10 Minutes to Death

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.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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