Old, Sick, Poor, And Loving Every Minute Of It!
Now that you've taken it, I can tell you, confidentially, that I am keeping quiet about it to Mrs. Claus. It does not do most of us much good to know that we have a 42% chance of dying in the next four years, as Mrs. Claus does. So, since, particularly, I clocked in at a 15% chance, this is a burden that I will try to keep to myself.
I prepare for death daily. A prudent man, particularly one with access to Buddhist teaching, will do this. But, in order to exercise such prudence, you have to have full confidence in what you are taught. For some, the karma from past lives that brings you to Buddhism makes this relatively easy, and routinely reminding yourself of the coming of your own death is not a problem. I had such confidence from the very first day I met my most important teacher, my tsawi lama or root guru. But most don't, and must develop this confidence slowly. So, even as a Buddhist, too much fretting over sickness and death before you develop such confidence can be debilitating. I do not encourage this in Mrs. Claus.
When you prepare for death constantly, any illness you have becomes translucent. This experience is one of the hardest things to communicate to others. I write on this blog about the great swings of mood, attention, and concentration that a bipolar like myself has to contend with. They are tremendously unpleasant, exactly as you would imagine. But, without altering this emotional tone in the least, even the unpleasantness is workable, manageable, part of the journey--translucent, in short, and not something to push away or hide from.
The things my brain chemistry has done to me are awful, and were particularly so before I was diagnosed and medicated, but thinking about death regularly, and preparing for it, always kept me from real despair. They keep me so yet.
But I must not only prepare for death, I must prepare for grief. With such a discrepancy in life expectancy as this tests posits between Mrs. Claus and myself, heartrending grief is a highly likely outcome for me. And it is an outcome whose possibility I cannot deny or evade.
I sleep next to Mrs. Claus' oxygen concentrator, which runs constantly with a "putt-putt, glub-glub" as the freshly separated oxygen is flushed through distilled water and into the fifty foot long tube which she trails around our house. So much excess energy is released by the concentration process that our bedroom is tangibly warmer than any other in the house and I am forced to sleep with few or no bedcovers, even in February.
This noise and warmth is a constant reminder of potential grief likely to be fulfilled. I have seen many go on home oxygen. In nine cases out of ten they did not last two years. Perhaps Mrs. Claus will be the exception. Perhaps.
I write such things here to prepare for a grief which, if it comes, will be absolute. My family has long since left me, my few friends have moved elsewhere and their presence has dwindled to a hand-signed family and friend form letter at Christmas. You know the drill: "This year was a banner year for Egbert and I since Aunt Nelly was a finalist in the Ms. Geriatric America pageant, and our trip to Kuala Lumpur was a major highlight of our life..."
So if Mrs. Claus leaves me I will be utterly alone.
And I will, as I did for my father and my mother, within minutes or hours after their deaths, have to do the proper Buddhist ceremonies, so important for a better future rebirth. You cannot let your mind stray or dissolve in private sorrow or loss when you do these. With Mrs. Claus, no one will be there to stand by me, as my mother was when my father died, and as Mrs. Claus was when my mother died.
I can only hope, though I do expect, that the Dharma will render my grief and loss as translucent as my mental illness, though this will make it no less painful to endure.
I sometimes get impatient, particularly in the political arena, with those who cannot, or will not, face facts, when those facts do not prop up a particular ideology. The number of such people has increased exponentially since the Fall of 2001. And they are the gravest danger which those who are trying to preserve the America we knew and loved have to face.
But I face far more facts than anyone who wishes comfort and ease would attempt.
I really wouldn't have it any other way. Walk tall. Or don't walk at all.