Over My Dead Body

A college girlfriend of mine used to pride herself on being kind of pro-death. She wasn’t goth, per se, but she was certainly contrarian, and when we’d get into existential discussions (far too often for my late teenaged self who was more interested in physical explorations), she’d tell me that she wasn’t afraid of death.

Well, I am, I’d tell her. The idea that everything ends, and you don’t even have the benefit of being aware that it’s over, it’s all too horrifying and confounding for me. No thank you.

She’d one-up herself. “I’m looking forward to it! I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Suffice it to say, she was not a scientific skeptic, and tried to convince me of the existence of spirits and past lives and the like (which she did with some brief success, eager to please her as I was). Death purportedly didn’t spook her because she was convinced that she herself would be a spook.

As an adult, it’s now clear to me that there was more going on there than some college-age rebellion. It’s of course rational to accept death as an inevitable event, and to make peace with that acceptance. It’s another to declare one’s enthusiasm for it. There was a pain she harbored that my 18-year-old self could not have comprehended.

I was reminded of this when I read a piece at The Atlantic by Ezekiel J. Emanuel in which he declares his intention to stop trying to stay alive at the age of 75. The long and the short of it is that he feels that his probable physical and mental deterioration will cause him to be too much of a burden on his loved ones, and insufficiently vigorous for his own tastes. (“It is much more difficult —> Read More