It is a disarming feeling to know I am going to die. No matter how much I philosophize or write on the subject. No matter how much I know it is an unavoidable end for all of life. I am still somewhat unsettled in his presence. I know a little of life, at least my own, but very little of death. We became more closely acquainted a few days ago.
I think it would be easier to face death if our time allotted on this planet was enclosed rather than open ended. We all have a day of birth. What if we were also given a day of death? Would we approach life and death differently. In a previous essay, If You Had 10 Minutes to Live, I suggested we might have discount air fares or special cruises for those who are about to die, but there is also a sinister side to this possibility. Perhaps some would look at this time before death as an opportunity to do unlawful things, to rape, pillage, and plunder without any longterm consequences. What could anyone possibly do to me as I am going to die in a few weeks anyhow? We might take chances and dare death to take us before our time. My cousin Pinto had a dream of him dying of old age with his family gathered around his death bed. He told me this dream has allowed him to take more chances without fear because he believes this is how he will die.
I woke that morning in an uncommon state. My blood pressure was higher than normal. All my vital signs were irregular. I was unsteady and dizzy. At first I thought it might be low blood sugar or dehydration but after eating and drinking the symptoms did not disappear. My entire body felt out of sorts. I was sure this was my life’s last day. How would I choose to spend it? As I did not have a particular plan, I decided to spend it as I do every day I am alive. I could not stand steady in the shower so I sat down and let the water fall upon me and lathered my body. At least I will be clean.
After the shower and getting dressed, I wrote an email to my friends thanking them for their love and support and informing them of my death. I set up the email to automatically send at noon the following day. I did not want to be alone so I gathered strength enough to visit my adopted family here in Loja. Isabel, the family matron and medical practitioner saw me and immediately knew something was wrong.
“My blood pressure is high and I am a little dizzy,” I told her.
As is her healing nature she immediately constructed a list of foods and herbs for me to take while three of her children and I laughed and conversed as usual. When my visit was over, I made my way back home and confronted the eighty steps to my apartment. “Step by step,” I repeated to myself as I was determined to make it to my apartment and not die in the stairwell. My body was completely exhausted by the time I reached my door. I poured a glass of water but dropped it before I could drink it and collapsed on the sofa.
I do not know how long I was out, but I did awaken. I cleaned up the broken glass and blood prints from a piece of the glass I stepped on. The first glass I had broken since moving here over a year ago. I placed a spare key under the mat and wrote an email to Stalin, the oldest of Isabel’s children, informing him of my death along with important information and the pass codes for my computers. I added this to the other scheduled emails.
I tried to meditate but could not focus. I tried to distract myself by watching the television but watching it made the room spin around. I turned it off. I was afraid to go to sleep thinking I might not wake up but eventually I did.
When I woke up, it was 4:30 in the morning. I had not died. I knew this because the neighborhood roosters were crowing and I had to pee. In a few days I would feel normal again and go about my life as I have always done. So it was not life’s last day as I had anticipated. Perhaps it was just a test run. I did gain some new awareness as a result of this experience of dying. My close friends, the people I love most in this world gained greater importance. I have some control over my body, more than I thought, and I know I want to die, when the day comes, in my own home.
Now to get on with living.
Note: The title for this essay was taken from the Criterion film “Youth.” A film about aging, dreams, and memories. I highly recommend it.
On December 28, 2016 I suffered my first serious heart attack. The second minor one occurred on March 17, 2017, one month before my 69 birthday.