I don't recall how we got on to the discussion, but my kids had come over for Sunday dinner. We had finished and were just sitting around when one of my daughters mentioned an article that I had written about all the herbal and vitamin supplements that I take daily to ensure a long life and to assist in helping me not look my age. (http://www.wolverton-mountain.com/articles/before__and__after.htm)
It wasn't long before one of them inquired, "What do you want done to you when you die?" I was a little taken back by the question. I don't wish to die. In fact, I plan to make it to 100. Therefore, her question was about 39.4 years premature. While I emotionally gasped for air and time to think, she fired again, "Are you an organ donor?" The tone of her interrogatory implied that I would have to prove it if I were.
To make the atmosphere a little less macabre, I assured them that I was a donor, I reached for my driver's license to prove that I was willing to donate any body part. However, I did add the caveat that any thing could be harvested from me providing that there wasn't a potential recipient on the adjacent operating table with in immediate need of something that I possessed. I didn't want a doctor to look at me as some old goat and slice me up figuring that I didn't have much time left anyway.
They didn't think that my clever comment even warranted a reply before the other one continued the grilling, "Do you have a living will?" As I assured them that I did, I mused out loud over the term, living will. As soon as they heard that I had one, they began to make inquiries about its conditions. Still attempting to add some needed mirth into this morbid inquisition, I said that I want only two jolts from a defibrillator but to make sure the first one is a really good shock. As for the use of the ventilator, I probably would opt not to be connected to a breathing machine, and I do want a tube stuck down my nose or throat-that for me would be worse than dying.
While fending off the onslaught of questions about my demise, I had the déjà vu-like experience of being swept back to another time and place nearly thirty years ago. My father was getting married again after my mother's death. To avoid potential problems with all the members of the newly established family, he had created a "Toes Up" file. This folder contained information about his wishes regarding his funeral, where all the important documents were located, and his attitude about life prolongation. The file also contained a list of items from our home that my brothers and I had wanted. He and his new wife were setting up their new home and didn't want some meaningful memorabilia of our childhood to get lost or discarded. If he and his new wife didn't want the item, we could have it immediately. If they still wanted to use it, the item would be noted in the file. After his death, it would be given to the one requesting it.
My list was a long inventory of treasures of my early years. Most of these objects were priceless to me, even though most wouldn't have brought much at a garage sale. It wasn't long after I sent in my request that an iced tea pitcher, an old table lamp, and kitchen table were in my possession. My other list of treasures, along with the requests of my siblings, was placed in his "Toes Up" file.
I always appreciated my dad's thoughtfulness regarding his file. Having recently remarried and set up our new home, I find myself like a patriarchal salmon swimming up the same stream that my father did a generation ago. Therefore, I took this opportunity to ask my daughters what they might want for the house. Like my dad, I didn't wish some treasure to be lost in the mixing of two households. They mentioned several mundane items: a TV, computer, and digital camera. I was surprised at their choices. They were functional choices not emotional ones. I couldn't understand their lack of emotional attachment to anything. Perhaps, they aren't old enough to covet emotionally-laden items like I did.
After they went home, I sat down in front of my computer and started writing this article. What struck me about our after dinner conversation was not so much their questions but that I had become my father. I seemed like just yesterday that he was doing what I was now doing. Time seems to play tricks on us. It seemed like yesterday that my dad had had that conversation with me and now I was having it with my daughters. They had become me and I my dad. And all this seemed like yesterday. Perhaps, I am getting old.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 11/19/03.