“I Don’t Want To Live Forever”

Lynne M. SpreenLynne Morgan Spreen 4

~ author of the award-winning novel Dakota Blues

Guest blogging today, 9/10/13

So now there’s a chance we can extend longevity to 120.

Yay, right? Not necessarily. Many midlife people, myself included, don’t want to see that happen. I think it would make an elder person go nuts. It would me, anyway.

Let’s consider the challenge of keeping up with your profession. How much information can you learn, discard, learn, discard, learn, discard in middle-age and beyond? And even if you can learn it, after fifteen or twenty new campaigns, do you even care to? You’ve seen change after change in your corporate setting, much of it brought about by new people refusing to learn from history. If your brain absorbs sixty, seventy years of information, might there be a point where, like an old draft horse, you simply refuse to haul that load one more step?

What about technology? Born in a time of party lines and carbon paper, you’ve mastered the tech revolution, with all your new passwords and tech support and wireless and ether and RAM. Do you really want to be around when they start doing microchip implants under the skin? I don’t want to be sitting out on the patio of an evening, wondering if that bug I just swatted was a mosquito or a miniaturized drone.

Now consider the emotional challenges we face during a long lifetime.

What if you started out here?
What if you started out here?

When I was researching Dakota Blues, I drove around rural North Dakota and saw many crumbling homesteads from a time when there were no roads, stores, or neighbors within miles. Dakota blues cover image with awardThe parents would produce a dozen kids, because half of them would die before adulthood. Drought killed crops. Locusts ate the paint off farm tools. Cattle starved. I imagined the woman of the house looking up from her labors and thinking of her family still in Germany, whom she would probably never see again. Then I pictured her, years later, as a very old woman standing by a grave in ND, and I wondered how she handled being the only one who remembered sailing from a dock in Hamburg. Assuming this woman was born in 1900, do you really see her thriving through 2020?

When you look at it organically, death might be as much a relief at the end of a life as sleep is at the end of a day.

My Mom sometimes laments being “so old” (she’s 88), and I try to cheer her up with some positives: after many years of seeing your kids slaving away at careers, they’re enjoying retirement – and you’re getting more visits than ever. Your grandkids are having adorable babies which you can cuddle and hug. A great-grandson just graduated from Marine Corps boot camp. Life is long. That’s a privilege.

Lynne, golfing at Bully Pulpit in ND (setting for a scene in Dakota Blues)
Lynne, golfing at Bully Pulpit in ND (setting for an evocative scene in Dakota Blues)

But there’s a price. You may be the oldest person around. Nobody remembers what it was like back then. You’ve been widowed for how many years? You miss your parents, who’ve been gone half your life.

For all the good, longevity comes with an accumulation of sorrow. You might manage it for thirty, forty years. Then what? You can rejuvenate your face and maybe even, eventually, your blood cells, but what of your heart and soul?

Lynne’s bio:

Lynne Spreen’s award-winning novel, Dakota Blues, is about a woman’s journey of self-discovery in the second half of life. Contact her on FacebookTwitter, or on her blog, AnyShinyThing.com. Watch the book trailer for Dakota Blues and read reviews at: http://anyshinything.com/dakota-blues-midlife/.

"Motherly Secrets"#2 2011 by TCR - Version 2
“Motherly Secrets,” Litho by Thomas C. Rodgers
(used by permission)





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Author of the novels The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately & Seven Wings to Glory. Former contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Future work represented by agent Diane Nine, Nine Speakers Inc.

26 thoughts on ““I Don’t Want To Live Forever””

  1. This is such a poignant blog post… And I SO agree.

    I have a friend who is 87. She’s lost ALL of her friends, male and female. Now she is losing younger siblings. I think she may live ten more years…how has she not already died of a broken heart?

    Not only did I enjoy the blog post, I love the author’s haircut.

    I also want to be certain that Dwight Zimmerman, Military Writers Society of America President and NYT Best-selling author from ND, is aware of DAKOTA BLUES.

    Thanks for sharing, Kathy!

    1. Hi Bonnie – Thank you so much for taking time from your busy writing schedule to to visit the blog and read Lynne’s powerful essay. We both appreciate that you also left a thoughtful comment. My heart goes out to your friend who’s outlived so many of her peers and loved ones. She’s lucky to have a caring friend like you. As for our buddy Dwight, he did indeed read Lynne’s essay when she first posted it to Facebook around mid-August. I was so happy that he and Lynne connected and had a dialogue going. Lynne’s novel is so good, too. Thanks Bon. Don’t know what I’d do without you. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Bonnie, for stopping by. I do wonder myself how I would do if I were in my mid to late 80s. I’m sure I’ll be alone then, and I will have suffered immeasurable loss. I don’t know how people manage, but I’m trying to learn. And thanks, Kathleen, for having me as your guest.

