A Time to Live, A Time to Die.

This post discusses suicide. I know this topic is triggering to some, and so I will continue below the cut.

I read this article earlier in the week, and it’s been ruminating in the back of my mind, where I keep all my odd lines of poetry and story beginnings, for several days now. After reading the New Daily article, I also read the original post, where Gill Pharaoh listed her reasons for wanting to end her life.

I suppose I’ve been thinking about this all week because it’s not so completely cut and dried, this issue. When we hear of someone killing themselves, we often see it as a tragedy—an imperfect solution to a problem which, perhaps given support or time or treatment, might not have led someone to such a dire decision.

However, I suppose that choosing to end one’s life is ultimately a choice that the person whose life it is, should get to make. There are very few times when we can do this, after all. Almost everything else is out of our hands, dependent on so many factors, events and people. But if one chooses to die, and chooses the time and manner in which that happens, then it is, in a sense, the ultimate control. The ultimate decision.

This would sit fine with me, if it weren’t for the fact that none of us lives in a vacuum. We are interconnected with all of those who know us, from mere acquaintances to those closest, and a decision to end one’s life necessarily has an impact on each of those other people. So the decision to go through with suicide must be weighed up against the needs of the others in whose lives we belong.

Pharaoh discussed how she had spent many years helping people to come to terms with their illnesses and impending deaths, and notes that the families of these patients often held onto the idea that the patient should be fighting to stay alive, when she, Pharaoh, believed that the patients should be allowed to die in peace. Pharaoh decided that although she herself was not in poor health, she wanted to be able to make the decision to die before she became ill and unable to make such a choice.

And I can understand that. She had her reasons, and they seem logical. She wanted to be able to go out on a high, and not deteriorate so much that she couldn’t take care of herself. She didn’t want to be a burden on her family or the health system. This is all fair enough, if one accepts that someone of sound mind and body would want to die. But if that seems unacceptable, therein lies the problem. And therein lies my problem, I suppose.

I can understand the desire to want to end one’s life, if there is a illness which makes it difficult to continue without intrusive medical intervention, and when that intervention means that one’s enjoyment of life is greatly lessened. Some diseases really ravage the body, and their effects mean that one is either in constant pain, or has to struggle through the fog of strong medication. But I find it hard to understand why Pharaoh would want to end her life, simply because she couldn’t walk as far as she once could, or because she preferred to have a few friends for dinner rather than a large party. To me, the issues she mentioned were really the results of ageing: life changes, as it does all the time. I do empathise with the frustration she felt, that she was not as physically able as she once was. But that is how we age. Of course, it’s an undesirable aspect! I can identify with Pharaoh’s situation: I’d love to be as flexible and full of energy as I was twenty years ago, and I’m not suffering from any chronic conditions, and generally in good health. Do I feel a sense of delight when I consider that I’m probably never going to have that same spring in my step? Certainly not! Looking at it in that light, my best years are behind me… what a depressing thought. So while I appreciate that aspect of not looking forward to more aches and pains as I age, I also think that the inevitable slowing down lends itself to a readjustment of our relationships with the world, with others, and with ourselves. Not being able to cope with the same physical rigours might lead to more instrospection. It could inspire us to question the why and the how-to instead of always moving quickly from the what to the what-next.

On re-reading Pharaoh’s blog post and her argument to end her life at seventy-five, I can respect her decision, and I offer sympathy to her husband and family, who must miss her terribly—always the case, when someone we love dies, whatever the circumstance. However, I also wonder whether her attitude to ageing is a result of our society’s emphasis on the concept of an everlasting youth. Ageing is seen as a kind of illness to be avoided, instead of an inevitable change, which we can embrace, should we choose. Nobody is saying we have to be ecstatic about our body’s physical deterioration, but there’s something to be said for accepting that change can be good, even as it forces us to renegotiate how we navigate the world and our day-to-day routine. It offers us opportunities we don’t always have in our youth, and it offers our youth a chance to interact with people on a more cerebral level, to hear their stories, to learn (or not!) from their experiences.

Going out on a high might seem attractive to some, and perhaps I will want make that decision when I get to seventy-five as well. It’s hard for me to imagine just how I will feel. But at this stage, there seems to be so much I want to do, that even another thirty-six years seems such a short time to do it all. No checking out early for me. I want to wring life out to the last drop.

4 thoughts on “A Time to Live, A Time to Die.

  1. Living and dying are choices in life we face. Lots have been written on living but few about dying.

    While respecting individual choices, I am afraid there may be a copycat or cop-out mentality with the suicide tourism. Yes, it takes courage to live. And, alone with living life to its fullest, they are, in my opinion, principles for living. It is okay for individuals to choose the ultimate decision of suicide if they do so in sound minds (I suppose as in Gill Pharaoh’s case). But like you, I wonder how much our society has stacked the cards against the aged. That hastens the decision.

    As baby boomers graying, there has to be a more balanced approach than suicide tourism and nursing home. A case in point is Morrie Schwartz as featured in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. We need to educate folks about dying and how to die with dignity. Dying is natural and complements living.

    Suicide is an option but not necessary the best. So, make that choice wisely.

    • I read Tuesdays with Morrie several years ago, and yes, I think that sort of attitude is where I’m at when it comes to ageing and dying. We really like to put old people out of sight, don’t we? And we see dying as a terrible thing, which it isn’t (always). As you say, it complements living.
      The trouble with suicide is that while it’s an option to take, there are also no second chances. You can’t take it back!

  2. Pingback: A Time to Live, A Time to Die. | ugiridharaprasad

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