Mark Drought: Acronyms for the end times
With the Christmas card season over, there’s little reason to care about opening the mail. Envelopes filled with cash are rare, no one writes letters anymore and, as Jerry Seinfeld said, “Without bills, magazines and junk mail, there is no mail.” In particular, one large envelope has been lying on my kitchen table untouched for months, even though I specifically requested the paperwork inside.
To prepare for the approach of “The Big Dirt Nap,” my lawyer sent me forms for “The Oldie Trinity”: power of attorney (POA), living will and not-quite-living will. Based on my queasiness about aging and death, I’ve been treating these documents as if they were dusted with weaponized anthrax.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (or maybe it was W.C. Fields) wrote: “Life ... what good can you expect of any endeavor that ends in death?”
We’re all afraid of the Grim Reaper — from those who believe they’re headed for heaven to those worried they’re going to hell to those of us convinced that neither destination is real.
We shouldn’t be afraid. Mark Twain sensibly asserted, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
During all but a tiny fraction of the universe’s estimated 13.7 billion years, we’ve all been blissfully unaware. The belief that mankind’s microscopic life span entitles us to immortality is pure arrogance, and not a wisp of evidence indicates we go anywhere other than back into the void from whence we came.
Regardless, over the millennia, the suspicion that we’re all DOA — born with an expiration date and an unknowable fate — has spawned literally thousands of religions. It inspires pyramids, cathedrals and mausoleums, and it created the Pearly Gates, Dante’s Inferno, eternity in Paradise (with 72 virgins) and, my personal favorite, reincarnation. However, after endless theological debate, holy wars and holy books, we don’t know any more about the afterlife than the cavemen.
This being the case, we baby boomers need to begin our end-of-life (EOL) paperwork with a POA. Designating someone to act on your behalf is a tacit admission that your mental faculties are likely to shut down before your physical body, which can be an unsettling idea; however, for us senior citizens, it’s probably not an entirely foreign one.
Ever find yourself standing in the kitchen, staring stupidly at your cabinets, unable to figure out why you got up from the La-Z-Boy in the den? Ever go to the supermarket to buy paper towels, only to return with a dozen items, none of which are paper towels? Do you randomly forget names and even words that are as familiar to you as your own name? Do you spend way too much time looking for “misplaced” items, such as your car keys, only to find them in inexplicable locations, like next to the flounder in your freezer?
The glass-half-full interpretation of this mental deterioration is that it’s nature’s way of easing our path to the EOL. So don’t think of a POA as something you’re doing for yourself; instead, consider it a gift to the future caregivers who’ll have to deal with your inevitable decrepitude.
In contrast, the living will, aka health care proxy (HP), is for your benefit. My primary care physician has done such a good job keeping me alive that I’m about to become the only male in my lineage ever to collect social security (if Trump, Ryan, McConnell, et al., don’t confiscate it to fund tax cuts for the Koch brothers). However, there may come a time when I want my life span to be “less skillfully” managed. Someday, I might even want a physician who has a picture of Dr. Kevorkian hanging next to his medical degree.
“Pull the plug” lists will vary from person to person, but, for most of us, it’s a Chinese menu of bodily failure. Three from Column A and a couple from Column B could have you looking to go POF (pillow over face). It’s distressing to think about the number and combination of potential geriatric symptoms — from incontinence to gout — that might make you decide you’ve had enough, but it’s worth specifying, along with the decision whether to include a DNR (do not resuscitate) in your HP.
More distressing is potential pain. As someone who’d take Novocain for a teeth cleaning — if weren’t for that big, scary and sharp needle — nothing is more frightening. One has to admire those courageous enough to endure pain and hardship to cling to life, but I’m not one of them, and it’s an outcome I’m planning to avoid.
Finally, there’s the will — a legal instrument that causes as much familial strife as booze, gambling or mistresses. Rule of thumb: The fewer the assets and heirs, the less stress. With no children, nieces or nephews, I’m not facing difficult choices. My wife is six years younger than I am, and I take enough medication daily to kill a small ox (while she takes none). Women live six or seven years longer than men anyway, so I suspect the final dispensation won’t be my decision.
Hence, I won’t be losing any sleep as to how my will disposes of my earthly possessions. As the disgraced, but perceptive, comic Louis C.K. put it, “What happens after you die? Lots of things — they just don’t involve you.” Ideally, my widow spends our last dime five minutes before she expends her last breath, and there’s nothing to leave behind.
Bottom line: There’s no right or wrong way to fill out your EOL paperwork, but you do need to do it. It’s my New Year’s resolution ... so ... yeah ... one of these days.
Greenwich native Mark Drought (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editor at a Stamford IT firm and was an adjunct English professor at the University of Connecticut-Stamford.