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Contemplating death can also remind us a lot about living a good life

Opinion

The upcoming debate on euthanasia laws is likely to have many of us thinking about our own mortality, writes Rebecca Levingston.

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Thinking about death doesn’t disturb me. It makes me think about how I want to live.

Death, dying and dignity depending on your deity will be top of mind for Queensland decision makers in 2021. Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation will be introduced into state parliament next week.

The Premier says she hopes the debate will be respectful. I do too.

A good death might depend on how you define a good life. It was my birthday on the weekend. Another lap around the sun, another chance to ponder the purpose of this brief existence on Earth. I turned 44. Am I middle aged yet? I don’t care, I’m just grateful to keep growing.

I remember when I turned 35 and jokingly asked my listeners if I was middle aged based on the three score and ten concept in the Bible. I was hosting the evening show at the time and was quickly told that 50 is the new 40 or was it 30? I suspect that if I asked a bunch of 60 years olds how they feel today that many are in the best shape of their lives.

I’ve been fortunate to have my paternal grandparents well into their nineties. They’d often refer to “young people” in their seventies. My grandfather passed away last year at 95 and his longevity brought comfort to all of us in grief.

In 2005, my maternal grandmother passed away quite suddenly just before she turned 88 so I guess she was middle aged at 44. Up until the week before her death she was spritely, played bridge regularly with friends and drove herself around Tully, the little country town she called home. Nan lived a good life.

This week Dexter Kruger became Australia’s oldest man. At 111 years and 124 days, Dexter attributed his longevity to enjoying simple pleasures and eating chicken brains.

On his Facebook page (yes, Dexter has a Facebook page) he was pumped in the lead up to taking the title. He wrote “Getting excited now… the adrenaline is starting to speed up in anticipation of the big day where I will be the oldest man ever to have lived in Australia. I feel very well and am putting on weight. (At this point he inserted a cry/laugh emoji). This is a wonderful period of my life – it’s going to be many years before it is challenged!”

Dexter celebrated with champagne and scones. He also started writing books at 86. Late bloomers rejoice! Dexter’s currently working on his autobiography. In his working life, he was a grazier and a vet and says the key to a good life is to find something you like to do and then do it well. I’m not keen on the chicken brain option, so I was pleased to hear that advice.

Recently my five year old son asked me, “Why does everyone work so much?” I confess, I took a moment to come up with my response.

I said something like, “It’s good to work, to be useful. You earn money and you can have a house and some holidays.” But it did make me think about whether I’ve figured out the right work/life balance. Probably not, but I’m only young right? I’m still learning. You don’t want to know all the answers straight away.

Would you want to know when you’re going to die? Would it change the way you live?

I don’t want to sound bleak, but sometimes I think that maybe we should have a day where we talk about sudden death. That concept of wanting to ease the grief of loved ones if something unthinkable happens appeals to me. I raised the idea at a family dinner once, but we didn’t linger on it because we were too busy enjoying living. My dad in particular loves a toast at a party. A reason to celebrate life and often to cherish the memory of loved ones lost.

Last week I spoke to Helena’s parents whose beautiful daughter died at 19. Too soon.

Last year I spoke to dozens of people whose loved ones suffered too long with terminal illness. For them voluntary assisted dying can’t come soon enough. For some people of faith, this legislation should never come to pass.

So while our political leaders will contemplate dying with dignity, perhaps it’s a reminder to think about how we live. For my 44th birthday, my boys got me ugg boots. Warm feet and cuddles. Now that’s living.

 

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