Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die

Phil Madsen | February 17, 2012

I learned today the fears of an elderly woman who is concerned that she may be losing her mind. Learned by listening to her as she talked about it.

Diane and I woke up this morning in our Florida vacation house where we have been since early January. The house is located in a retirement community. We are some of the youngest people here. The people who live here love it, often referring to the community as the park or paradise.

For Diane and me, it is a wonderful vacation spot and retreat from the road. We can park our truck in the boat yard where boats and RV’s are stored, walk to the house and enjoy the quiet streets, lovely grounds, the piers where dolphins and tropical birds can be regularly seen, the gym, great neighbors and more.

But being a retirement community, it has a major feature that most people consider a downside. For the the people who have made this their permanent residence, this is the last stop or near-last stop along life’s way. From here they move in with their kids, or to an assisted living center, a nursing home or the cemetery. It is a place where people who know each other well watch each other grow old and die, and watch their own physical and mental abilities decline.

On the other hand, if you have to grow old  — and we all do  — a community like this is a good place to do it. The neighbors keep an eye on each other. The ambulance crews know the streets well, as do the oxygen supply truck drivers and home health care providers. It is safe here, quiet and peaceful.

Diane and I are healthy truck drivers with many good years ahead of us (we hope). So why am I writing today about death and dying? It’s because I feel helpless and those feelings are dominating my thoughts.

I feel helpless after listening to our friend explain the mistakes she is finding herself make and the things she is catching herself forgetting. I want to make things better for her by sharing clever advice or pointing her to an easy fix but I have no such thing to give.

Our friend is deeply concerned  — terrified, actually  — that she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Having seen some of her close friends and neighbors suffer and die from it, she knows exactly what that means.

As I get to know aging people in this community, I am learning that few if any of them fear death, but many if not all of them hate the idea of becoming dependent on others for their physical care and safety. Yet that is the fate that awaits most of us as we age.

I wish I had something good to say about that but I don’t. Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.