This article is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz…At 82, perhaps I can be excused for thinking about death. More specifically—my end. Look, I’m having far too much fun in my later years to want to end my human experience Death, as Hamlet described it in Act 3, Scene 1, Soliloquy, is “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” I’m in no rush to get to that undiscovered country, though I do have some countries on my Bucket List that I’d still love to discover.
I’m not thinking about death because of depression. However, I remain deeply saddened by the recent untimely loss of a close family member—Susan Richman, my brother Steve’s fantastic wife, who was as close to me as a sister. Others I have known for decades are dropping like flies at this stage. Others are taking a veritable pharmacy of pills to stave off their demise. I’m one of the few people I know in their 70s to 90s who only take some vitamins.
True confession: I haven’t seen a doctor in years. I’m overdue for a checkup. I just got a call from my new internist to come for a checkup in April. I said okay, but when I asked, they said they didn’t need any body fluids, so I wondered what they would be checking.
Here’s what keeps me up at night: we all know our ETA—our estimated arrival time, which is our birth date. What we donors know, of course, unless we have a terminal illness, and even then, there are wide variations, is our ETD, our Estimated Time of Departure.
I don’t necessarily want to know when I’m going to die. Would YOU want to know? At the same time, knowing that would be beneficial. The biggest thing is that I would know how long my nest egg would last. I have a decent amount of savings, well invested by my financial advisor. Still, I have a hefty New York overhead, so I try to stay careful with my budget and deny myself some things I’d like to have or experiences I’d like to enjoy today because of the unknown tomorrow. What if the money runs out at 90 and I live to 100? Will I be in a refrigerator box on the cold streets of my beloved Manhattan? Will I be able to get the care I need, or will I be in the equivalent of a Poor House? They may not have those anymore, but the care you can get in your home in a nursing facility can vary widely. Will I be well treated or ignored? And in what might hopefully be a very advanced age, will I even know how I’m being treated?
Let’s say I knew for sure that I would end my life’s journey at age 92—ten years from now. If so, I would make different choices to spend more in some areas while making sure the money currently paying for my lifestyle does not run out before my demise. Let’s go to another, the opposite extreme. If I knew I had a year or less to live, I’d visit Dairy Queen weekly for a Blizzard of the Week. I would be a regular at Five Napkin Burger. I would not care if I looked like a candidate for My 600 Pound Life. I would speed up indulging my appetites and senses, quickly living out my Bucket List. The pizza and gelato in Florence, Italy, was terrific—and was the pasta. As you can see, I love to eat.
Beyond ensuring my children received a generous inheritance, I would leave a chunk of money to the best animal rescue groups I could find. This includes the organization trying to get carriage horses off the streets of Manhattan. In other words, I would put my money where my mouth is, literally and figuratively. But I don’t know my ETD. I can live to 100 and outlive my savings, or go out tomorrow.
Given that reality, I am trying to strike a balance and plan for “tomorrow” while living for today. I have a daughter, a son, and two Chihuahuas. My fur babies need me. Who will care for them if I leave them before they go? That decision, those provisions, need to be made. Like many other pet parents with whom I’ve discussed this—who also confessed they have not yet written out their Wills and end of life preferences—I also don’t want to have to address any of this. But I know we must—I must. Every time I hit turbulence in an airplane, I regret not having a Will. It’s something I need to do soon.
My darling Susan died very recently of metastatic lung cancer. The shocking thing was that she had no symptoms until the disease had already spread too far and too fast to cure. Given how unexpected that was, I am now sure every ache and pain I experience must be cancer. So far, it never has been, but one day it may be. Is that day looming closer—or is it still far off? Will death come quickly, quietly, and peacefully in my comfortable bed, with a lovely man asleep beside me? That wished-for scenario could happen—I could make happen—if I knew my ETD.