Last Words from the Grave

By reading these words, you’ve probably figured out that I’ve left this life and am headed to my next destination. I’m looking forward to the journey.”

I found these first lines from a self-written obituary in the local newsletter. I had to reread those sentences before comprehending that, first, someone had managed to write their own obituary, and, second, that person was a former neighbor. I knew that writing your own obituary, if you have that luxury, is something that’s becoming more popular. But it’s still a shock that someone who was dying would have enough composure to celebrate his life.

What kind of person is able to record the details of their life, knowing that these will be their final words? Dan, my old neighbor, had a great sense of humor and a big heart; he was always happy to share stories with me about the history of our small mountain community. He had the wonderful ability of not taking himself too seriously, which comes out loud and clear in the obituary. After Dan wrote in his obit that he got a master’s degree in clinical pharmacology, he added: “I know it’s not as impressive to you academics as a PhD, but it worked for me.”

How do you sum up your life? What do you say about yourself? What do you emphasize and what do you ignore? It seems a tricky endeavor, harder than having your survivors—spouse, children, friend—write your obit after you die. Friends and family might be able to easily list your accomplishments, but only you can emphasize what was most important in your life.  

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Dodging a Bullet

Everyday, almost the first thing in the morning, I read the local newspaper to find out the most recent number of cases and deaths from Covid-19 in my county. The daily tabulation belies the pain and tragedies of this pandemic: 145 new cases, no deaths on Monday; 180 new cases, one death on Tuesday; 110 cases, two deaths on Wednesday. Although no names are given for the pandemic’s latest victims, the news reports give their ages and whether they were residents of a senior group home: one in their 70s; one in their 60s; two in their 80s; two of the deceased in a long-term facility.

Almost all the deaths are people over 60, with many in their 80s. Because I’m 71, it feels like death is knocking on doors all around me, that it comes blowing down the streets and paths of my town, skirting the edges of my house. I shut myself in, close the windows, lock the doors and try to turn away. But it’s out there.

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That Could Have Been Me

Sometimes you hear a story in the news that you can’t get out of your head. A friend is obsessed with the story of an older couple who refused to leave their homes during our wildfires this fall, because they thought they would be safe in their cement bunker. Tragically, they didn’t survive the intense fire, and my friend wants to know why their children or officials didn’t make more of an effort to persuade them to leave.

A story that has obsessed me for the past month is the senseless death of a 71-year-old man who was attacked while riding on a bike path not far from where I live. Apparently, his assailants wanted his bike, something scarce and valuable in a time when people feel the need to escape their homes.

Two days before I read the article about his death, I was on that same bike path, although on the opposite (west) end. I’m also the same age as the victim. I can’t help but think that easily could have been me. It’s a reminder that death can come any time, out of the blue and in the least likely places: a public bike path on a warm day, to someone just enjoying the fresh air and sun.

After the initial reporting, I searched the newspaper every day to find out what exactly happened. Although the details were sketchy, it sounds like three men went to grab the victim’s  bike, and in the process the victim was injured badly enough that he died a week later. Did he fall and crack his head or did they rough him up enough that he couldn’t survive his injuries? Or did he have a heart attack in the process?

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