Zeke Emanuel attracted widespread attention with his piece, “Why I hope to die at 75.” I wrote a response to Zeke’s piece at the Washington Post here. My stepmother Arlene had a better response, part of which was published in the Atlantic Monthly as well. They edited for reasons of space. I believe her response is worth including in-full:
People like us, octogenarians, who despite an onslaught of medical issues requiring ultra frequent medical appointments, frequent procedures, tests for suspected problems, and all sorts of treatments to manage the aforesaid, are moving along, having grown more understanding of our fellow elderly, more grateful for the love and companionship of our mates, more determined to remain deeply involved in the lives of each and every family member, and determined to set an example, as far as possible, for our children and grandchildren of how to age in such a way that we don’t leave our loved ones with a dread of incapacity, a horror of diminishment of vitality. If we were to suddenly fall off the face of the Earth, after withdrawing from their lives and obsessing about our states of health, they would never be prepared for their own late lives. That would be not only cruel, but irresponsible as well.
We live in an area where almost all the people we see or meet or call friends have had to adopt this sort of philosophy as they deal daily with hearing aids, dental devices, crutches, walkers, braces, and cosmetic and aesthetic adjustments. Most come to incorporate these inconveniences and move on, attending to keeping muscles and intellect optimally functioning. Their children and grandchildren then adjust to these changes as well. In this way, we all can live with an understanding that life is a matter of loving, sharing, living to the fullest. It’s a legacy, a gift that is worth far more than sums of money or great public and personal achievement.
I understand that we cannot anticipate what will befall us, how we may not be able to fulfill this goal, but having this positive philosophy brings a certain peace of mind, allaying debilitating terror that incapacitates and hardens us so that we withdraw from those who need us in so many ways.
Just a beautiful piece of writing. She leaves both Zeke and I in the dust on this one.