Thursday, 1 November 2007

Life expectancy

How lucky we all are! Average lifespans are going up all the time and before long there'll be centenarians galore, not to mention armies of ninety-year-olds.

But do we really want to live to 100? Do we really want to live so long we can hardly remember what we did for a living or who we once shacked up with, let alone our first love or our teenage rampages?

Why is length of life considered so much more important than quality of life? What's the point of reaching 101 if by that time you're half-blind, deaf, senile and stuck in a wheelchair?

Personally I'd prefer dropping dead at (say) 70, still in good health, mentally alert and savouring life to the full, to staggering on for another thirty years becoming more and more decrepit and an increasing burden to everyone else.

In fact I'd like to keel over in the middle of something I particularly enjoy like climbing Slieve Donard*, scoffing a huge bowl of ice cream or exploring some foreign city.

I certainly don't want to end up in a so-called care home, where the chances are instead of being cared for I'd be treated with casual indifference by underpaid, uncommitted staff.

No, I'm happy to stay alive as long as I'm firing on all cylinders and my brain is still fizzing with all the spectacle and novelty of the world around me.

Once the fun disappears and my body starts falling apart, I hope someone will do the decent thing and pop something nasty in my morning coffee to save me from a miserable fadeout.

Frankly I want to go out with a bang and not a whimper. And with my dignity still intact.

* Highest mountain in Northern Ireland, one of the Mourne Mountains.


  1. Puts me in mind of a line from Bret Easton Ellis's novel Glamorama, where one character criticises another for smoking: "Don't you know that takes ten years off your life?"

    Reply: "Oh yeah, my seventies. Don't want to miss those."

  2. I'm with you Nick. I've a friend in the "Long Goodbye" mode at the mo, his wife keeps him there, she can't let go. He would be incensed if he knew what was happening, none of us can reason with her. The lesson to me is we can suddenly lose our balance, so to speak, and our loved ones are then in charge. And I've seen what they do in the name of love. *Sigh*. In other words, it is out of our control.

  3. John - Very good! Yes, not at all sure I want to see my seventies, thanks. I'll have seventy different minor ailments, I suspect.

    www - I like that expression "lose our balance". Very apt. There must be many spouses like that who think they're doing their duty by soldiering on. Or they just don't have the courage to do anything else.

  4. Then, on a more miserablist note, there's Philip Larkin, who was always terrified of dying (his last words reportedly: "I am going toward the inevitable") - see his great late poem Aubade ("Postmen like doctors go from house to house"), or his horrible The Old Fools.

    "Can they never tell / What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night? / Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout / The whole hideous, inverted childhood? Well, / We shall find out."

  5. Yes, two wonderful, eye-opening poems. Must reread Larkin sometime.
    I like his observation about death that we've been in oblivion before but that gave birth to something whereas the final oblivion is the real thing, leading nowhere. Unless of course you believe in some sort of reincarnation.

  6. I think most people think they'd like to go before they are dependent on the uncommitted and underpaid stuff in a home, including myself. I also think the problem why most don't go but hold on to life is because slowly but surely that awareness disappears along with the memory, taste buds, sharpness of the mind. That's my theory anyway.
    There is also religious side of things, when you get old enough to want to die if you are religious you also know that killing oneself is a sin.. Well, already being close to meeting the maker I think it's a huge dilemma for the faithful. If anything people become religious (or more religious) as they get nearer to the event. After all, what is there is god? :) Now all we need is the Pope coming out of the little door to the balcony and announce to the crowds that it's ok to kill oneself in order to end the misery, the pain and the suffering, and go with dignity....

  7. I just saw a yahoo news story about a guy who claims that there are some people who are alive now who may live to be 1,000 years old. And I thought well, who the hell wants to live for that long?
    Not me.

  8. What a breakthrough that would be, Gaye, for the Pope to say it's okay to end it all if your quality of life has become zilch. Hard to see the Pope saying anything so compassionate and sensible though.

  9. A thousand years old, Medbh? What a terrifying prospect. Apart from anything else, where on earth would all those millions of still-alive people live? We'd all be piled on top of each other six-deep.

  10. Thank God I am a smoker, so i won't have to live too long!!

  11. I just hope I live long enough to be a burden. People bring you stuff when you're a burden and you don't have to go to work.

    I'd be a burden now if I could only afford it.

  12. Major - I've never smoked, but my dad did and he died of lung cancer at 70. Mind you, he was always moaning about how the country was going to the dogs and how decadent everyone was getting, so maybe he was pleased to go.

    Gimme - Yes, that's a good plan. Trouble is I value my independence too much. On the other hand, the prospect of a ravishingly attractive young home help or two....