It was a shock last night when I got the news that Irish singer Sinead O’Connor died. My German friend, Susanne, shared a link to a German news article with the headline “Sinead O’Connor ist tot!” (ist tot= is dead). I went looking for confirmation and quickly found it in The Irish Times, a very reputable newspaper to which I am a subscriber. Then I remembered that Sinead O’Connor had lost her 17 year old son, Shane Lunny, to suicide in January 2022. Based on her last tweets, it appears that Sinead was still very deeply distressed about his death.
At this writing, details of how Sinead passed away have not been made public. She was 56 years old, and things do go wrong in 56 year old bodies. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sinead decided to exit life in much the same way her son did. Unfortunately, suicide can be contagious, particularly among those who are vulnerable to mental illness, as Sinead O’Connor freely admitted she was.
A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed her book, Rememberings. At the time I read the book, it was the summer of 2021. COVID hysteria was in full swing, and I was struggling with feelings of depression that were worse than usual. I remember wondering if life would ever go back to “normal”… or some semblance of normal, anyway, as my life hasn’t been really “normal” in years. Between noticeable climate change, moving to Germany, and watching the neverending Trump dumpster fire from afar, things have been rather weird for some time. COVID just magnified all of that anxiety I already had and made it much more surreal.
I’m not ashamed to admit that there were some times during the height of the pandemic when I wondered if I wanted to go on living myself. Who wants to go through life wearing face masks everywhere and being “locked down”, surveilled, screamed at, and possibly even arrested for not complying? Many people were talking a lot about how we should all be living life differently, and some were suggesting that those changes should be forever. Other people were denying the pandemic and becoming violent when they were asked to take the most basic precautions. It was terrifying, and the overall mood legitimately caused me a lot of angst, especially given how hostile and aggressive people were in pushing their views– and I mean on both sides of the issue. There didn’t seem to be much moderation… and I was so very tired of it all. It made me feel HOPELESS.
Anyway, there I was in June 2021, reading Sinead O’Connor’s book. It was about time for my birthday, and Bill and I had arranged a weekend stay at a beautiful five star hotel in Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg is not very far from where we live, but it’s a wonderful city. We went there for the first time in 2008, and had a blast. So, even though we could drive there in less than two hours, I was happy to enjoy the weekend turning 49… the last year of my 40s.
As we were driving to Heidelberg, I was reading passages from Sinead’s book aloud to Bill. Some of her stories were absolutely hilarious! Some were moving. Some were tragic and infuriating. I was sharing passages from her book with friends. My former shrink, who is now a Facebook friend, even had a laugh at one of them. I asked him if he thought he’d read Sinead’s book. He said “no”. I thought that was kind of a pity. I think he’d enjoy her musings. But maybe reading her book would be too much like taking his work home with him.
I remember that weekend in Heidelberg with so much fondness. It was the most “normal” I’d felt in a long time, even though COVID measures were in place. I remember having to go through a pain in the ass rigamarole to get my COVID vaccination credentials in order, mainly because I live in Germany, but got shots from the United States. We had to prove we were fully vaccinated before we could check in to the hotel, and we had to wear masks everywhere. I know a lot of people didn’t think any of that was a hardship, but for me, it was. However– I hasten to add– I DID COMPLY with the rules, even if I wasn’t cheerful about them.
Sinead O’Connor was a big part of that great weekend, because her book was so engaging to me. She made me laugh. She made me cry. I felt things other than anxiety and depression when I read her book. And we had so much fun over that weekend in Heidelberg, even if a lot of what we did involved people watching and taking pictures.
I remember sitting at a wonderful Heidelberg restaurant called Chambao on the night after my birthday. Because it was June and COVID restrictions were in place, we opted to sit inside by a window. At the time, those who weren’t vaccinated weren’t allowed in most establishments. Consequently, Chambao’s patio area was packed. The inside was almost empty. I remember the first bite of that dinner, and how tantalizingly delicious it was. It was the first really excellent food we’d had in a long while… which I know sounds very spoiled, given how much people have suffered over the ages. In my review, which I linked in this paragraph, I wrote that “my tastebuds were exploding”. It was a reminder that there are still good things in life worth waiting for and savoring. And I instantly started enjoying things more, and living life, rather than just wanting to “fast forward” through the bad parts, or just quit working altogether.
