Why I hope to die at 75

Ezekial Emanuel
Ezekial Emanuel

Seventy-five.

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 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.

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.

First, read the whole article.

Obviously I have a small problem with this article. I’m already past 75. Ezekial Emanuel would say I think I am an outlier – and discuss the realities of that perception, positive and negative. And I love that. It’s materialist, scientific. I think I qualify – at least for the near-term.

Quality of life, what satisfaction I derive from that lifestyle is an all-encompassing determinant. Let me start with the most striking existential differences between Zeke and me. [I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Zeke]:

My family ties are small. My parents and peers are dead. I took care of the question of having children with a vasectomy at the age of 22. No regrets. Not even a look back. I had one close friend most of my life and he died ten years ago. That has been surpassed by the relationship I’ve had with my wife these past twenty-one years. She passed this article along to me to get my opinion – which differs in only a few ways from hers.

In many ways, I’m healthier now than I was when I retired. Mental challenges, introspection, thoroughly examining a dynamic world around us – in the broadest sense – is no less than it has been my whole life. Starting, I guess, when my mom taught me to read by the age of four. Physically, overall, I’m doing better than five or ten years ago. Lighter, stronger, more active – hampered a little by a foot injury for a few years, almost completely healed.

Most of this, again, owed to the dialectic of intellect between my wife and me. I may be doing better than 90% of my age peers. She’s doing better than 99% of her peers. Twenty years younger than I, she’s invigorating in her sharpness. And that’s where the only challenge to my differences with Zeke confront critical agreement. I’m not certain how I would view my life if I lost her.

She’s the one who brought that up. Because she’s already started looking at that consideration just because of age difference. I’m twenty years older. When she would be 75 – it’s not likely I’ll be around at 95. And, for now, she isn’t certain either if she would care to live on without the relationship we share.

As an existential question, I’m fine with living alone. We joke about being a pair of hermits. Only comparison with the depth and fullness of what we share makes solitude less than acceptable.

Ezekial Emanuel has an advantage over almost all of us. He’s a doctor. He can access any medications he deems appropriate to shuffle off this mortal coil and no one other than himself will be found guilty by out-of-date politicians, priests and pundits.

Thanks, Helen

2 thoughts on “Why I hope to die at 75

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