People tend to take that question one of two ways. Some view the question as morbid, and others view it as empowering. The truth of the matter is we’re all empowered to some extent over the conditions that lead to the end of life. Although we can’t control death, our actions (or inactions) can bring us closer to it or take us away from it. Even with a terminal diagnosis such as cancer, there are scores of courageous patients whose lives have been extended and whose last days have been lived on their own terms.
The Straight, No Chaser message here is to some extent, we all have a say in how we die. Of course some deaths occur in an unpredictable manner, but even then many of us put ourselves in situations where bad things can happen. Even some people who get hit by trucks do so because they were jaywalking. Even those who die in their sleep still did so due to a heart attack, blood clot or some other disease that was preventable or could have been forestalled.
The better course of action is to take charge of your life and thus take charge of your death. Be proactive. In all probability, the way you live your live will define the length of your life and the quality of your death.
Here’s where you should trust me a bit. Even if you theoretically know some of the things I know about the end of life, you probably haven’t seen the things I’ve seen.
- You know that smoking cigarettes leads to emphysema, COPD and lung cancer, but that’s not nearly the same as seeing someone die while coughing up blood and gasping for their last breaths.
- You know that drug use and alcoholism are bad for you, but that’s not nearly the same as seeing someone with liver cancer or cirrhosis die while drowning in the toxins the body is no longer able to clear.
- You know that driving without seat beats is dangerous, but you don’t want to experience the whimper of someone with the excruciating pain from breaking so many bones in their body that death is viewed as a respite.
- You know that safe sex makes sense, but you can’t imagine the horrific appearance of death caused by the esoteric and relentless microorganisms that prey on those with compromised immunity from advanced AIDS.
There are a near infinite amount of additional examples, but the points remain the same.
- Consciously or not, you make decisions about your ongoing health, length of your life and circumstances surrounding your death.
- You are empowered to control these considerations more than you likely realize.
This picture of a child from National Geographic is applicable to each of us to varying degrees. Whatever potential life expectancy we have, it’s a starting point that can be improved upon or diminished, based on how we care for ourselves. The lead question was “How do you want to die?” but perhaps the answer is found in its companion question: “How will you choose to live?”
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