Making the Big Exit

So, I was having lunch with a friend.  Over the entree, she said she would like to die quickly and unexpectedly.  A heart attack, say, would be her preferred exit.

I really like lunches and friends like this.  I mean, who needs small talk?

I chimed in with my heartfelt conviction that — if anybody asks me my preference — I don’t want to go that fast.  I have too many significant memories from the time I really did think I might be dying, when I had breast cancer in 1995.  It was a time that, however temporarily, changed my life.  I spent every minute I could telling my husband and children and friends how much I loved them and hearing how they felt about me.

It was as if a strong wind had swept through my life and blown away everything small and niggling.  I didn’t want to die without saying every important thing I needed to say.  I didn’t want to save my good clothes for special occasions.  I wore perfume every day.  I tried to take pleasure whenever I could.  What had I been saving myself for, I kept wondering?

And, as I told my friend, I went for six months without ever having to pick up the check for lunch.  Believe me, nobody’s cheap enough to let a cancer patient pay her own way.

But time passes and everything seems OK and it’s easy to go back to being the same emotionally constipated person you always were, splitting the lunch tab with your friends.  I’ve always thought 9/11 was very much like a cancer diagnosis.  Something momentous happens and you believe you’re forever changed.  But it’s amazing (and kind of depressing) how quickly you return to your old habits and ways of being.

NEVERTHELESS.  I still don’t want to drop dead, if I get the choice.  It’s kind of like I worry about going missing and having my husband inform the police about my description.  I’m pretty sure he would get my weight wrong.

Similarly, I want a little time before I die to get a few things straight.  I don’t want to write my own obituary (how self-involved and self-referential can you get?), but would like to hang around so I could gently prompt people around me with little reminders, such as, “Remember that great bon mot I spilled out on New Year’s Eve in 1999, before the fire department showed up to put out our bonfire?  Well, you might want to include that in my obituary.”

I’d also want to be there to set up a few more rules about my obituary, such as:

1) No, I did not fight a valiant battle ever in my life.  Not for anything.  I’m also not brave.

2) No, l probably wasn’t uncomplaining, either, unless I was in a coma.

3) You know this business about “never met a stranger”?  Well, I’ve met plenty of strangers in my life.

4) I’ve also suffered a few fools, gladly and not-so-gladly, but I hate cliches, so don’t even think about that one.

5) My husband is loving, but there’s no need to call him that in my obituary.  He’s also the love of my life, but that’s between him and me.

6) Please, I don’t want to leave anybody behind to “cherish” my memory.

7) I don’t think I ever “lit up a room” in my life, although if I’m cremated, I suppose that might be a distinct possibility.

8) Don’t forget about New Year’s Eve, 1999.  And any other smart or meaningful thing I’ve said or written.  It’s even more important than getting my weight (120) right.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)




2 comments… add one
  • #7 made me laugh outloud! I’d like to have a bit of time for good-byes, too. If given the choice.

    How true on the wake-up calls and then we settle back in to our old routines and ways of being.

  • I am laughing so hard. Just when I think I am done laughing at the funny part, I laugh again. Thank you. What a great start to my day, in a weird, wild and wonderful sort of way. BTW, I adore you.

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