End-of-life insights don’t come as often to me as during the period in which my end-of-life lexicon blossomed and grew (in fact, that work seems complete now). However, one has arisen. It’s a mashup of several things. First is an increasing number of angst-ridden conversations on Facebook’s excellent Slow Medicine group, a very decent environment where medical professionals and interested civilians present and occasionally work through gnarly, real-world end-of-life matters. There’s been a rise in the number of posts asking for guidance after extreme elderly loved ones opt for surgeries and end up very worse off, now essentially dying under circumstances in situations that they claim to have wanted all along to avoid. Second is a clarifying reflection on the Canadian author Stephen Jenkinson’s identification, in his book Die Wise, of More Time as an aspect of late life that almost everybody craves. Stephen combines More Time with an observation in his hospice field work which he calls “dying not dying,” where people spend their dying time not believing that they are dying and hence not dying (as you might imagine, this viewpoint puts Stephen at odds with many in the hospice, palliative, and spiritual worlds; he is an outlier…).
Our More Time is *not* in addition to 100% of our lifespan, whatever that may be for each of us. Without “deathdays” (the opposite of birthdays), without knowing when our time is up, this means something simple and profound…
We will, each of us, live our More Time as our lives’ closing epoch. Unless we consciously appreciate each day as we live it, most of us will not be aware that we are living our More Time. Thus, when we decline precipitously, or are offered very late-life surgery as a fix (I’d wager withOUT adequate or truly informed consent opportunities required to adequately assess our circumstances and options), perhaps we’d be wise to say, to ourselves and our loved ones, “this moment is not the beginning of my More Time, it’s the end of it.”
Consider: by the time we hit age 60 the vast majority of us will have entered *our last quarter of life.* For a few of us that moment arrives by age 70. Maybe our More Time equals the last 1% of our lifespan. Maybe 5%; who knows? The longer we figure it as, the less we may be inclined to roll medical dice that could medically and existentially bankrupt us. Or maybe, possibly cheating a little, if we simply average our expected lifespan to 80 years, for those who exceed that age you’re living on More Time.
If we really want to die in peace, we must reconcile to these aspects or risk the awful specter of medicalized dying in peace-less environments under frantic circumstances.
More Time: know and appreciate it while you live it.