I finished Sinead O’Connor’s book, and we headed back to Wiesbaden, taking a brief detour to an awesome German city called Speyer. Speyer is also not that far from where we live, and we probably ought to go there and explore it more. But going there in 2021 was a revelation that there are still things to discover and enjoy, and the world is still out there… and a lot of it, in spite of what’s in the news, is still good. When I got home from our weekend, I bought a bunch of Sinead’s less popular albums and got to know her better. I should have “met” her a lot earlier than I did. She was phenomenal.
I still worry about things beyond my control. I worry about Donald Trump getting back into office and turning the United States into a dystopian, fascist, nightmare. I worry about my body turning on me and having to make decisions that I’ve been putting off for years. I worry about Bill and my mom, and the prospect of someday losing them. As Sinead’s sudden end has shown us, no one is guaranteed tomorrow.
Well… I don’t know how or why Sinead O’Connor died yesterday. I have my suspicions. If I’m right about my suspicions, it’s just one more reminder that mental illness is a real, and it can be deadly. I know she had many people in her life who loved her, in spite of her difficulties with mental illness. My sincere condolences go out to those who actually had Sinead in their daily lives and will miss her very unique and unforgettable presence. I have no doubt that having her around could be very difficult at times, but I also have no doubt that she rewarded her loved ones with warmth, creativity, unusual insight, and true hilarity.
I obviously didn’t know Sinead as a regular person, but she really did help me survive the pandemic. At the very least, her hysterical stories about her fantasies of having sex with Mormon missionaries and the nun who drew a penis on the chalkboard at her school gave me a reason to keep going (and if you want to see those anecdotes, have a look at my review). I hope wherever she is today, she’s finally at peace.
RIP Sinead O’Connor– December 8, 1966- July 26, 2023
Earlier this morning, I reposted a blog article I wrote in January 2018, when I discovered A&E’s reality TV show, 60 Days In. I suspect I was bored one day, flipping through Apple TV, and noticed what looked like an interesting concept for a television program. I binge watched the first couple of seasons and continued to watch somewhat faithfully, until COVID-19 struck.
To be honest, I initially found the concept of the show kind of baffling. As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I don’t know what in the world would compel someone to volunteer for jail for two months. I later found out that the participants are paid to do their time, where they are supposedly treated like everyone else is. The object is for the contestants to blend in at the jail and tell sheriffs what’s wrong in their facilities and offer them a chance to make changes. I do see the value in doing that, but I also wonder how in the world they can hope to keep the participants’ identities under cover when there are camera crews following them around. Plus, some of the real inmates were interviewed on camera. How could they not know that the jail was participating on 60 Days In?
I’ve now watched seven seasons of 60 Days In, and I think season 7 was probably among the best of the lot. Why? Because this time, the show was shot at the jail in Henry County, Georgia, and each of the participants had previously done time. In prior seasons, the participants were mostly people who had no actual experience in jails or prisons, and it showed. Most of them were too “pretty” for the job– they weren’t trusted by the other inmates. But in season 7, the participants didn’t have that “TV ready” look, and they were able to act much more convincingly as they interacted with people who were legitimately in jail.
Another reason why season 7 was especially interesting to me is that it was shot during the height of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which started in March 2020. It’s now May 2023, and the World Health Organization has just declared the global health emergency “over”, although I understand people are still getting COVID and some are still dying from it. I had a feeling the emergency would end in 2 or 3 years, because historically, that’s how long a lot of global health emergencies seem to last. A lot of cynical people are saying that the pandemic was all a sham. They are not people who have studied public health. I am someone who has studied public health extensively, so this news is neither shocking, nor am I feeling like I was tricked. COVID-19 was– and still is– a very real thing. It has nothing to do with politics, particularly involving Donald Trump. If this were about American politics, there wouldn’t be people in Germany still wearing masks just to be able to see their doctors in their doctors’ offices.
Because of the pandemic, there were some unusual rules in place at the jail. Sheriff Reginald B. Scandrett, who seems to perpetually sport a bow tie, had implemented some pretty tough conditions for the inmates. New arrivals were locked down for fourteen days in tiny cells with their bunkies, with only one hour outside of the cell every day. That hour was to be used taking showers, calling family on video kiosks, and getting very brief exercise. The rest of the time, they were stuck in their cells, basically listening to people go insane.
