Saturday, April 15, 2017

Would I Fight That Hard?

My mother has nearly died twice in my lifetime, twenty-five and sixteen years ago, and both times fought back tenaciously and resumed a more or less age-appropriate life. My brother was in very serious trouble a few days ago, and already the medical staff in the hospital are amazed at how much ground he has recovered since regaining consciousness (for anyone that was confused about a post on Facebook the other day, he does not smoke cigarettes. If you want to know what I was referring to, send me a message). My father, on the other hand, never was sick, never was in any sort of serious health trouble, until the day he dropped dead, and I will always be convinced that, after watching several of my aunts and uncles live in diminished states for many years, he willed himself, somehow, to end his life when the heart attack came; he confided to me a few times that he really wasn't interested in merely breathing or existing if he could not be who he was.
I don't normally think about this stuff a lot, but I can't say it has no place in my mind, either, and as I age, the thought of what lies ahead does occupy more space than it used to. When I was younger, I was absolutely convinced that I would be one of those tenacious, fighting types. At this point in my life, though, I wonder. I've had Sabrina to raise for most of the last two decades, and knowing that my absence would powerfully and negatively impact her life was a huge motivating factor. But the job of raising her is largely accomplished now, and that's not so much in the forefront of my mind.
And I take stock of who I am and what my life looks like, and I have to wonder whether, should something catastrophic happen to me, whether I would shut it down, too. I have lived with some chronic pains for many years--my feet hurt for thirty years until I had them operated on, my knees and back act up from time to time--but I have lived largely free from debilitating medical conditions. Despite high blood pressure that never seems to come down no matter what meds I am on, I don't have heart problems, and I have escaped active addiction and some pretty dumb behaviors over the years to not have any diseases or conditions. But that may not be the case forever; I don't really do a lot for exercise, there are times when my life seems to consist of one big stress test, and most importantly, try as I might, I cannot see a future where the environment will improve in any significant way. And while I certainly am going to do nothing to hasten the end, I will cop to thinking, "Is there any real reason, should something happen to me, to fight to hang onto life?" whenever the idea comes into my head.
I left my Catholicism behind long ago, and have, as a result of my recovery process, thoroughly examined the entire afterlife question and the theology that most religions have constructed around it. I don't know if there is an afterlife, but I am pretty sure that there is no Last Judgment, and should there turn out to be, I am pretty convinced that the way I have lived my life is more than well  enough to pass any trials. I'm not afraid, in other words, of what comes next, and the fear of damnation that appears to be many people's primary motivation for hanging onto this life with claws extended is not present in me. So that's not on the table for me, either. I mean, I don't go around hoping to die, obviously, but I am not afraid of it. What trepidation I feel about it is nothing more or less than fear of the unknown, and I've faced that down countless times over the past two decades.
And I'm at another turning point in my life, too, which also feeds this kind of speculation. Obviously, family obligations are going to play a bigger role for months, if not years, with my brother's illness. I am no longer in a romantic relationship, and every day that passes brings a deeper realization that I need to truly distance from it and from her, a process that gets easier every day. Deep changes are coming at my job, and I have a difficult time seeing where I fit in on a long-term basis. Deep changes have already occurred in the world; the world is never perfect, but this headlong descent into madness does not sit well with me, nor does it fill me with any great desire to stick around this world any longer than I have to.
So as I prepare to go the hospital to see my brother before I go to work to try to reach a young man who already is lost in anger, despair, and hopelessness, I conclude that no, I wouldn't fight as hard as many do should I be facing major physical problems. There is much that is enjoyable in my life, and I'm in no hurry to leave it, to be perfectly clear. But it's not so great that I am going to hang onto it at all costs...As in so many things, I have come to be my father's son. The more distance I get from his death--it will be, amazingly, seventeen years since he died next month--the more I am beginning to see that, as much as some of his values turned out to be toxic in my own life, some others turned out to be absolutely on point, And when my time comes, I hope to go like he did--suddenly, with no lingering pains, no wasting away, no diminished capacity, his mind as sharp at the moment of death as it was for all of his life. I remain convinced that he willed himself to shut it all down when the time came, and I hope that turns out to be correct--because if it is, I want to follow in Dad's footsteps one more time.

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