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Rainy day thoughts

Somewhere east of St. Louis this afternoon, I drove into a heavy downpour. It lasted the better part of an hour, rattling loudly against the windshield, before tapering off to a light rain. Living in the southwest, I hadn't seen rain like that in a year or more.

Driving in the rain

When I'm driving, my thoughts wander. I'm sure you've experienced this. Today I wondered about how Donald died, and how I'll die, and why I'm not sadder about losing him.

Donald lived alone, and so do I. The big difference is that he didn't have the internet and rarely used the phone, whereas I exchange dozens of emails with friends every single day. My best friends and I check up on each other that way—if we haven't heard anything in a couple of days, we get worried and call. Of course if I should someday have a heart attack (not unlikely with my sedentary lifestyle), having a friend call two days later won't help. At best, I might be found before I smell too bad.

Another difference between us is that Donald didn't carry a phone. If he fell down and couldn't get up (which was more and more likely as his legs turned traitor and refused to carry him), he'd be out of luck. I carry my cell phone in my pocket at all times. If I go for a walk and catch my foot in a gopher hole, I can call for help. I charge my phone every night in a homemade cradle (adapted from a Walmart over-door clothes hook) next to my bed. If I wake up with chest pains, I can call for help.

You can see what I'm doing here: trying to reassure myself that if I don't make the mistakes Donald did, I won't die. But I will. I may be able to postpone it—unlike him, I'm not a chain smoker, and unlike him, I don't avoid doctors like the plague—but it'll catch up with me sooner or later, and when it happens, I'll probably be alone.

It's a scary thought. Will I have a stroke and die instantly? Will I have a heart attack and die quickly? Or will I be diagnosed with cancer, as so many people I know have been, and after suffering through chemotherapy or surgery, spend my last days in a hospital or hospice in a morphine-induced haze?

Morbid thoughts, I know. But with Donald gone, my own mortality suddenly seems a lot more real.

Donald's solitary death seems pathetic. But the truth is, he got what he wanted: he lived in his own home, surrounded by his beloved books and possessions, until the day he died. He didn't die in a hospital, full of tubes and wires and surrounded by strangers fussing over him. He didn't even have visiting nurses invading his home and telling him what to eat. (His diet was appalling. Anything that would kill a diabetic—which he was—was what Donald ate: donuts, ice cream, jam, cookies...) He died on his own terms, and while I think he made some foolish choices (the ultra-high-carb diet, the avoidance of doctors), they were his choices, not somebody else's. That was very important to Donald.

Is that why I'm not all torn up about his death? I don't know. It helps, I guess. I had a good conversation with him only a month before he died, and that helps too.

I think mostly, though, it's just that I've set my feelings aside as I deal with what has to be done now: this 1,800-mile dash across the country, then settling the estate, selling off the antiques, making sure the scientific collections go where they will do some good, preparing the house to sell, doing all the legal paperwork... as I said in my first entry, right now I have to be in "just get through it" mode. Later on, I'll have more time to grieve.

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