    1. Hi Lynne – So honored to have your powerful essay showcased on my blog. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I was visiting my childhood home in New Mexico mid-August when I read the essay for the first time. It stopped me in my tracks. I immediately shared it to Facebook, and was so intrigued by the dialogue that developed due to this essay. You’re writing is moving, and really makes me think about where I’ve been and where I’m headed. And I agree with Bonnie, I admire your haircut. Now to go finish reading “Dakota Blues.”

  3. Kathleen, thanks for having Lynne M. Spreen guest blog today here on your site. Just returned from a meeting. Driving home I listened to the end of Jim Harrison’s Returning to the Earth, also set in North Dakota. When I finished reading Lynn’s essay about the characters in Dakota Blues, I recognized this sensibility about aging, death, and dying captures as much about the place of the Midwest as it does about the history of its people. Looking forward to reading Dakota Blues.

    1. Hi Jill – So glad you had the chance to read Lynne’s essay. Her writing evokes so many emotions in me. This essay is just a teaser for what appears in her novel. I met Lynne via the Internet when I was researching novels about midlife. I was also drawn immediately into her story by her clean writing style. She knows just what to leave in and what to leave out. Many of her descriptions in the novel remind me of growing up on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico. A few sod houses are still standing in certain parts of the state. Such hardy people back then. Thanks again for stopping by. I know you’ll make Lynne’s day. 🙂

  4. I can’t take any credit for the hair! My hairdresser (stylist? what the heck do we call them these days? Probably therapist is the more correct word!) is Casey Carlos. She’s a 30-year-old “old soul” and she works at Salon Sapphire in Temecula, CA.

  5. Such a powerful, powerful piece, Lynne. I shared it on FB after reading it elsewhere in August and am glad to have it come into my life again. Thank you, Kathleen, for inviting Lynne to guest blog. My bitter and angry 97-year-old mother-in-law teaches me that it is not great to live to be old. She lost her only child and nearly all her siblings and friends. She struggles with the TV remote and can’t figure out a coffee machine, even though she has her wits. Being old is no goal in itself, yet I watch so many people choose to live any way they can. The will to live seems unrelated to common sense, and the body grasps for one more breath.

    1. Elaine – Thank you for visiting my blog and reading Lynne’s essay again. Your story about your 97-year-old mother-in-law really resonates with me. I just lost my 81-year-old father in May, and even though he was bedridden and could no longer stand and was hooked up to a catheter for over a year, he still wanted to live. Until his final hours, with my mother and brother at his side, he maintained his will to live. Your last lines linger in my mind: “Being old is no goal in itself, yet I watch so many people choose to live any way they can. The will to live seems unrelated to common sense, and the body grasps for one more breath.”

    2. “…the body grasps for one more breath.” God, how powerful, Elaine. How can we do otherwise? Yet your mother-in-law’s example proves my sad hypothesis: there is a limit. Even if we can, maybe we shouldn’t. Thanks for sharing her story.

  6. Great topic for discussion, Elaine. I am the child of parents who died young. I never got to see my father whole and well and sane — or my mother enjoying a life of her own choosing — so maybe that gives me a slightly different perspective about aging. While I see your point and appreciate the emotion and power of your writing, I’m the type of person who embraces change when it comes to technology and I love being a person who is evergreen. An evolving society is the REASON to grow and change and continually love again and again…in terms of being alone in old age, I agree that’s a horrible thought…on the other hand, once we are all able to consistently live longer, would that not mean that more and more of our own generation would be living that long as well? And what would a world be like where there is a large population of folks who have long memories and sharp minds and accumulated wisdom? Would we have a culture that celebrates the elderly because they have weathered so much, learned so much — and still survived? Would we have a richer world for their continued leadership, strength, and active participation? I don’t know that these things would happen, but I’d love to be a part of that new world just to see what happens…of course, that is presuming that living longer means living longer well…that our brains don’t decay and our hearts don’t lose hope for joy and interesting things to do. Thanks for the great thoughts…I have been pondering this ever since I read it earlier…:)

    1. Joyce, you ended with, “that is presuming that living longer means living longer well…that our brains don’t decay and our hearts don’t lose hope.” Wow, that is the million-dollar question. I think for me, I’d get tired and want to rest.