As more than one “inmate” pointed out, the conditions in the jail were disgusting. The cells themselves were filthy. One inmate said there were pubic hairs that weren’t his all over his mattress. Another complained about being forced to wear the same unwashed jumpsuit for a month. One time, there was a flood in the jail, and there was raw sewage all over the floor with no means of cleaning up the mess properly.
One of the women spoke of only getting a couple of maxi pads for dealing with her menstrual flow. I could certainly empathize with that. My own periods seem to finally be on hiatus now, but there’s no way a healthy woman with normal periods can deal with regular menstrual flow in a hygienic way with only a couple of pads. Never mind the women who bleed heavily. The lack of feminine hygiene protection seems especially dangerous from a public health standpoint, as a lot of chronic and/or fatal diseases are spread via blood.
Inmates had medical face masks to wear, but it didn’t appear that they were changed on a regular basis, nor were they worn properly. Several inmates wore them under their noses or chins. One of the show participants showed how the metal wire in the masks could be used as weapons.
The quarantine/23-1 lockdown seemed pretty pointless and cruel to me, given the lack of attention paid to other public health issues in the jail. And, as some of the participants noted, it was very hard on their mental health to be locked down for that amount of time. One participant, Lynn, had done eight years in prison, but she couldn’t tolerate the quarantine and had to quit the program. She said that she had worked very hard to overcome drug problems and the insanity of the jail made her want to start using drugs again. She also pointed out that medications were handed out to help inmates sleep, but she couldn’t take them, because they would threaten her sobriety.
Just as a side note, it surprises me that the show’s producers would risk having someone with a serious drug addiction come on that show for that very reason. Sobriety is a fragile thing for a lot of addicts, and relapses are brought on by stress. Being locked down for 23 hours a day in a place where people have unaddressed mental health issues would certainly threaten someone’s ability to stay sane– and sober. The lights are left on 24/7; there’s constant noise; and people have to be on high alert at all times.
One early quitter in Season 7 was a guy who had done federal time starting in 2004. I was reminded then that 2004 was a long time ago! This guy kept saying he wasn’t a “young buck” anymore. He probably would have been able to complete the program if not for the lengthy lockdown in the cell. But, as it was shown in the program, he was feeling really sick and stuck in a cell with a guy who kept farting. He had to make a quick exit. I couldn’t help but wonder about the people who don’t have a choice and must endure in those deplorable and unsanitary conditions.
Another participant– a guy who went by the name Chase, but was famous on Tik Tok under the handle “Lucky Chucky”– was complaining that there wasn’t enough milk or fresh fruit for the inmates. I don’t think he understood that a lot of people in jail are actually experiencing a lifestyle upgrade, although one participant said that she was more comfortable when she was homeless. This guy also brought up prisons in Norway, which I’ll agree, are pretty posh by most world standards. Norway has a very different culture than the U.S. does, though, and doesn’t have the same problems the U.S. does. So it’s hard to compare the two systems, although the prison system in the United States definitely does need a major overhaul.
I think the season was pretty much summed up at the end, when there was a two part “aftermath” episode. Soledad O’Brien facilitated the session during which the participants discussed their experiences on the show. The journalist literally and repeatedly had to tell two participants to “shut up”, because they were arguing with each other. One of them was slipping back into being an actual inmate and was sliding back into being a criminal. They had to pull him out for his own good, because he was about to “catch charges” that would have put him in the jail for real.
I think Season 7 of 60 Days In is one of the best of the series. It’s not a show I particularly “enjoy” watching. I find it interesting for a lot of reasons, but there’s also a part of me that cringes when I see their living conditions. I find it kind of stressful just to watch that show. I can’t imagine being a participant. In fact, I don’t think there’s any amount of money that would convince me to do it. That’s pretty crazy, though, since it’s so easy to be arrested in the United States and land in jail. Plenty of regular folks have “volunteered” for that experience just by committing petty crimes, and either not having enough of their own money, or not having sympathetic friends or loved ones with money they are willing to spend on them, to bond out of the jail.
In any case… I’m glad I finished watching that series yesterday. I look forward to moving on to cheerier entertainment today. Or, maybe I’ll make another video or two. The ones I did in honor of Gordon Lightfoot are doing surprisingly well.
