Planning My Death
Bill Long 12/28/04
When I Die I Want a Big Party
I read the news this morning that Susan Sontag died. I read the news the other day that Reggie White died. People die all the time. Rich people. Blacks and Whites. Women and Men. Usually we don't die suddenly. Normally we have some advance notice of it, some clear sign that time on earth is going to end. Susan Sontag, for example, died in the hospital. Surely she knew her days were running out. So, how do we face those last days? How do we come to grips with knowing that the end of life's earthly pilgrimage is nigh? The following poem is my vision of what I would like to do. By the way, I am not planning the party yet--just thinking about it.
I have to confess, however, that my way of thinking of this has changed. When I lived in Kansas (1990-96) and often felt that my life was over, I imagined the following brief scenario. When I was in my last days, I would hire people to take me out of my bed, drive me to the railroad tracks, and hold me up on the tracks as one of those fast-moving trains came through, letting it plow through me like an ocean-liner through the water. I have matured to the following vision of my death.
I am really glad I am living in Oregon. Oregon is one of the few, if not the only state allowing physician-assisted suicide. John Ashcroft, while he was Bush's Attorney General, tried to come down on Oregon very hard for its approach. After all, John is Mr. Life-giving. He truly knows how to respect human life. But the Bush Administration seems content now allowing Oregon to go its own way on this one.
So, I am protected by the law. And, I know a good law professor who really knows how to interpret the Oregon assisted suicide statute. She will tell me the details when I need them about signatures and affidavits and all those things. I can be responsible, therefore, in my death, here in Oregon.
If I, then, am among the fortunate who has a good idea when the end will come, I will work things as follows. If I still have friends at the time, I will ask them to arrange a big party. It will be at my home. I have already worked out the wording of the invitation. It will say, "You are invited to celebrate Bill's death. No gifts please. Your presence is sufficient." Then I would give the date and time. Just like those cards that announce a reception from 4-7 with a "speech" by the main character at 5, I would invite people for a three-hour period, with a final "conversation" with me. I think I would also put the actual time of administration of the sacrament--oops, the hemlock--on the card.
Thus, the invitation would look something like this: "You are invited to celebrate the death of Bill, from X to XX on XX (date). Individual Conversations with Bill beginning at XXX (time). Administration of the drug at XXXX (time). No presents please."
Back to Prose
Ok. But you have to spend time thinking about some additional things. Some of the decisions I would have to make are the following: Who would organize this thing? Whom would I invite? What would be the mood that I would want to create? Where would I be while people were arriving? How far gone would I let myself get before having the party? To what extent would I try to smooth anxieties or should I just take the 'deal with it' approach? To what extent should I structure this party or just 'go with the flow' until the solution is flowing in the veins?
As poet Michael Harper said (in Bill Moyers' The Language of Life), "The job of the poet is to tell the truth no matter what. As James Baldwin said, 'Artists are here to disturb the peace' and by the peace he means our tendency to be vague and inactive and not attentive enough to the dyamism and the requirements of living," (p. 185). So, let's not be vague and inactive about this. Though we don't know all the details--indeed, some of them will only emerge when the situation actually arises, we know enough of them to proceed. The next poem/essay will say how I would like things to happen.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long