2:00PM Wednesday 23 May 2012 Nunhead Heights.
A drag about getting old is not that people you know die it’s that they die slowly and boringly and ugly.
Old people are ugly to begin with and then we get worse. I noticed my elbows are now wrinkly. My mother told me you can’t hide wrinkly elbows. Dying people are exceptionally ugly.
A friend of mine died this past Friday. He was a similar age to me – 50ish. He left behind two children – the youngest is 11 – the same age as my oldest son. That is how I knew him. He tolerated me during the bad times when I was fighting with the mother of my children (even more than now) and getting resigned to living in England. A lovely guy. A tragedy.
He died fast. Fell off his motorbike and hit a tree coming back from the western England to London.
My friend died like a young man. He was rock climber so he could have fallen off a cliff. He was a skateboarder so he could have fallen backwards and smashed his skull. He was also an ambulance rescue guy and that is very dangerous.
But at least he died fast.
It’s painful to hear of a friend “battling” cancer or having MS, or to see updates about hospital visits and chemo. Nobody “fights” illness. You are either ill or not. And all I can do is pray for you. More and more of my friends are dying of cancer or diabetes or strokes because I also know so many more people who have stopped riding motorcycles or skateboarding and are just living way too damn long.
Comic storyteller and New York character Andrew J. Lederer was in the hospital in New York for surgery this week. I assumed it was for minor surgery cause he said the chances of him living were very high. I said a prayer for him even though I don’t believe in God that much. Afterwards he told me he had had heart surgery.
I knew he is ill because he tweeted it. When I go into the hospital I’ll probably tweet about my illnesses, too. Andrew is a lot like me. I know he’ll enjoy being called a “New York character”.
But after viewing his videos on twitter I’ve decided I will make an effort not to use social media to update my medical statuses online. I felt for Andrew and was worried for him.
I didn’t like the feeling of feeling all worried and distressed.
The older you get, the more friends you have. You spend a lifetime collecting relationships: All your school friends, work friends, your children’s friends’ parents. Every week I add a friend or two. Andrew I met five years ago. Motorcycle man eleven years ago. Who knows who I’ll meet today?
And every one of those people is going to get sick, or get into an accident, and die. And I’m going to have to worry about them and feel sad, and frankly, I am in over my head just trying to live right now., let alone have to care for other people.
In rich countries the sick pretend they’re “fighting” to live while family and friends give over care to “professionals” (strangers, in fact) in hospitals and hospices. The patient goes through surgery after useless surgery, trying to keep an 85-year-old alive for another ten minutes.
The family and friends can get on with their lives hoping to not be burdened with the disgusting mess of the dying. And the sick, eventually most of us, can feel we’re not burdening our loved ones with our care. The process of death drags on and on until you’re relieved to hear of the loved ones’ passing.
The price for this system is that now the State spends ten or 20% of everything the country makes on health care, and I have read that 80% of that is spent in the last year of a person’s life. All so we don’t get our hands bloody or bloody our family’s hands. Do the maths. We spend maybe 16% of everything on not feeling guilty about the way we’re handling death.
But the other cost is that we have to live through the dying process – even though it’s behind closed doors in a hospital.
I know I will die in a hospital, ugly. I’ll be weakly thanking the living for their infrequent visits and small gifts, and trying to be nice to hospital staff so they’ll bring me an extra pat of butter. While my my family, friends, or people who know me, have to put up with another dying and another death.
Motorcycle friend: I salute you.
*Another “death” related post about Jamie Livingston and his legacy of 6500 Polaroid photos – one taken every day for 17 years.
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