Because this post involves travel, I’m going to cross post it on my travel blog. The featured photo was taken in 2019, when Bill and I went to Sweden to pick up our car and drove it on a Nordic adventure.
I’m in the midst of trying to plan a summer vacation/birthday trip for Bill and myself. Because of the whole COVID-19 odyssey, and the seemingly endless lockdowns that followed, we’ve decided that this year, we’d like to fly somewhere. And because there are a lot of places in Europe we still want to see, we decided to choose our destination using the “champagne bucket” method.
I’ve written about the champagne bucket method on my travel blog. Basically, I got the idea for it from “blind bookings” on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings). I’m not sure if Eurowings still does blind bookings, but Lufthansa does, and Lufthansa owns Eurowings. It basically involves booking a surprise flight, and usually paying a lower fare. You don’t know where you’re going until after you pay for the ticket(s). Bill and I have done it four times to great success. We visited Barcelona, London, Berlin, and Munich that way.
When we moved back to the States, I decided that it wouldn’t be hard to plan more of our vacations that way. Instead of relying on the airline, we just put our choices on slips of paper and put them in the champagne bucket. Then, Bill picks one of the slips out of the bucket.
I was really rooting for a trip to Armenia and possibly Georgia this summer. That was one of the choices, too. Bill was a bit reluctant, because of political and military issues going on in Armenia right now. We may still go there this year, but for a short trip to Yerevan, instead of an all out country tour. Then, I can show Bill where I lived, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and sign him up for a more extensive trip. 😉
Anyway, when we did our champagne bucket challenge, Bill ended up choosing Finland. Neither of us has ever been there before. We have been to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Estonia together. Bill has also been to Latvia a couple of times on business. Neither of us has seen Lithuania, but we’ve met people from there and Latvia on cruises.
Originally, I was planning for us to go to Helsinki and do a land based trip, then go by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, stay a few days, and work our way south to Latvia and Lithuania, before flying back. Then I started researching and discovered, there’s no easy way to travel to Latvia and Lithuania that doesn’t involve riding a bus. We considered renting a car, but that seemed potentially risky.
So then I thought, maybe instead of trying to hit the Baltic capitals, I could go west. Visit Finland, do a day trip in Tallinn, then head west toward Norway, which we know we love. Then I thought, maybe it would be better to start in Norway, and head east to Finland, then go to Tallinn and spend a night or two…
Then I realized how expensive flights would be… plus the stress and inconvenience involving finding transportation, hauling bags, and booking hotels… and although I’d already looked for cruises and initially didn’t see any I liked, I kept getting ads for Regent Seven Seas on Facebook. And Regent is– or was– considered a luxury line, although it’s a much bigger ship than we usually go for when we cruise.
I noticed they had a cruise available during the time we plan to travel. It starts June 23 and ends June 30, and hits ports in Sweden, Helsinki, Estonia, Latvia, and Denmark. We could still go to Norway and do a land based trip, working our way to Stockholm, a city we’ve been to, but didn’t really get to explore at all in 2009. Best of all, the cruise in question is on sale. It’s still expensive, but doable for us. We wouldn’t even have to stay in the cheapest stateroom. I pitched the idea to Bill, who liked it.
I started making a booking request. It took about a half dozen times to finally get registered. I mismatched my email address, or added one too many dots in the address, or the passwords didn’t match. Finally, I had my account, and started to make the request.
But the stateroom I wanted was listed as twice as expensive than was advertised. While we technically could do it, I’d rather spend that much money on a new car or a down payment on a house. So I stopped making the request, and sent an inquiry to Regent, asking them to confirm that the cruise is on sale.
About an hour later, I got a phone call through my iPad, which I wasn’t prepared to answer, as I was reading something to Bill. I also got a message, written in German, indicating that the cruise is on sale, and inviting me to call between 11am and 8pm today. I sent a message back in English, asking if I have to call to get that rate, and clarifying that I’m American and can’t speak German worth a damn. 😉
Then I went on Cruise Critic and started reading reviews and comments on the messageboards. The consensus is, the ship I’m looking at booking is beautiful, although Regent has “gone downhill” in recent years. Bill and I have done cruises on Royal Caribbean, SeaDream, and Hebridean Island Cruises. SeaDream and Hebridean, like Regent, are considered luxury and are all inclusive. However, they are much smaller ships. So Regent would be a different cruise experience for us, and it would offer some convenience, as we’d be hitting places we want to visit– albeit for a shorter time than we would personally plan for ourselves.
