Thursday, July 19, 2012

When I die

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
I don’t think about death.  It has really never been on my mind.  However, I have had deaths thrust upon me in a variety of ways.  I had to identify my father’s body when he died with his boots on teaching a seminar at the University of Michigan while I was a student there.  My mother died in a nursing home in California.  My mother-in-law died in a Hospice facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  One of our close friends died of lung cancer at 45 years old, and he never smoked.  The main benefactor of the church I attend died, and I went to his funeral.  And, with a father-in-law who is 98 years old, death is likely to be thrust upon me once again.
The obvious question is, “You never think of death?”
Well, I don’t like the thought of death, and I do everything I can now so that it is less likely to happen until much later in my life.
What do I do?  First, I do not smoke, and anytime I am near a smoker I move away and out of any direct line of smoke.  Second-hand smoke can kill you too.  Second, I eat between five and ten servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.  Third, I engage in vigorous exercise (both body-toning and aerobic) three times each week for over two hours each time.  Fourth, I limit my alcohol consumption to one beer per day — and that’s all.  Fifth, I watch my weight and remain slim.  Sixth, I have reduced most stress from my life.  Directing a large, basic, speech-communication course of about 1,000 students per term and over 30 graduate-teaching assistants for 22 years ended more than 15 years ago.  That eliminated a great deal of stress.
There are other ways, too, that I try to prolong my life.  I take calcium pills, niacin, a multi-vitamin, and fish oil.  Before going to bed, I take a pill to keep my cholesterol in check and one to help control my blood pressure.  Also, I take one 81-mg aspirin tablet.  And that’s not all.  I get plenty of sleep, laugh a lot, get my annual flu shot, keep my mind active by learning and being challenged by knowledge and information, look on the bright-side of life, express my feelings as openly and freely as possible, get regular physical examinations, find ways to relax, communicate with my wife often, and, most important of all (to me!), I remain a very happy person.
You might wonder why I go to all this trouble to prolong my life?  What will be, will be.  It was Woody Allen who once quipped, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work . . . I want to achieve it through not dying.”  That’s my philosophy as well.
Catherine Morgan, in her essay, “How to Live Longer: Could Four Tips Prolong Your Life” (January 07, 2008), at, writes, “There is no question that most of our lifestyle choices are what will determine whether we age in good physical and mental health or fall prey to sickness and disability. Although it may be a cliché, moderation is the key in everything. . . .”
But all of the information above doesn’t address the title of this essay: “When I die.”   It’s important that my death not be a big event.  All there is at one’s death is the end of life.  There is nothing more.  And everything that one has done during life can be celebrated, honored, and noted — but nothing more.  It should be simple, to the point, and with no extraordinary flourishes of any kind.  What has been is over, and there is no “what is to be.”
I think that an important question to ask, and one I have often considered, is, “Did he [or she] leave this a better place because he [or she] lived?”  (To play Bill Gaither’s hymn, “Because he lives,” at my funeral with the special notation that “he” refers to me and to nothing more, would work well. I fully realize that the lyrics of the hymn, “God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus; He came to love, heal and forgive; He lived and died to buy my pardon, ...” belies my intent; however, I love the song!) 
I need to mention, too, that I want Henry J. van Dyke’s 1907 hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” (to the tune of the 9th Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven; adapted by Edward Hodges in 1824) played as well.  Although it has the same problems (for me!) as “Because He Lives,” I like the song because it promotes trust and joy and hope.
One thing that many who plan for their own death forget is the effect it will have on others — family, friends, and concerned others.  Our death is likely to make a big difference in the lives of others, and as much as I would like control over what happens when I die, I have to be respectful and considerate of my family and friends.  I will offer my suggestions; they will do as they please.  After all, I’ll be dead.
Okay, when I die I want it simple, as I have stated.  I want the funeral and any tributes that take place to be short.  I would rather emphasize the social part, the “getting together” part, the fun part.  That is, I would prefer it to be a celebration of my life rather than a morbid, dismal, somber, and miserable experience of my passing.  I want the people attending to have a good experience.  It’s the “a good time was had by all” theme that needs to prevail. 
I have often found that funerals can be loud and noisy, because a lot of the people in attendance haven’t seen one another in a long time.  This is a chance to meet, greet, renew old times and acquaintances, share stories, and have a good time.  Anything — and I mean anything — that disrupts, inhibits, or in any way restricts or prohibits the joyous celebration must be eliminated.  In my death, I want there to be life — joy!
I want to donate my body to medical science.  Any organs or body parts that can be harvested and used for others let it happen.  If any part of my body can be used to promote medical care or treatment, assist in science, scientific exploration, or scientific discovery, or otherwise be used to contribute to humankind’s future prosperity and wellness, then it should be done.  It is my final, positive, parting gesture that can make a difference in others’ lives and maybe, too, to medical science — a reverse template (or mirror) for the way I lived my life.
Also, I do not believe that family finances should contribute to the support of local funeral directors or parlors.  I want the entire death experience to be as inexpensive (cheap!) as possible — no frills or flourishes as mentioned above.  That is, I do not want a casket.  No open casket for me!  I want to be cremated, and if anybody wants an urn to be present at the funeral, that’s fine, but nothing more is necessary.  And I do not want my ashes scattered anywhere.  To me, that is a waste of human time, energy, and money.  Hey, I’m dead!  What do I care?  What difference does it make?  What real purpose does it serve?  Of course, there need be no ashes.
My life is what it is, and that’s it.  I was thinking as I wrote this essay, what would I want written on my gravestone?  Then I thought, no, there will be no tombstone.  Remember: cheap!  On the post-it-note attached to the urn that holds my ashes — and there doesn’t even need to be an urn, for heaven’s sake! — it can say in small print: “He left this a better place.”  Without an urn, put the note on the lower left (not on the right!) of the bathroom mirror, or write it with your finger in the thin layer of dust on the mantle!
- - - - - - - -
At the web site Ask Men: Health and Sports, the essay, “6 Healthy Habits For Living Longer,” suggests: 1) Always opt for exercise, 2) eat a healthy breakfast, 3) get enough sleep, 4) brush and floss daily, 5) stay in touch with friends, and 6) stay hydrated.

At Healthy Holistic Living, Michelle Toole has an essay, “Journey to Healthy Living through Holistic Health,” which offers useful, practical information that is just a preface to a much longer essay, “Benefits of Living Healthy: My Journey,” that is a delightful and helpful exploration.  She offers a hyperlink to assist readers in moving from the first to the second essay.
- - - - - - -
Copyright July, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.