Designing my own Exit

This life is finite, and unpredictable. There is someone I know who is living the last chapter of her life and lamenting it every day. No, not because it is the last chapter, but because it is taking so long to get to the end. She is dependent on others for her safety, her shelter, and food. Her independent spirit has become a burden for the children caring for her. She wants to do things on her own-when experience has shown everyone it isn’t safe anymore. I don’t need to report incidents; any one of you can probably call up something of your own. A relative, a friend’s relative, someone who forgets to turn off the stove, or the faucet. Someone who fell and now must rely on a cane or walker. Maybe someone who has been instructed to use a walker and refuses to use it and continues to fall-and receives injuries just severe enough to warrant hospital stays ($) and disrupts everyone’s schedule-working, sleeping, etc. The caretakers of these people are tired, confused, guilty, frustrated, and often broke.
I don’t want to get any replies about how we “owe” our family members. None of us owes anyone. We do what we do out of love or compassion. When we have reached a critical point in our lives regarding that person’s care, we shouldn’t have to struggle with some cultural familial “debt.”
Before any of you shoots off some noble essay about the last moments of someone’s life, let me finish.
I spent a long time in a nursing facility as a caregiver. This was one of the best facilities around. For confidentiality reasons, I won’t name it. I can’t tell you how many times a resident looked at me, in a fleeting moment of lucidity and asked “how much longer will this go on?”
We have discovered ways to stretch out a person’s life far beyond what Nature intended. Believe me, I have changed adult diapers on people who could do nothing but lie in bed. All day. Every day. We turned them, lifted them into wheelchairs, and pushed them down the hall to the Dining Room. We fed them, then wheeled them back to change their briefs, again, and their clothes and lifted them into bed. We changed their briefs during the night and started it all again the next morning. During all this, a nurse periodically gives them medication that maintains their heart rate. If their stool changes, we notify the nurse and she gives them medication for anything the change indicates. These people receive medication for everything. Nature tries, regularly, to lead them through that final door-and the healthcare industry pulls them back. They don’t eat. The nurse gives them nutrition. They are usually so medicated they will swallow or drink anything they’re given.

I could give you more, and more specific, illustrations, but confidentiality prevents that. And that’s as it should be. There are many other areas I could get into, about family guilt and refusal to let go, etc., but I’m not going to do that. My point here is this: I ain’t gonna do this. I WILL NOT end up in a facility with someone wiping my ass and feeding me. I WILL NOT live past the point when I can take care of myself. I WILL NOT continue to draw breath and call it living. It isn’t living.

I don’t have children to manipulate into taking care of me. I don’t have any family that I would manipulate into doing that. If I can’t pay my own rent, wash my own dishes, cook my own food without being a danger to myself and the neighborhood….MY TIME IS UP.

So, here’s my point. I want to die while I’m living. I can look around me and see that living to 100 is going to be fairly common. But like the person I know, the last 20 years could be dependent on someone else. Nope. SO I’m looking at 70-80. I am healthy; I take care of myself so that’s a reasonable age. That means I have a limited time to make art, write and experience whatever I want to experience.

Now, before anyone decides to write me about the unpredictability of life, I realize anything could happen, anytime. I could be in a car wreck tomorrow and end up paralyzed from the neck down. That’s a chance I am taking, and another reason for this essay. I know a Living Will can keep me from being hooked up to breathing machines, but what about if I’m conscious. How do I get past that? Is there legislation for a shot, something to get it over with? Does anyone know anything about that? If there is nothing, is there some person or organization I could petition? If anyone has more information on that, please reply.

Back to my personally designed demise.

I believe we should talk to our families, friends, and coworkers so they know how we feel. If we decide to take leave of this existence, they shouldn’t be left with our mess. I plan to empty my home-sell what’s worth selling, give to my loved ones anything I want them to have, write letters take care of legal matters. I will send my brother or niece (whoever is around at the time) enough money to dispose of the remains so no one has to dip into their own account because of me.

