I talk a good game. It's easy to do when you are able to walk around, take nourishment and have more or less regular episodes in the bathroom. Talk is cheap. Adversity is the real test of "a good game". I talk a lot about growing older and all the interesting dimensions of that process. What I don't talk a lot about is the end game. Life after the TWO MINUTE WARNING.
I've been around the sick and dying off and on all my life. The end game is played out in as many ways as there are players in the game. That's all of us, folks, every last one of us. I can't say I've seen it all. Frankly, I am happy not to have seen it all. But I've seen enough to feel qualified to say that though the end comes to us all, it does not come in the same way to us all.
For many, there is no two minute warning. A blinding flash, a numbing jolt in the brain, a simple last sigh in the night, or a stupid act by a stupid driver - no warning - CRASH! St. Peter has heard it millions of times, "But I didn't hear the two minute warning!"
My partner CA is a hospice nurse. She can talk about dying with as much focus as if she were describing a new cardinal pair at the feeders. She is really engaged and loves the work. It's a mission, if you will, that seems to me to have real value. I couldn't do it five minutes. The hospice mission is to seek to assure as little pain and discomfort at the end as possible.
A dear friend of mine, living out west, says now and then in our many email exchanges, that she believes in rational suicide. I guess what she means by that is that it's only for thinking people. She asks, "Why can't I be in control of the end like I am in control in the middle?" I can't find any fault with that. Although, for me, the "middle" often seems out of control.
I saw this enormously gripping program about assisted suicide where this middle aged man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - ALS - Lou Gehrig's Disease. In its final stages one can not even swallow, having lost all control of bodily functions. It's a less than ideal exit I am told. He and his wife traveled to Switzerland, where it is apparently legal to have someone who is licensed, to assist in the end of life process. This man wanted to have control over his dying while he could still hold the cup containing his "cocktail" and swallow it. He went to sleep listening to his favorite music and holding his wife's hand. He heard the two minute warning and he played it out according to his own play book. I sat there as a stone, much the same way I remember feeling when I first saw that clip of the first atomic bomb test in the desert. I had to remember to breathe.
The other "personal" way out is what I call the Kodak method, named after the inventor of the once ubiquitous Brownie roll film camera. George Eastman sat in his office one night in March 1932 at the age of 77 years and put a pistol to his chest and fired a bullet into his heart. Now, a head shot would have been an instantaneous "light's out" experience - I am told. I am convinced that there was a beat or two before the lights went all the way out that the fly on the wall might have heard something like, "My goodness, but that hurt." But, probably not. He was a determined man. He left a note - "To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?"
There is the view that claims that we should hold out as long as possible in case someone bursts through the door with the hoped for miracle cure, or just a raw miracle. I suppose that could happen, but it sounds more like magical thinking than science. If you live long enough the very idea of a miracle cure becomes kind of irrelevant, if not darkly humorous.
I suppose that if we are lucky we will hear the two minute warning and begin executing our end of game plan. Things like making sure everyone knows where your last will and testament is filed, what you want to happen to your mortal remains, who gets your porno films, your old drug paraphernalia, your gun and your leftover prescription drugs which could be worth a lot of money on the street. It would, however, seem the ultimate irony to think of luck at the time of one's death. I mean, really.
No, incase you're wondering, I have not heard a two minute warning. However, I do remember that impossibly boring half time program that seems like a long time ago.
I'll see you around.