I am my father's son.
During the last ten years or so of my father's life, either my sister or me would take him to get tested at his oncologist and then subsequently visit his family doctor. He had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his prostrate when he was about 85 and his prostate was checked yearly for growth. During every visit, his doctor would say, "Well Mr. Mullen, the growth of the tumor is so small, it poses no threat to your life. You will surely be dead from another life threatening condition before the tumor becomes a danger".
"Well Doctor, that's just wonderful news! What a great report!"
I would then take him for coffee and donuts during which he had his customary cigarettes - a life-long smoker. He lived to 96 and the doctor was correct; he died of natural causes and met death the same way he met his days of life - with good cheer and comity.
I went to see my surgeon for a 6 month checkup. If I was a Boeing 777, it would not be considered a "D Check", but enough time had gone by to give some standard outlook on my artificial ankle. I was anxious to know if I was in the "fairway" or the "rough", medically speaking. Was the stiffness and occasional pain normal? Will the discomfort stop? And when? He said I was on the fairway, but that the ankle had "shifted". It may stabilize or I may have to have a rod in my left leg in a year (just what I need - more metal). We'll see.
The doctor and I walked half-way up the hill of artificial ankles, looked over the rise....and saw more mist. That's OK. I felt very relieved and quite good about the visit. I just wanted to know. I think the relief comes from the knowing, both for me and my father.
Actor and writer, Robert Benchley, had it wrong when he said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't". I think the world is divided into those who want to know and those who don't want to know. I am definitely the former. I guess it must be some strange combination of control issues and curiosity, but I have always been that way. I secretly admire people who "don't want to know".
I recently read an article done by an Emergency Physician called "Avoiding Black Swans". I expected health tips (don't eat anything that tastes good and stay away from anything that gives you pleasure), but the article, apparently based on ER experiences, was filled with, "drive the biggest car you can afford", "don't clean gutters on a ladder", etc.
The article drove home the point that we are all on a clock and some of us want to know when the battery dies. We need time to assimilate, plan and maybe manipulate. I also don't always know how I am going to react to things. This week our computer crashed and I lost 15 years worth of financial information. Not happy about it, but not all that upset either. Life surprises.
With all that in mind I can picture the following at my death;
"Who are you?"
"I'm an Angel. Who are you?"
"Well...let's see...good news Grumpy, you're going to Hell!...no wait...that's the other Grumpy...you, you're going to Purgatory!"
"You go into a room for 500 years and watch a soccer game".
"No! Not soccer! Look I played soccer in High School and it is a fun game, but boring to watch. I'd rather watch my fingernail grow for 500 years".
"Look, when I died I had 25,000 frequent flyer miles. I want to upgrade to another channel - any channel".
"You can't redeem miles in Purgatory!"
"Why not - don't they call Him the Great Redeemer?"
Well, you get the idea.
I need to plan.
I need to get more miles.