If you could know when you’d die…would you want to know?

Don’t let the days go by
Could have been easier on you
I couldn’t change though I wanted to
Should I have been easier by three
Our old friend fear and you and me

We had some strange discussions at work last week.

If you were a fruit, what would you be?  I chose to be an apple, as I’m pretty ordinary, but most people like me.  I can be a little tart sometimes, but even then I’m pretty practical.

If you were a farm animal, what would you be?  I said I’d be mother duck.  I’m pretty good at keeping the kids in line, but not really the hard working sort.

And we had a philosophical discussion over whether we’d want to know in advance the date of our own or others’ deaths.  Most of the people in the office said they wouldn’t want to know.  One of the girls and I said that we would want to know.

If I had the option of kissing my husband goodbye in the morning and him never coming home again, or being told that he was gravely ill and would be dead within the week, I’d take the latter.  It gives you the chance to say goodbye, the chance to get closure, the chance to maximise your last moments together.

The others said you should be maximising your moments anyway, and living each day like it could be your last, which is true enough in theory but doesn’t work in practical terms.  If my kids are being lazy and not doing their chores, I get cross and yell at them.  If they’re naughty, I punish them.  It’s part of being a good parent.  Children who don’t have consequences grow up to be spoiled, self-indulgent, selfish, inconsiderate adults.  Good parents provide boundaries and consequences for stepping over those boundaries.  Those boundaries and those consequences vary from parent to parent, they even vary from myself to my husband somewhat, but that’s normal.

But if you had a family member who had a week to live, especially a core person in your family, like the parent or the child, then fuck the chores.  No one gives a shit about the state of the kitchen when someone’s dying in the hospital, right?  You’re all about maximising the moments you have left, and that doesn’t mean shouting at the kids to get off their asses and do some housework, it means saying the I love you’s.  And yes, my husband knows I love him, and I say it often.  At least once every day.  And he says it often to me.  And we make sure the kids know we love them.  But still…  I’d want to know.

One of the guys at work suggested that knowing you only have a year left to live stops you from living, because instead you’re focussed on the death that is approaching.  I disagree.  I think if you knew you had a year to live, you’d milk the most out of every moment you had left.  I go to work every day because I need the income to pay my bills, right?  And I save money toward my retirement because I hope to live long enough to retire.  But if I only had a year left to live, I wouldn’t be working, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be saving for retirement.  There would have to be some practical decisions made, as we don’t have the funds for me to just stop working, particularly if my husband and children are going to survive me.  I do have some life insurance though.

In life, we have to try and balance ‘living for the moment’ with ‘planning for the future’.  If you know that you’re 100% guaranteed to live to be 100, you’d be far more diligent about saving for your retirement.  If you know that you’re 100% guaranteed to die next year, you wouldn’t bother and it would tip the balance towards living for the moment.

I’d want to know, anyway.

A few days after that discussion, I found out that a family friend has terminal cancer.  The message I received said ‘No timeframe, she didn’t want to know.’  It all suddenly went from hypothetical to a real life scenario.  This family friend had the option of being given a timeframe (admittedly, a doctor’s educated estimate, no guarantees) and she chose not to know.  I’d have to know.  I tried to explain to the guy at work (the one who made the comment about focussing on the death instead of living) that the difference between ‘You’ve got a couple of weeks’ and ‘You might last a year or two’ gives you a chance to weigh up that balance between ‘living for the moment’ and ‘planning for the future’.  It allows you the knowledge to make decisions.  Of course, if you’re told you might have a year to live, you shouldn’t plan things for the last week of that year, and expect to die on the estimated day (not that a doctor would ever give you a specific date!).  It’s not about that.  It’s just about having a rough guide that can help you weigh up that balance.

My heart is with our family friend as she faces the reality of terminal cancer.  And, of course, with her family.  I fully respect her decision not to know, and I hope all her children (some of them are overseas) have a chance to say goodbye and gain closure.  I know that they’ll all have some wonderful memories of her, as I do.

So…  Would you want to know?

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