By Marg Sumner
A friend and I have a pact. At 10 minutes before dementia strikes, we’re each going to take two hits of fentanyl and ride off into the dawn, dusk, rainbow, whatever. There are two problems with this: (1) How will we find the fentanyl and (2) How will we know when it’s 10 minutes to dementia?
I’m not obsessing over the details of this plan; I’m getting on with my life. My undiagnosed Cushing’s Syndrome in 2018 interfered with my life for the next two and a half years. While it severely restricted my life and forced me to the sidelines, it left me with hours of unasked-for “me time.” I hate that phrase, but what else would you call resting in bed, resting in a chair, resting in the hammock, resting on the toilet, with lots of time to think through my junk drawer of thoughts.
Thought #3,679: Death is a fact of life.
I toyed with the idea that I might be that one person who lives forever, but Donald Trump said he was that person. I concluded that what’s more important than fussing about how the inevitable was going to grab me, is how I make it to the end. I want to die in peace and I want to die happy.
My first 45 years were fueled by rage, alcohol, sex and pills. Also a lot of good stuff, but I wasn’t who I wanted to be. The next 20 years I spent unwinding from all the bad behavior and figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think I’ve figured it out. Two years of enforced inaction followed by two years of covid will do that to a person.
I’m struggling to put in clear English exactly what my goal is for myself. Here are a couple lines I read the other day about a low-level bank clerk fleeing Paris with his wife ahead of the invading German army in 1940.
[He] was not really unhappy. He had a unique way of thinking: he didn’t consider himself that important; in his own eyes, he was not that rare and irreplaceable creature most people imagine when they think about themselves.*
The many blessings of being born who I am, where I am, what advantages I have … all that led me to a higher opinion of myself than deserved or necessary. This sounds awkward because I haven’t worked out my thoughts exactly, but my goal is to become more humble. Not saintly, just humble.
There’s a to-do list (what would a Protestant work ethic be without a to-do list?): Give away what I can to family and friends; donate what I can; pare things down; reduce and simplify. Also a mental paring down and a physical paring down. Figure out what a moral, essential life means for me.
None of this serious shit means I have to become a sourpuss. I’m going to plant flowers on my deck and nap in my hammock with Rosie DeDog. Read books between naps and manic bouts of dishwashing and do-gooding. I’m going to terrorize the buckthorn trees in the woods next to my apartment. I’m going to be merciless with the garlic mustard. I’m going to annoy politicians with un-asked-for opinions.
I’m not a follower of any religion, but I do believe in redemption. That it’s important to be a better person at the end than you were at the beginning. And when I check out 10 minutes before dementia, I’ll be wearing a dress of red, orange and purple flowers – with matching underwear.
* Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
© 2022 Marg Sumner
Marg Sumner is retired from 40+ years of copyediting and proofreading other people’s words. The tables have turned, and she now writes and suffers the slings and arrows of copyeditors.