      1. I don’t know which would be worse: the brain decaying first or the body. I do know that it was hard to see my dad trapped in a body that no longer functioned. When Dad passed on May 19th of this year, I felt a huge relief. I was happy. Dad was FREE.

      2. I think that is indeed the point…we are viewing this from the prism of what is, not what could be…and the fact is, we have to deal with what is…if the topic is, what if we could live to be 120…and that 120 could be universal…and healthy…that’s a very different thought than aging as we know it now…Interestingly, I have a friend who is in her mid-70s …she’s vital, charming, vivacious, witty, and productive…and so far feels and looks great. She lives life to the fullest…traveling, speaking, writing. She even climbed to base camp of Everest long past her 70th birthday. However, this same lady has a “stash.” She says that her going is her choice…and she doesn’t want her life defined by a long, lingering and painful death. While I haven’t come to terms with such realities yet…I respect her perspective…and who knows how my future circumstances will impact my opinion when I get there…right now though, I want to live until I die…:)

    2. Joyce – What I admire about you is your ability to adapt to technology while still using your right brain to write amazing stories that have helped me gain a new understanding of what our WWII vets went through in battle. Your dad we never the same after he came back from Iwo Jima, and you and your family suffered for it. But from our earliest days you sat at his knees and your listened and took in the things he told you, and from those moments you became a fabulous storyteller. I don’t know how I feel about the aging topic when it comes to my own body. Okay, so I am in DENIAL. LOL!! I just know what it was like to watch my father spirit trapped inside a body that no longer functioned. When I saw Dad in his casket in May, the first thought that struck me was how much younger he looked in death. All of us kept saying that. It’s a strange thing to say that your father looked better in death than when he was alive. Anyway, thank you for being part of this thought-provoking discussion. Looking forward to having you on the blog soon with your story “Fattie Mattie.”

  7. How is my health and functionality as I age? This is also my million dollar question. My husband became ill with an aggressive lymphoma in 2006. He was 65. During treatment, he finished a book the Dalai Lama asked him to write: “Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge.” He wanted to live to support this work (and be with his family). Three months after publication in 2008 and 6 weeks after presenting the book and teaching with the Dalai Lama, he was obviously failing. His oncologist offered “salvage chemo” that would either “give him a few more good months or kill him quickly if he was too weak to withstand the treatment.” Other choice was Hospice. He went for the chemo (not my choice, but we don’t know our choice until we get there) and died 4 days later. The treatment stopped some of his worst symptoms and he died quickly, peacefully, and consciously surrounded by love. He wanted to live well or die fast, so his body chose. No more gas in the tank at age 67.

    1. Elaine – Now I know a little more of Vic’s story. I am so looking forward to reading your memoir once it’s published. I’m glad Vic was able to complete his book, and yet it’s sad that he didn’t get to live long enough to see his work continue to touch others. A part of him lives on in his work, but I’m sure this doesn’t keep you warm at night. I’m looking forward to sharing your words here on my blog in a couple of weeks. Thank you for being a supportive friend. You also are a powerful writer/storyteller/healer.

    2. Elaine, I’m so sorry he had to go through such things…and sorry you did as well. My dad just dropped dead one day at age 50…however, my mother had a heart attack and lingered for two weeks…the doctors told us that we needed to decide whether or not to do a code blue…meaning resuscitate her…and they didn’t want to ask her thinking that the stress of the question itself would cause the final event…however, none of us had any idea what she might want…she was the age I am now…64…ultimately my sisters punted the decision to me…and I agonized thinking that I would want to to know myself…but their angry rejection of that idea put the decision square on me…and I decided on the DNR. When that moment came though, her personal doctor over turned my DNR and the advice of the cardiologist…and they worked on her for 40 minutes…bringing her back…when I went back to see her after this…the jig was up…she KNEW…there had obviously been brain damage…and she was terrified…and she suffered terribly for another 48 hours…when God mercifully took her…by that point, my sisters and I were unified to protect her and give her a peaceful death…this event impacted all of us in different ways. I wrote about it in a short story…and interestingly, writing about it gave me the perspective I have now…live long and hard and joyfully as I can…and then go on my own terms…but you know, there’s other challenges we might meet that will change those ideas even yet…but I dream of a long happy existence with the help of good healthcare and good luck…:)

        1. To your other post, after they worked on my mother for 40 minutes, she was bruised and burned and in pain…before that, she was just slipping away…ya know? Was so awful…I still don’t know what she would have wanted, but I felt that my original decision was the right one in the long run…and that it being ignored by someone who thought they knew better…caused my mother…and the rest of us so much horror and trauma…

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