I truly am attracted to the cruise because of the itinerary and the time the cruise is going. I don’t have particularly high expectations of great service or being treated like royalty. A cruise just offers a convenient way to cross some items off our bucket list.
On the other hand, I was kind of looking forward to a deeper dive into the areas, and exploring more on our own. Also, there’s less chance of running into people with whom we don’t mesh when we do land based trips, or getting sick from any number of viruses on ships. I like to plan trips and look for interesting places to stay. I guess the pre cruise travel to Norway would offer that, but I was kind of wanting to get more of a feel for Finland.
Either way, this trip is going to be expensive. Good thing Bill got a generous raise this year. We do have the money, too… at least for the cruise. I’m just not used to having that, either… being somewhat well-heeled is kind of a new experience for us.
Sigh… a trip to Armenia would be a lot more economical. On the other hand, if I develop a bleeding stomach ulcer, I’d feel better about seeking treatment in a nordic country. 😉
This is truly a first world problem. I’m sure I should just go for it and see what happens. We’ve had some great times on cruises and made some friends. And a bonus is, since Regent ships are a lot bigger, there’s less chance I’ll get seasick this time.
We’ll see what happens. I may scrap the idea of the cruise. It is tempting, though… Regent is probably more comfortable than the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry.
Happy April Fools’ Day, folks. I was originally thinking maybe I’d write something in the spirit of the day… like falsely post that I’m finally pregnant, or Bill and I are divorcing. But then I realized that I generally find April Fools’ Day annoying, at best. I mean… sometimes, the jokes and stunts are relatively amusing, but I mostly think silly fake postings about major life events are kind of stupid.
I will admit that it’s funny when Ritter Sport comes up with gross sounding chocolate combinations. Below is a screenshot of what they did in 2019…
Euro Wings also had a funny April Fools’ joke today…
And some time ago, NPR had a pretty good joke about people who don’t read before they react or comment. I used that joke at another time during the year, and sure enough, I got someone… Then, I promptly blogged about the phenomenon.
But I don’t want to write about April Fools’ or the inane shit I’m going to see as my fellow Americans wake up and start posting their crap. I posted last night that I think more Americans should zip it. And I stand by that opinion. 😉 You readers might think I ought to zip it, too, but since this is space I pay for, I’m going to preach on with my bad self. 😀
So what about that title, then? What’s it about? Well, it’s about a 1979 era gymnastics video I watched on YouTube yesterday. I love to watch old school gymnastics, which were less about powerful tumbles and more about artistic expression. I also find the former Soviet Union fascinating.
I happened to catch this video that featured some of the greats of that era– Nadia Comaneci, Emilia Eberle, Kathy Johnson, and Elena Naimushina. Sadly, Ms. Naimushina died suddenly in 2017, but in 1979, she was about 14 years old. She was a great gymnast, so she was interviewed by American sportscaster, Charlie Jones. Charlie Jones was born in 1930, and died in 2008. In 1979, he was pushing 50.
At about the 2:36 mark, Jones says “Every pretty girl that I interview, always kisses me right here on the cheek.”
Elena laughs as the translator does her job. Then, after a shy giggle, she says “That is something that you can look forward to after the competition.” Then Jones and Elena share a laugh… har-dee-har-har-har!
I was actually a little shocked as I heard Mr. Jones request a kiss from the young gymnast. But then I remember the 70s, and how kids were often pressured to let adults kiss them. Eddie Murphy had a whole 80s era routine about it.
To Elena’s credit, she managed to handle that awkward moment with grace and charm. Still, it was pretty creepy and inappropriate. Of course, that shit would never fly in 2023, especially given the whole Larry Nassar scandal. I guess it’s just crazy to realize that I was seven years old in 1979, and this kind of thing was quite common. Old guys would not hesitate to ask for intimate gestures of affection from kids. It happened to me a lot when I was coming of age. It was an especially common thing to see on games shows like Family Feud, especially back when Richard Dawson was the host.