I hope they will mourn me, hope they will remember how terrific I was-and how much I loved them. That’s one of the main reasons I plan to do this my way. I do love them. I don’t want them to end up resenting me, whether privately or not. I don’t want to ever be something my brother or my niece wishes hadn’t happened.

And as for anything religious, I don’t think that way. I don’t believe this is anything but an experience, same as the birds and deer and maple trees. I am an organism, nothing more or less. I’m not some special Being that deserves more than any other organism. We all are connected; all have the same level of importance. I’m not interested in anyone’s idea of reincarnation or Heaven or any of that stuff. I’m 55, almost 56, for Pete’s sake, and I’ve heard it all, OK?

This is IT. This is what we get. And I’m not going to overstay my welcome and spend years wondering the halls of some State facility, my eyes glazed over, a urine soaked diaper under my nightgown.

Hopefully, it won’t come to any of that. I’ll go in my sleep after a really good Art show where I sell lots and lots of art. Or after a book signing where I’m feted by local literary society. Wouldn’t THAT be fabulous? Then my brother and my niece would make lots of money off my work, instead of trying to figure out how to pay for my cremation.

And don’t’ tell me that healthcare will be so sophisticated by then that I won’t have to worry about good care. That’s not my point. I don’t want good care! Once a person is OLD and can’t contribute anymore, it’s time to GO. OK, we can all take a while to say good-bye. I’m not asking our society to throw old people down a communal canyon to die. I’m asking people to take responsibility for their death, just as we should be responsible for our lives. Don’t worry, there will ALWAYS be those who won’t give it another thought, just like they didn’t give anything a thought-like babies and healthcare and on and on, so nursing facilities will always have someone to nurse.

There are those of us, though, who believe that going out is as important as coming in. We didn’t get to choose how we got here, or to whom, but we can certainly choose our moment of exit-unless Nature and Chance take that away from us.

I am planning to take care of all my stuff, tell everyone I love them and goodbye, and take a good long hike. I may or may not come back. Right now, I’d like to end it out in the woods, where I’ve always been happiest. I haven’t decided yet. I’m looking at everything. I figure about 20 years is what I have left.

AT 55, that doesn’t seem like such a long time, so I need to get busy making art, writing, interacting with the people I love. This essay is written and posted for the world to see so there will be no misunderstanding when it’s time for me to go-and I’ll decide when that is.

3 responses to “Designing my own Exit

  1. Michelle Slater-Young

    All I want to say to you Miss Kath-a-leen, is that I love you and I totally understand where you are coming from and I am in full agreement. As you know, Joseph and I are not having children. And wouldn’t you know, when I told my father about our “childless by choice” existence, the first thing he asked was “So who is going to take care of you when you are old?” Thinking of children as an insurance policy is just wrong on so many different levels. I am not saying that I endorse suicide, but I am with you in the fact that I want to leave the party before it is over, I don’t want to be a stinky fish hanging around in the fridge fouling up people’s existences while I “hang-out” past my expiration date. Anyways, Joseph and I miss you lots and I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I have left a few messages on various entries, I am not sure if you received them, but when I look at past entries’ comment fields I don’t see them. I will send you an email soon, I just wanted to tell you that all I care about is that you are happy and that you are making art and writing, and when it is your time to move on, I just hope that I am one of the people you say goodbye and I love you to before you make your exit.

  2. To Michelle and everyone else: Of course I will say goodbye! My main point in all that ranting (and it waas rather a long one, wasn’t it?) is that we should communicate honestly and openly with the people we love. Taking yourself out without letting them know it is a sane, thought-out choice is unfair. It leaves them with such guilt and sorrow that it is unforgiveable.
    So don’t worry-I’ll make sure I touch everyone before I leave. And Michelle, I love your reference to leaving before the party is over to avoid becoming “stinky fish” LOL!

  3. I’m with you, Katie…a little older than you and a bit closer to death, but I don’t want to be a stuffed animal in a chair or bed.

    Life is for the fully living….and when we come to that time that we aren’t….then we need a plan.

    Thank you for this very thoughtful essay.

    Lady Nyo

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