Friday, August 1, 2014

Thoughts On Aging, Dying, and Legacy

I thought you might like an advance look at my next column in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer. It includes the best ideas that were in my seven recent articles on aging.

Thoughts About Aging, Dying, and Legacy 

My mom died recently, which triggered thoughts about aging, dying, and legacy. Here are some of them. 

Make each heartbeat count.  When your second parent dies, it makes too clear that you’re moving toward the end of life’s conveyer belt. Most older people decide to play more, work less. But consider Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the genomic double helix who worked in his hospital bed on the day he died of cancer. Similarly, Isaac Asimov had written 450 books and was asked, “If you had six months to live, what would you do?” His answer: Type faster.

Indeed, a surprising number of people would rather work until the end. You might ask why? Imagine there were two clones of you, both with months left to live. One mainly played golf and video games. The other mainly did the most societally beneficial work possible: continuing on the job, mentoring, writing a helpful blog, etc. Obviously, the latter’s life was more meaningful. 

Give wisely. Donate to a charity where dollars have big ripple effects, for example,  a nonprofit serving needy gifted kids such as Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG.) As Mensans know, high-IQ people have great but sometimes unrealized potential to make a difference in the world.

Check out this New York Times article for more guidance on how to give wisely. 

Think three times before retiring. Yes, some people love retirement but many don’t. They’re bored, feel useless, and have difficulty spending so much time with their spouse. They may also outlive their retirement. You can always retire later but once you retire, it’s like the Roach Motel: You can check in but you can’t check out. 

Forgive yourself.  Most people, as they get older, decline physically and mentally. For example, they may develop a case of CRS: can’t remember stuff. Forgive yourself. Your decline is usually compensated for by your experience and, ideally, wisdom. 

Have a bulletproof will or trust. When money is at stake, some seemingly nice people will try to overturn a will. You might start with a do-it-yourself one, for example, using WillmakerPlus, but get it bulletproofed by an estate lawyer. 

Have an advance medical directive. Dying is rarely much fun. If you’re in agony and fed with a feeding tube, do you really want extraordinary measures taken to keep you alive? Without an advanced medical directive, that’s what they’ll do. My mom had such a directive, and when things got bad, we put her in in-home hospice: She could live out her days at home and a nurse visited her regularly to be sure she was comfortable but they didn’t do any probing, painful procedures to extend what was already a very poor-quality life.

Make sure your will and advance medical directive are in the hands of someone you trust who’ll know when you’re incapacitated or dead. 

Plan your burial.  Many people get conservative when it comes to dying: have a separate ceremony at a funeral home and another at the gravesite. Usually expensive and unnecessary. Preplan and you’ll avoid your next of kin having to, while in grief’s throes, withstanding a funeral home salesperson pitching you a fancy funeral: “You wouldn’t want to be cheap with your mother, now would you?” Your funeral’s value is determined by the warmth of the ceremony and celebration of your life, not on how much is spent on the funeral.  My wife, when she dies, after direct burial at the cemetery, wants the attendees to come back to our house for a brief celebration of her life over food, drink and ‘50s music. 

Dying well.  We still don’t allow people to decide when to die. That strikes me as a terribly unfair intrusion of government into one of our most personal decisions. Fortunately, some physicians will give a terminally ill person a final cocktail of tranquilizers and sleeping pills. And if you can't access such a physician, a right-to-die orgnization, Final Exit Network, makes available the most comfortable ways to go. 

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia

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