The average man in my family in both my maternal and paternal lines in the past generation died at ages 75 to 78. (The "girls", as my aunts on my father's side were known to everyone, are much longer lived, reaching into their late 80s and early 90s.) So I have some years left, aside from the unpredictable. That expectation is not what I want to talk about, however. I want to talk about something I learned - or maybe, concluded, is a more accurate word - in the past dozen years; that is, there is more to dying than simply croaking. I am fortunate to have old age to do the preparation. I have also learned that there is more to old age than simply hanging on.
When I was young, I did not think much about getting old. I was mainly interested in succeeding at getting through my youth. This might not have been your experience, but it was mine. I was something of a puritan. Enjoying my youth was not my goal. Later, when I was middle aged, I didn't think about old age much then, either, though being old was just over the horizon. I had my son when I was forty. Raising him was such a completely preoccupying task, that I didn't think about being old. There were some wonderful times with his childhood, but most of the time, I was thoroughly exhausted. I was so completely exhausted when he was 3 years that - I recall saying to my wife once - I could not imagine having the strength to live to be fifty-five. Then, just having uttered this implausibility, I was fifty-five, still alive, and heading toward the big 6-0. I began slowly to understand that I would be old, fortune complying.
The only sense I had of old age was negative. Old age was the period of life when you have no energy to do anything, when all the major stages of life were done, when you had nothing to look forward to, when good health had largely vanished, when each day was a struggle to retain a few flashes of health, when sex was a thing of the past, when your savings was depleted, when your circle of friends became smaller year by year, when your mental faculties dribbled away. I am sure now, that if I had ever talked to senior citizens, I would have been told that my notions were incorrect, and might even be grossly incorrect; but I didn't. It was only my observation, by chance and certainly sad, of the death of friends that made me realize that old age was a definite stage of life with positive features. I realized that one of the positive features is, odd though it might sound, having the opportunity to prepare for dying. I don't mean preparing by writing a will and making sure my family has financial resources to live well when I am dead. Those tasks belong to early middle age, certainly to the years when children arrive in the family. I mean that I realized that dying is something you do with other people, not alone. Dying is a social act, even if physically you are isolated and biologically only you are doing the dying. It should be arranged ahead of time. And there are better and worse ways to go, from the point of view of your relations with other persons involved in your dying. That, too, sounds odd, as if I were talking about planned suicide. But I do not mean that and nothing could be further from the insight I obtained through unhappy observation.