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Contemplating End of Life Decision Making: Sunday musings…4/5/2020

Sunday musings…

1) Saturday. My brother (living in San Clemente at the time) once remarked that every day is Saturday in San Diego. Kinda like now, in lockdown during the Pandemic. Every day is Saturday. I literally didn’t know what the hell to do with myself yesterday.

It really WAS Saturday.

2) Nice. As I’ve gotten older I really have become a nicer human being. Some of that is real. I try to be a little nicer to everyone every day. Some of it is really undeserved; it’s been rightly observed that I am at least partly nicer by proxy.

People know who my wife is.

3) Cocktail. “It’s always cocktail hour in a crisis.” The Barefoot Contessa

Boy, isn’t this the truth.

Our dance card is filled every day with invitations to join friends via Zoom or FaceTime or Skype for a virtual cocktail party. My little professional group, C/A, has a standing 6:30 EDT invitation M-F; they have kept me afloat. Just for fun I am seeing how many days I can go before I have to repeat a cocktail. In so doing I’ve kinda usurped my college buddy John’s “Drinks Around the World” shtick by posting each night my “Drinking with John Starr” drink of the day. John, ever the good sport, has responded by sharing recipes and correcting my typos and grammar.

At some point the cocktail hour thing is gonna need to end, at least the daily partaking part of it. But not yet.

Not yet.

4) Walking. Have you seen the meme going around with the dog lying on top of the kitchen cabinets, looking down at its owner who is holding a leash and saying “No, not another walk!” Funny. My little Aussie is thus far insatiable. 30 minutes after I’ve walked her to a point where she stops pulling (usually about 2.5 miles) she’s barking at the closet and ready to go again. We’re both losing some weight (I’ve upped her daily rations), and she seems to have adjusted to our new normal: Dad is home all day, every day.

There have been a number of times over my adult life when  walking was what I could do. Just walking. Surgical recoveries, periods off work, stuff like that. I’ve never really contemplated any type of walking epic. You know, like in that Martin Sheen movie where he traces a walk his deceased son didn’t get to do. I think it may have been in Ireland. Never watched, actually. Or like the time the movie director Werner Herzog walked from Munich to Paris, a 500 mile hike, to visit a sick friend. His pithy observation afterward? “Tourism is a mortal sin, but walking is a virtue”.

One thinks of the wisdom of the ancients. Solivitur ambulando. It is solved by walking. One hopes very much that it is true.

5) Decisions. “If anything happens to Dad and me I’m sending contact information for XXXX who knows everything about our financial situation. Dad keeps all our important papers in files in his closet. We both want to be cremated when we die, and while we would like reasonable efforts made to save us, we don’t want to be on ventilators taking them away from young people who need them more. If a doctor advises that it’s time to end lifesaving efforts–do it (unless he’s drunk- or an ophthalmologist).” Mother of Dr. Glaucomfleken, semi-famous Twitter ophthalmologist

Do you have a last will and testament? Have you discussed what you want done if you are tragically, unexpectedly at the end of time and unable to express your preferences? As I look back I’m pretty sure that Beth and I didn’t really think about this at all until we had our first child, The Heir. I do remember how uncomfortable it was when my folks gathered their progeny around the dinner table one night to tell us what they’d put into their wills and why. The happiness of discovering that our parents had overcome economic disaster and (at the time) actually needed wills to disperse a rather handsome estate should they expire unexpectedly was tempered pretty much completely by the first real notion that they were going to precede us into whatever the next place might be. (My parents’ estate was rendered asunder during the “peak dollar” days in the late 80’s; we are blessed that thus far enough remained to carry them through their later years).

Please take some time to talk about this with the people you love. Even if you are young, like pre-“Heir”  Darrell and Beth young, carve out a little time and talk about this. Make this the one time “Sunday musings…” made a difference.

Listen, I’m not gonna lie, this whole thing has really got me down. The Black Dog (read: Hemingway) has come for a visit; he will eat his fill. Each day is a struggle. I’m OK enough, and likely to remain so. Like my Dad I am terribly afraid of death. What did he think of when he thought of dying? As a devout Catholic why did his faith not bring him more comfort as he grew older? As I’ve grown older I have become much more spiritual while drifting further and further away from religion. There is no peace for me in death, there is only loss. Thinking about leaving my people fills me with sadness. The thought of losing my people fills me with dread. There’s nothing new about that, only that now I find that I can no longer push those thoughts aside.

I’ll be OK. Or as I’ve taken to telling people when they ask, I’ll be OK enough. We’ve talked, Beth and I, and we will be prepared when our time comes, hopefully long after the Pandemic is but a blip on our timeline, but ready now if need be. We’ll not put our families in a place where they must try to divine our intent, nor my dear physician friends who have worked so hard to keep us around thus far. Like the delightful woman I quote above, we will make it simple (I almost said “easy”; it’s never easy) to know what to do. I like the approach taken by the author Stephen Gould after he was diagnosed with cancer in the 80’s:

“It has become, in  my view, a bit too trendy to regard the acceptance of death as something tantamount to intrinsic dignity. Of course I agree with the preacher of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to love and a time to die–and when my skein runs out I hope to face the end calmly and in my own way. For most situations, however, I prefer the more martial view that death is the ultimate enemy.”

For me, for today, that’ll do.

With luck and a tiny bit of grace, I’ll see you next week…

4 Responses to “Contemplating End of Life Decision Making: Sunday musings…4/5/2020”

  1. April 5th, 2020 at 3:26 pm

    P Dee Stephenson MD says:

    As always you make me smile and cry ! You are an awesome person and friend! I always look forward to reading your Sunday Musings. Love you DW !

  2. April 5th, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    drwhite says:

    Thanks Dee!

  3. April 6th, 2020 at 6:38 am

    Laura M Periman, MD says:

    I’m grateful for the rhythm and reliability if your Sunday musings! Grateful for your friendship and leadership. You exude grace and you inspire those around you. Thank you.

  4. April 6th, 2020 at 1:34 pm

    drwhite says:

    Such lovely words from someone I care about so much. Thank you Laura.

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