How Long Do You Want To Live?

agingWe live in an age of medical miracles. Illnesses and conditions that ended people’s lives less than a decade ago are repaired by simple procedures and medicines. My maternal grandfather died in his 60s. My uncle, whom I was named after, died before his 60th birthday from complications of obesity. On the other hand, my grandmother died at 93, and my paternal grandfather lived to be over 100.

At the same time, my grandmother lost her eyesight to macular degeneration when she was 87. She was miserable. My grandfather was in better health until he was 99, and really only suffered in the last few months of his life.

My parents are in their mid 80’s. My mom is in reasonably good health. My dad can’t walk, and is seriously overweight. I am always taking them to doctors. Nevertheless, my dad is my hero, and even if it is somewhat selfish, I want my parents around as long as possible. They mean a great deal to me, and helped make me the person I am. I still find myself trying to impress them, even at this stage of my life, and wishing my grandparents were alive to see how much weight I lost.

It makes me ponder how long I want to live. First, there is the physical factor. How bad can my health be before I would not want to live anymore? Would I be willing to live without my eyesight or hearing? My dad lost his hearing when he was a teenager, but he kept on living, and has had a meaningful life. My grandmother lost her eyesight, but kept on living. There are personal quality of life issues we have to consider. I was seriously overweight like my father and my uncle, but through surgery, I dodged that bullet. I understand what it means to have a new lease on life. I inherited high blood pressure from my grandmother, but it’s controlled through medication. Like most people, I want to live as long as I am healthy. If I’m in good health, and can function normally, I’m willing to go the distance. But there are other factors that play into this decision.

Having my grandparents alive and in my life until I was 40, made a big difference in my life. Having my parents in my life as I approach 60 is a wonderful thing. My parents have always been there for me, and although I know the day will come when they are not, it makes me cherish the time I have with them, even if I am taking them to doctors appointments, or just hanging out at their apartment for a few hours. Even if my health was less than perfect, I would want to be alive or active in my children’s lives, and in the lives of their children. I’d be willing to live longer with illness or diminished capacity as long as I could still be in the lives of my children, and if they have children, in their lives. I want to be alive to see my children get married, and have children. I want to be there for my grandchildren’s Bar and/or Bat Mitzvahs. I want to see my children and grandchildren get married.

I nearly died several months ago from a serious illness; but through the miracles of surgery and medications, and by the grace of God to make it happen, I made a full recovery. While I lay in the hospital bed, considering the possibility of impending death, I argued with God, asking what would become of my wife and teenage son, and what would this do to my parents and older children, and what would happen to the people I help in different parts of the world? I also wondered who would attend my funeral. God heard me and I pulled through.

How long we want to live can’t be selfish and just about what is comfortable for us. It must also be considerate of the people in our lives, and the part we play in their lives. I am willing to go the distance, and play my part in the lives of the people in my life. Its not a question of how good we feel, but of how important we are in the lives of others. We are important in their lives, because they are important in ours.


5 thoughts on “How Long Do You Want To Live?

  1. I just wrote about 300 words, and it all simply disappeared. SO, I’ll try to be as brief as I can with the rewrite hehe.

    The short version is that my daughter hates my guts and wishes I would die and get out of her life, but my son and all the grandchildren love me. None of them live near me, and I don’t have any meaningful effect on any of their lives, nor do I have any money to leave them.

    That leaves my wife as the only one who matters as to my effect on others. I would want to hang on as long as I could be of service to her, but if I should ever become a burden, then my value would be lost and I would want to depart and free her to enjoy what time might be left to her.

    Now, as to my personal comfort and enjoyment. I think as soon as I have to live under someone else’s care, whether by advanced age, or by illness or incapacitation, then I would be a burden to Society and to the individuals who care about me. That would render me of little or no value to those in this world.

    Now, suppose I should go blind and/or deaf. That would put me under someone else’s care, and I have covered that. Same with Alzheimer’s. Now, suppose I come down with a horrible, extremely painful disease, such a colon cancer. With all the pain meds we have today, I’d probably want to hang on as long as I could care for myself.

    This does seem to be a rather academic discussion, though, because I don’t see any permission in Torah by which I might take my own life. To the contrary, Torah seems to repeatedly treat life as precious, even though many lives were lost during the years in which Totah was written. Of course euthanasia is forbidden, because it is murder.

    So, it looks like I don’t have any choice in the matter, and I will have to make the best of whatever comes.


  2. Rabbi Michael… I’ve been in the ER three times since Christmas morning with excruciating “chest pain” stemming from gall bladder problems. It was treated as “esophagitis” up until the last time when an ultrasound finally located the real problem. This was the first time I ever needed morphine as a pain killer as the last attack endured for 12 hours. Admitted on the last occasion for “pain management,” I lay in a hospital bed for the first time in my 56-year-long life – something I am incredibly aware of and grateful to God for. But I will never forget the look on my sons’ faces when they came to visit me. Joshua is 12 and Aaron is 7. They’d never seen Dad debilitated before. After long, hard hugs were in place, I immediately began cracking jokes about Daddy’s “Gall Bladder Weight Loss Program,” how to season gall bladder stew, etc. (kids that age, especially boys, as you likely know, love everything gross, the more the better). But that look on their faces will never leave my memory. Whatever the Lord brings my way, I accept in advance; however, if I have my druthers, I’ll endure all that I can just to be around for my boys. You raise very pertinent issues, Rabbi Michael, that we don’t like to think about; but, when we do, we can see our dependence on HaShem with such clarity that it seems worth it to ponder them. Thanks for bringing it up… Shabbat shalom to you and yours…

  3. I went through countless surgeries throughout my 71 years and in each one of them, the love that i received from family, friends and brothers in Messiah is priceless. I love all of them so much that the thought of being a burden on them is enough for me to say “no more.”

      • Sure, his loved ones might not feel the same way, but just who does get to decide? Loved ones have a built-in guilt trip in them, because they feel a responsibility to care for us old people. They don’t want the burden (Who does?), but they usually stand ready and willing to accept it. After all the effort and expense I’ve put into raising the children, it seems a shame to burn it all up making them care for me when all it does is postpone my inevitable death by some indeterminate length of time.

        For this reason I have to stand more on the side of what Dan Benzi has said.


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