Nowadays, people wouldn’t necessarily assume that Jill prefers males. Or that Jill is, in fact, a female herself… By now, Jill is probably someone’s grandmother. And, of course, today we’d worry about spreading COVID-19.
Isn’t it interesting how times change? At what point does a person stop being considered “young”? Does it happen at a certain age? I swear, it seems like yesterday that I was a teenager. Now I’m getting old enough to live in a retirement community!
I do think it’s a good thing that requests for kisses and comments to twelve year old girls about boyfriends are best left in the past. But watching these clips, posted when I was a child myself, are a reminder that time marches on, customs change, and things that once used to be okay to say or do can eventually evolve into something very taboo. And that’s no April Fools’ joke!
I ripped off today’s “clever” featured photo a couple of weeks ago, when I was engaged with the rude commenter who kept calling me “stupid” and “inane”. I think it’s a photo that invites a second look and says something unexpected…
We’re on the fast track to spring! Pretty soon, the trees and flowers will be bursting with new life. As beautiful as spring always is, it’s also the season when my allergies burst into new life. But at least there will be fragrant flowers, warmer temperatures, and longer days.
Welcome to March. This month promises to suck, as it usually does. Bill has a business trip next week, and part of the week after that. At the end of the month, we have a big trip to Stuttgart planned, so we can see the dentist and have procedures done. Meanwhile, Arran is still hanging in there. I will take him to the vet today for a treatment and exam. He really is an amazing dog with a strong will to live. As I’ve learned, after years of having dogs in my life, not all dogs are like that. Not all people are like that, either.
This morning, as I was waiting for Bill to come out of the bathroom, I noticed an October 2014 era article in The Atlantic that was reposted on Facebook. It was provocatively titled “Why I Hope to Die at Age 75”, and accompanied by the broadly smiling visage of a healthy looking man with glasses and grey hair. The author of the article, also the man in the photo, was named Ezekiel J. Emmanuel. He had subtitled his article with this thought: An argument that society and families—and you—will be better off if nature takes its course swiftly and promptly.
I was immediately intrigued. To be very honest, I’m not one of those people who wants to live for a super long time. I have a tendency toward depression, which means I often look at the dark side of things. I also had an angst ridden childhood that, at times, has been hard to overcome.
I know my childhood certainly wasn’t as bad as some people’s childhoods are. In fact, I’d say I probably had a very privileged childhood on many levels, at least in terms of material comforts. However, I often felt like I didn’t belong, especially within my own family. I never seemed to live up to other people’s expectations of me. After awhile, I had the same high expectations for myself, which I rarely managed to meet.
Frequently hearing my mom say things like “If you didn’t look so much like my mother, I’d swear I picked up the wrong baby at the hospital.” or “I never meant to have a fourth child.” or “Where did you COME from?” wasn’t helpful. She made it seem like my presence– which she and my dad were responsible for– was a huge inconvenience to her. That sentiment came through to me loud and clear, and it colored my world view.
Of course, now I know that my mom is imperfect, as we all are. Her comments were borne out of frustrations that had nothing to do with me. I just happened to be on the receiving end of them, because I was a child, and had no other choice. I eventually got away from that shit, but the memories still linger. I don’t have children of my own, nor do I have a burgeoning career, except as a blogger who writes things that few people read. Why should I hang around to be 100, like my Granny did?
So I read the article in The Atlantic, which leads with this hooky paragraph:
That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.
This preference drives my daughters crazy. It drives my brothers crazy. My loving friends think I am crazy. They think that I can’t mean what I say; that I haven’t thought clearly about this, because there is so much in the world to see and do. To convince me of my errors, they enumerate the myriad people I know who are over 75 and doing quite well. They are certain that as I get closer to 75, I will push the desired age back to 80, then 85, maybe even 90.
I’m not surprised that Emmanuel’s relatives are horrified by the statements he’s bravely uttered to them. It’s taboo to make comments indicating that one hopes for death at ANY age. Remember a few months ago, when Queen Elizabeth II died? She was 96 years old, and had lost her beloved husband less than two years prior. People were calling her death TRAGIC! Isn’t that insane?
Queen Elizabeth II lived for 96 years, a reigning monarch for 70 years, in a modern country, surrounded by wealth, rubbing elbows with important people, and adored by so many! She didn’t spend her last weeks languishing, alone and forgotten in a nursing home. She didn’t die at age 20, on the cusp of womanhood. She lived a full life, and it was simply time for her to move on. But people were calling her death tragic!
