Because I am 80 there are a number of things I can no longer do. For instance I can no longer run and jump and climb as do my grandsons, and, as I grow older, I will be able to do less and less until I die.
But there are a lot of things I still can do. I am not helpless. I am still what we call "Independent". I run my own home, buy my own groceries, drive my own car.
What I am writing about is the period of life between being "Independent" and being dead. I see my friends sell their homes and move in with their children or into nursing homes. I see neither of these possibilities as anything I choose to do.
When I reach a point where I feel I am no longer able to "Run my own show" I would like to take a pill that would get me dead as quickly as possible.
Many years ago I signed an Organ Donor Card which I've carried in my wallet ever since. I don't know, if, at my advanced age, anything still functioning for me as an organ would be of any use to anyone else, but perhaps my body or skeleton would be to a medical school or as an adjunct to an art anatomy course, as the cadavers were to me at Syracuse University.
With the thought of making usable parts available to others, a hospital would be the most obvious place for me to go to die. Hospitals have all the equipment necessary to handle people lying down, doctors to remove usable parts and convenient ways to dispose of bodies.
So I went to my doctor and said, "Doctor, I'm not ready to die now, but I'd like to know, when I get ready to dispense with this well-worn body of mine, can I make an appointment at the hospital, get a pill and take it there and die in comfort and with dignity?"
"Carolyn," says he, "Even if I had such a pill, I couldn't give it to you. I would be accused of manslaughter or murder. Even if you took it yourself, I'd be considered as an accomplice to one or the other and put in jail."
"Doc, you're kidding!" I screeched. "I'm not some kid who's fussed about something. I'm an old, old woman who has lived out her three score years and 10 more than that and happily. I have done everything I want to do studied, taught, painted, traveled, raised my family and run my own home.
"In the process I cared for my elderly in-laws and took care of my mother for the last four years she lived. She was paralyzed on her left side and could not stand, sit up or turn over unassisted but she had "all her marbles" right up to the end. She died two weeks short of her 95th birthday.
"Well, I have all my marbles, too it's not just handwriting on the wall, I have three pretty good examples of what is probably in the offing for me and I don't relish it one bit.
"This period between independence and death is something I would like to dispense with."
Since talking to my doctor, I've talked to almost everyone else I know. My friends suggested books I should read.
I did. My doctor was right. If he helped me, he would get put in jail.
Most of the books I read, like my friends, acted as if anyone who considers suicide was either crazy or sinful, a few felt it was OK. In fact, one author even gave a recipe of how to do it. Telling exactly how many bushels of what kind of pills you must chase down with how many gallons of hooch before you tie a plastic bag over your head with a rubber band.
I not even wouldn't kill an old dog I liked that way, but these arthritic fingers of mine have trouble enough opening a plastic bag at the grocery store without me being woozy on pills and crosseyed drunk before I tackle it and imagine being able to manipulate a rubber band after all the rest.
We "talk" about over population while we prolong life. In the early 1940s we were at war with over-populated countries. Now we emulate them, with our Kung Foo and our meditations in the Lotus position.
We might well look at the way they faced death. That business of falling on their own swords certainly was quick and because of their beliefs considered honorable and dignified, or widows throwing themselves on their husband's funeral pyres. That too, because of their beliefs was done with great dignity and as a sign of great love.
What sort of beliefs in the value of life do we have? What sort of beliefs do we have in its QUALITY?
Just take one quick trip through a nursing home. See those poor old people tied in chairs, so they won't fall out on their noses, dribbling and drooling, but still "having their exercise" so they won't get bed sores from lying down all the time.
Is that what Americans call LIVING? Not I, and I am an American. My country has taught me that I am FREE! and I have always believed it. That being an American citizen entitles me to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Well, I just want to tell you, to find after caring for this "American citizen" body of mine for over 80 years, that I am NOT at LIBERTY to choose WHEN I wish to leave it, does NOT make me HAPPY! What it does do, is make me question what Americans really mean by the word FREEDOM??