Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

I was thinking about growing old and dying even before the tragedy in Tucson. I am the caretaker for my 92 year old aunt. On the one hand, I would like to grow older with her philosophy of life. On the other hand, my dad who dropped dead of a heart attack at 63 seemed to leave life on his own terms – alive and vibrant one moment and dead on the backyard grass the next.

My aunt has survived breast cancer twice, once in her 40s and once in her 60s. She volunteered for Reach for Recovery for years and still counsels breast cancer patients on the phone. She has congestive heart failure, an artificial heart valve and a pacemaker. She is on oxygen. She goes into her den on the good afternoons and writes little notes to people offering sympathy, congratulations, advice and hope and copies of any clippings if they happened to be in the paper. Her biggest expense after food is probably stamps. She works the phone to keep up with her friends.

A member of our bridge club asked her what the secret to growing old with such style was and she replied, “Make younger friends. Most of the friends who were my age have died. If I hadn’t made younger friends, I wouldn’t have any.”

Mary is a true pragmatist. Her oldest son is happily married to his third wife. Mary is still on very good terms with her first two daughters-in-law. They talk on the phone and exchange gifts and cards. She is quite clear about the fact that her son wasn’t a very good husband but that he married such nice girls, why wouldn’t she stay in touch with them. (For the record I have one former D-I-L and no desire to keep her in my life.)

It is hard to see how slowly she moves and how easily she tires. I think of the frog and the pot of boiling water. I wonder if I will be able to continually adjust to diminished capacity with half of her cheer. I really don’t want to. If I had my druthers I think I’d rather check out the way my dad did.

I have trouble thinking through this dilemma of growing older. We don’t really let nature take its course anymore. We keep intervening. My aunt has stopped most of the interventions but trying to regulate all her medicines requires testing (outpatient) and adjustments. There are of course religious and ethical questions here but mostly I am just trying to understand how I want to approach my own end. Being Terry Schiavo would be up there in my worst nightmares.

Here is what I told my son who has my medical power of attorney. “I want you to remember the pets that we put to sleep because we didn’t want them to suffer and there was no hope of recovery. Please, please treat me with as much compassion as we did our pets.”

The funny part about writing this is, at 64 I don’t feel old. It is the frog within me speaking. Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit….

How about you?