Emmanuel’s article was written in 2014, which was about six years before the whole world was caught in the grips of COVID-19. Countless elderly people died of the illness. People are still dying of COVID, although it seems like folks aren’t talking about it as much these days. Frankly, I’m glad they aren’t talking about it so much. I’m delighted there’s a lot less fighting over face masks and vaccines. Things are feeling decidedly more normal, although as I could see in the Facebook comment section for Emmanuel’s article, lots of people are still mourning the loss.
One lady bitterly wrote about how her elderly dad died “before his time” in a rehabilitation hospital, because people were fighting over wearing a “fucking mask”. I can tell she misses him. She’s still grieving his death. But did he really die too early? Or was COVID-19 just one of many diseases conspiring to end his life? She blames people for not wanting to wear masks, but even wearing face masks wasn’t going to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. All the masks could do was slow down the spread a bit.
I remember a couple of years ago, I wrote about the time I got a venomous private message from some guy who was upset when I took issue with a comment he made about an elderly couple who had just gotten married. The groom was 91, and his wife was 86. They wore masks during their wedding ceremony, but the wife’s mask happened to slip beneath her nose. Someone got a photo, and it was shared in the article about their nuptials. An all knowing MALE wrote that the bride’s improper face mask wearing was going to send her to an “early” grave.
In my post about this, I wrote:
I was a bit gobsmacked by the guy’s comment. I mean, these folks have already lived a normal life span. Millie is 86. Sam is 91. They aren’t going to be going to an “early” grave, regardless of what kills them. They aren’t teenagers, or even middle-aged. And they sure as hell didn’t need to be chastised by some busybody guy who feels the need to confront others about how they wear their masks on camera. I made a comment to that effect. Next thing I know, I’ve got a spam message from this guy who chewed me out, telling me that a death from COVID-19 is a premature death and calling me “stupid”. Of course he blocked me, so I couldn’t respond.
Likewise, a couple of weeks ago, I got repeatedly insulted by an Irish Times reader who took issue with my comment that “life is 100 percent fatal”. We were commenting on an article about a woman who was publicly fat shamed for wanting to order a cheese course. The person who called my comments “inane” and “stupid” was pushing for health promotion, writing to me as if I’m completely ignorant on the topic. As someone with master’s degrees in public health and social work, I’m literally not at all ignorant about health preservation. I just don’t agree that life should be about denying oneself simple pleasures over fears of a heart attack or a stroke.
Moderation is the key, of course, but we all have our own ideas of what moderation means. For some people, the fear of a heart attack or another chronic disease is enough to make them want to avoid certain indulgences. Other people don’t feel that way at all. They’d like to enjoy their cheese course in peace. That doesn’t necessarily make them reckless, foolhardy, or stupid.
After trying to maintain decorum and polite discourse with the insulting commenter, I’d finally had enough. I ended up telling off the stranger, who had relentlessly kept insulting me as she pushed her health promotion point. I explained that I would rather eat what I want with my friends, and live a shorter lifespan, than not eat what I want, and have to linger on this planet with “miserable bitches” like her. Then, I asked her to “kindly fuck off and leave me alone”, which she kindly did.
Ezekiel Emmanuel, author of The Atlantic piece that prompted today’s post, writes:
I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.
But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
I see nothing wrong or controversial about what Emmanuel wrote here. I come from a long line of people who have lived for a long time. My Granny was almost 101 when she died. She was amazingly active and beloved in her golden years, but when it was time for her to go, I have no doubt that she was ready. Likewise, my dad, who was a very healthy and active man, died at age 81 after spending six years in the hellish cognitive and physical decline of Lewy Body Dementia. His brother, my beloved Uncle Brownlee, had a stroke in 2019 while he was out and about. Two weeks later, he was gone. Somehow, I think Brownlee’s death, albeit at a younger age, was markedly better than my dad’s.
