52,416,000 Minutes

November 19, 2011
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I am at peace. That tranquil feeling that always ensnares me after each visit envelopes me as I continue quietly along the sidewalk on my solitary walk home.

The weather is especially nice today. I feel warm and blessed as the sun’s rays bake my skin. The brief spells of cool, moist air that dance within me every time I pass under the shade of a tree feels absolutely blissful. It just rained. I smile as the sun slowly makes its way to the horizon, blazing the lake before me in beautiful hues of mandarin and rose. I spot two cranes soaring majestically over my head.
Yes, I am at peace. Always. I spend hours a week trying to ensure that they are never lonely. But my lonely walks are something that I look forward to. They give me time to think…

What if I were forced to spend my last days in a long-term care facility? I would essentially be living in an alien environment, far from my loved ones – alone. It is a terrible reality that we must all face: Many of us will die alone and neglected. I have witnessed the downside of government care. I have seen elderly individuals on hospice, spending their last days alone in a bed with no one to talk to and wipe their tears away. I have seen instances where dementia patients repeat sadly over and over again that their children won’t visit them… Their children don’t visit them solely because they believe there is no point in “wasting time” to see a mother or father who won’t remember their visit anyways. What if that were me? I would be a 100-year-old woman, forgotten, distanced from her family, dying alone in a stranger environment. It is a heart-breaking truth.

Living to an old age certainly sounds inviting at first…But we must examine all aspects of the thought before we jump to conclusions. 100 years is 52,416,000 minutes. 100 years is a long time to live. It is a long time to suffer. It is a long time to be alone. This past weekend I attended a life-changing training program at my local Hospice Center. I spent over three days with a group of individuals ranging from all age groups, and I crossed the wondrous bridge from an outsider, terrified of dying, to a dying individual terrified of something, in reality, much, much bigger: dying alone. I have witnessed the beauty of giving my attendance to a dementia patient on hospice. I have witnessed the peace of just forgetting about myself and thinking about others for a change.

Thinking about others is exactly what we need to do. We should not be afraid of dying. We should be afraid of dying alone. It is the very greed that drives us to wish for selfish things such as elixirs and superhuman technology that has led us to fear death. But I am not. I am, in fact, afraid of living too long. I am afraid of living to be 100 years old. I am afraid of watching others around me dissipate and forget me. I am afraid of dying as a lonely human being in a government-run facility that has the power to strip me of everything that I have spent my life constructing and preserving.

So now I ask every living soul this: Do you want to live for 52,416,000 minutes?

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