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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017 1 year ago

Chris Jepson: What do we do with dad?

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No father wants to imagine it. Of being reduced, for all intents and purposes, to bedridden vegetable matter.
by: Chris Jepson Staff Writer

No father wants to imagine it. Of being reduced, for all intents and purposes, to bedridden vegetable matter. Of being so reduced mentally that one’s children are left asking, “What do we do with dad?” There’s a Jepson family expression about being humorously observed — lost in deep thought or revelry — that goes, “He’s just a humming and a drooling.” So intense the experience. But if no one is home (mentally speaking) and you’re reduced to “humming and a drooling” well, as suggested in “The Wizard of Oz,” “That’s a horse of a different color.”

Pick your own word. Do you have a duty, an obligation, a responsibility to consider how you die? I recommend you have such a conversation with yourself. No doubt, you probably already have. There is nothing macabre about examining your endgame; at least loosely asking yourself: how do I deal with what puts a definite hiccup in my giddy-up.

If my family history is any indication, I have approximately 17 years before I’m leveled by a stroke or a heart attack. The men in my family are strong until that day when we are not. Boom! I’ve consumed far less whiskey and red meat then my father and grandfather, but I also know that I’ve lived a life exposed to many more toxic environmental chemicals. We all have. I’ve already experienced one bout of cancer and I’d be a walking cripple but for today’s miracle (medicine) of modern surgery correcting my cervical spinal stenosis.

We all know our outcomes. What happens upon death, well, I have definite opinions on that subject, but this column is about considering only how we “give up the ghost.” Death is such a disappointment. It truly is. There’s no getting around that sentiment. Life is (can be) so splendid that even in our darkest moments, under the direst of circumstances we want more. We’re hard-wired to survive. To press on. To live. To laugh. To celebrate everyday the beauty of our existence, of the exquisite abundance and diversity of our Mother Earth.

I think it wise to own your death as you lived your life. Why not? I never gave a passing thought to such “matters” until the birth of my first child. It was at that sublime moment that I realized, regardless of my boundless, indestructible ego as a young man, that I was part of a process that has undeniable beginnings and endings.

Intellectually, I’ve never considered my own death a particularly sad experience. It just is. But I’ve felt others’ deaths as exactly that. That is the conundrum. When I die, it’s over. But for those around me, there remains pain and loss.

Which leads me to how one dies. Is it preferable to die 5 minutes too soon or 5 minutes too late? It’s the too late scenario that can have a family asking, “What do we do with dad?”

As painful as losing a loved one to death, I argue it is infinitely more painful for your loved ones to witness, to experience the death of you while you’re still alive. The mind leaves while your body soldiers on and on and on and . . .

My mother died instantly, my father in a week. Is there an ideal death? Is it an honorable, loving gesture to die on your own terms? I think as much.

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