Emmanuel further writes:
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
Again… he’s not wrong. And it’s not that he’s saying he’s planning to off himself. In fact, in the next paragraph, he even writes that he’s against assisted suicide. He claims people who want help killing themselves are usually suffering from depression. Personally, I disagree with him on that. I don’t think a person has to be depressed to realize that a progressive brain tumor or Alzheimer’s Disease is inevitably going to rob them of their dignity and self-determination. I don’t think a person who wants to pass on before that can happen is necessarily “depressed”. To me, it makes good logical sense to want to get help in dying, especially under those conditions. I’m not the only one who feels that way, either. Moreover, living with unrelenting depression is also miserable. In a case when depression won’t abate, maybe assisted suicide makes sense.
But then he continues:
I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75. Americans seem to be obsessed with exercising, doing mental puzzles, consuming various juice and protein concoctions, sticking to strict diets, and popping vitamins and supplements, all in a valiant effort to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible. This has become so pervasive that it now defines a cultural type: what I call the American immortal.
I reject this aspiration. I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.
So basically, what Emmanuel is saying is, he’s going to stop trying to prolong his life beyond the age of 75. That means if a doctor finds out he has cancer or some other debilitating, chronic disease, he’s not necessarily going to seek treatment– particularly aggressive treatment. He might not bother with screenings. He recognizes that the older one gets, the more help they need into keeping going. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable observation. At some point, there are diminishing returns.
To read some of the comments on Facebook, though… So many people complained about ageism and devaluing the elderly. One person even compared the writer’s ideas to that of a Nazi, as the Nazis saw people in certain “undesirable or unproductive groups”, such as the elderly, disabled, LGBTQ, or those who weren’t white and Christian, as “useless eaters”. I saw more than one person complaining that the article was going to give people “dangerous ideas”.
All the guy did was share an opinion. No one is being forced to agree with or actively support Ezekiel Emmanuel’s ideas. They’re just food for thought. I see no need for offense or outrage on this subject. Emmanuel is not trying to say that all elderly people should have an expiration date. He’s simply sharing his thoughts, and perhaps stimulating other people to think about how they feel on this topic. He’s saying that when he’s 75, he hopes to die. It doesn’t mean he absolutely will die at 75. It doesn’t even mean that he can’t or won’t change his mind. It’s just a thought. Why are so many people afraid of people sharing their thoughts? And why do people have to be so critical and condescending when someone shares a thought with which they disagree?
One commenter wrote this, and I heartily agree:
Stunning how this article is being misconstrued by people with anecdotes about healthy old folk. I’m 77. Boringly healthy but I stopped all routine tests, pokings and proddings before I was 70. I may get some things done like cataract surgery since I am the family driver. However if I get something nasty I don’t plan on extreme measures. It’s in my will etc. For every healthy elder anecdote there are thousands of elderly getting major surgery when they cannot care for themselves at all. The “children” are desperate to …save Mom. Well, don’t save me (or the good doctor) if I can’t get to the bathroom by myself, thank you very much.
And others made really tone deaf comments, or complained when the tone deaf are rightfully invited to fuck off…
My Uncle Ed died last summer at age 85. I hadn’t spoken to him in some time, mainly because he’d slipped into Trumpian cognitive dissonance and labeled me a “liberal nutjob”. However, I did hear that Ed had a mass on his lung that he’d opted not to treat. Frankly, I can’t blame him for that. He lost his beloved wife, Nancy, in 2010. Donald Trump was no longer the president and the election wasn’t going to be overturned. What was the point of sticking around until age 86, when there were many loved ones who had passed before him? Maybe Heaven is real. At some point, it makes sense to pass on. Dying is part of living, and it’s something not a single one of us can avoid. If you were born, you will someday die. So you might as well live life on your own terms and enjoy it as you see fit, as much as you’re able.
I don’t have a problem with Ezekiel Emmanuel’s publicly stated thoughts about wanting to die at age 75. It’s just something to think about. Doesn’t mean any of us are going to actually do something to make death happen at a specific time. I don’t feel anger or fear in reading that idea, because in the grand scheme of things, that’s really all it is. Maybe it makes sense to him, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people. He should be allowed to speak his mind, and other people should have enough faith in themselves and other people to be able to hear his thoughts without feeling threatened by them.
Don’t tell people to “shut up”, simply because they dare to convey an idea that you can’t yet fathom. Be brave enough to hear them out. Maybe you’ll even learn something new.
These are just my thoughts, though. Please don’t take them as gospel… not that I expect anyone would.
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