11/20/14 Yesterday I had an email from an aging college friend I hadn’t seen for almost 40 years. Just his name was enough to bring back memories of when responsibilities were limited to preparing for exams, paying my rent, and making sure the drugs I took were no more than hallucinogenic.
It was a time when the future was infinite, aging, and end-of-life thoughts were something for my parent’s generation. I, just as everyone else in my college circle, thought we would live forever.
Within the past two years, four friends—my contemporaries—have died, and death is now something not confined to “older” people, but a reality for my generation; aging baby boomers.
Although I’ve written about end-of-life issues for the past eight years, I have a gut-wrenching feeling when death is an event that gets closer to home. Wise philosophers have written about the differences between theory and practice; between thinking you know something and experiencing it.
As we age, our knowledge becomes more refined, more personal. What we envisioned is now what we experience, and often the two are dissimilar.
Aging in some ways is similar to two megaphones with their large ends pasted together. In youth, the future seemed as if it was endlessly expanding. Then at a time—different for everyone—the contractions started. Our fear of death was characterized by buying sexy cars, divorces, tummy tucks, risky relationships, and a general denial that we are getting closer to the short end of the megaphone.
In many ways, these issues are the foundation of much that I write about, whether it’s adapting to cancer, understanding what’s involved in caregiving, or learning how to help someone die more peacefully. If you’re my age, 69 years old and you haven’t started thinking about these three problems, you may want to take some time to begin before it’s too late.
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