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 people. She didn’t spend her last weeks languishing alone 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.