We 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.