal illness,” and on and on. In my logical mind, I know that all of this wisdom is sound. (After all, I found it on the internet! LOL.) And please resist any inclination to bring your god into this, whoever She or He may be. My spiritual beliefs are my own.

We don’t discuss our inevitable end enough and I can NOT be the only person dreading it. What happens when we can no longer be like our soon-to-be 98-year-old friend Mira, who lives capably on her own, and we have to move into assisted living or full-time care? Who will make sure we’re protected and cared for properly?

And why do we strive to live so damned long?

The biggest Catch-22 of MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying, of which I am an unabashed proponent where the patient deems appropriate) is that you can’t ask for it unless you’re in your right mind. Terrific. That means when my marbles are plunking out of the gumball machine that is my head, it doesn’t matter if I’ve made it clear I don’t want to live this way.

Sure, I might wake up and eat my Froot Loops, peck at my lunch, enjoy dinner and snacks and the odd baseball game while waiting around for bed between nurse visits to get my knickers changed, but is that living? I’m sure not expecting anyone to take time out of their life to spend a few hours every couple of days with me when I’m 90. And I am damned if I’m going to sit in God’s waiting room, and think to myself: Wait, I gave up carbs and drinking for this?

How about as grown adults we get more choice in how we leave: something like a Bill of Rights when it comes to our own personal exit strategy?

A magic pill would be great, but no MD who wants to keep their license will supply it (unless laws change). Stored in a safe place behind lock and key, it would be quick, quiet, and relatively tidy. I’d go to sleep and not wake up, a dream-come-true for a morning radio person.

Of course there’s room for such a means for a gentle good-bye to be misused by people who stand to inherit and don’t choose or can’t afford to wait, cash-strapped governments that don’t want to pay out old age pensions, and such. I’m not so naïve that I can’t see the ways in which it would be abused.

I’m stuck in this way of thinking these days and, yes, it’s possible my life needs some adjusting. But I’m OKAY. Besides, if you think someone who wrote a bestselling book about surviving loss would end her life and take away the hope that she wanted to instill in the lives of others, you don’t know me. I’ve far too much ego to let that be my epitaph.

In all of this wandering down a dark mental road, I did get one idea that could make me millions that I wouldn’t be around to spend. (Live it up, kids!)

Stay with me here.

Statistically, each year (and this is believed to be a very conservative estimate) at least 200 people in the world board a cruise and don’t get off alive. We’re not talking episodes of Dateline. Look around on a ship at the demographics of the passengers. At least on the ones we’ve enjoyed, passengers are generally older, less steady on their feet, and often hell-bent on getting their money’s worth out of the daily pre-paid bar tabs, those buffets, gourmet restaurants and so on.

So here’s my idea and you’re welcome to it, as long as I get a free passage when I want one: buy your one-way ticket, say your good-byes, and then, a couple of days into a lovely excursion – maybe after a wild fling or two with the dance instructor – you’re quietly given a potent cocktail in your cabin by the most handsome, gentlest doctor on the high seas. Then, when you don’t wake up the next day, you’re wrapped up in your bedding, slid into the water to the strains of Josh Groban and your cabin is cleaned up for the next port of call.

I thought of this initially in a moment of my usual dark humour and I don’t wish to cause any offence if a loved one died on a ship. But the more I consider it, the more I wish that such a cruise existed. Maybe one day, but I won’t hold my breath. Wouldn’t work anyway, in my business plan.

Is it so wrong to wish for a Right to Death movement and go out as we lived: proudly and on our own terms?

Rob WhiteheadTuesday, August 8, 2023