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Image by Larisa_K on Pixabay.

Last week a friend called to say, “I have to postpone our plans.” A close family member had died unexpectedly.

There was a time when I would have shown complete sympathy. “I feel sorry for your loss…and I’m sad to see one more person depart the earth.”

Now I respond differently. I ask, “How old was she?”

“Ninety,” comes the answer.

“Wow, that’s impressive! Was she living at home and enjoying life?”

“Oh yes! She was very stubborn about staying home and taking care of herself.”

“Frankly,” I say, “she’s lucky. She had a good run. Ninety? That’s more than most of us get.

“Even more,” I say, “she didn’t end up in a home. I bet she would have been miserable.”

All too often we hear people about people dying “after a long painful illness.” They may have spent their last years in a care center, with little quality of life.

I tell everyone I know, “If you hear that I’ve been gunned down on South Street, or hit by a car, do not be sad. Say, ‘Thank goodness she didn’t have to go into a nursing home.'”

It’s hard for people with loving families. I’ve heard people say, “It’s selfish for him to refuse treatment. We want our kids to grow up with their grandfather.”

Or, “It’s not so bad. At least you’re alive.”

At a certain point, every year you live is a reason to be thankful…as long as you’re living on your own terms.

Sure enough, some people want to keep going as long as possible. They’d rather be locked up in a care facility, enduring uncomfortable medical treatment, eating bad food, and dealing with impersonal caregivers.

“Better than the alternative,” they say.

But for others, each year means an increasing risk of helplessness and pain. I suspect my friend’s relative fit that category, just as I would.  My friend will miss the relative. There are certain interactions that can’t be replaced.

Often, however, they’re glad they crossed the bridge when they were ready, instead of waiting for a force beyond their control to open the gate and let them through. We have a celebration of their life and an appreciation of what we had before they were gone.