Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dying to talk?

     I hope it’s no surprise to you, but you’re going to die. We all will. Eventually. Some day. So why not talk about it?
     That’s been the problem for a long time, especially in American culture. It’s not that we don’t realize our mortality, but it’s not a subject that we’re comfortable discussing. Anything else – birth, taxes, thinning hair, gaining weight, religion, politics, even – we’ll talk about easily and at length. But not death. Ewww. Can’t we change the subject?
     We dare not. Our own quality of life – and death – depend on it.
     There’s been lots of media coverage recently about the problems we have with dying. Too many of us spend the last days of our lives in a hospital, hooked up to machines that desperately try to put off the inevitable. It’s an uncomfortable, undignified, wildly expensive way to go. And it could be avoided if we’d only talk about the subject more.
     Statistics show that most of us would prefer to die in our own homes, surrounded by our loved ones, unfettered by ultimately useless machines and drug-delivery systems. That’s the sensible, humane way to exit. But to make that happen we need to tell our relatives what we’d like. And tell our doctors. And put it in writing.
     This isn’t so-called “death panel” stuff. Fears about that are all political flimflammery. This is common sense.
     Talk to your family and your physician. Fill out an advance directive of your wishes and get it on file pronto.
     And then, relax. Talk all this over once and you shouldn’t have to do it again. “Over my dead body” is not an approach to the subject that works. Except literally, and then it’s way too late.

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