I read the New York Times Health section every day, always hoping to fine-tune my exercise-diet-sleep-socialization mix in order to maintain maximum health — for my age, of course. I’m not unrealistic or in denial about being 71; I just want this stage of life to be as good and as fulfilling as all the others have been.
I first passed by an article on physician-assisted suicide, then made myself go back and read it. I hope I’m a very long time away, if ever, from having to consider such an option. My late husband Jerry always believed in it. He had a client who held dual U.S. and Dutch citizenship, and when the client fell ill with ALS, he waited as long as he could and then returned to his country of origin to exercise the choice to end his life. Jerry thought it was smart, the right thing to do.
What I took away from this article is the need to define for myself what “life worth living” means, which is no easy question. I’m not, like my late mother, terrified of skilled nursing care if that ever becomes necessary. I believe in blooming where you are planted. When I was consulting in nursing homes toward the end of my professional career, I witnessed many profound moments of human connection even in the face of great physical or mental decline. I also believe, like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, that there is grace in learning to receive, especially for those of us who have been active and givers for most of our lives.
But what is “life worth living”? I know that mobility is important to me. My active reading life is important, as is my longing to write every day. Most important of all is being able to carry my end of relationships with the people I love: family, close friends, people whom I’ve known and cared about in the past who come in and out of my life only sparingly now. Choice is important: getting up when I want to — early! — being able to arrange my own day, being able to decide when I’m tired and want to go to bed.
Hmmm. I’m going to be noodling on this for awhile, as I sense it’s an important question and I find it hard to think about. I’d be glad to hear from you what “life worth living” means, no matter what your age. Your thoughts will help clarify and expand mine.