Not the most popular subject. My partner of eighteen years died of AIDS a few days shy of his 49th birthday, so I confronted death early. My generation of gay men has been decimated by the epidemic. We revolutionized how we remember the dead, but that has not lessened the pain only shown us its power and beauty.
We fear death because it’s unknown. No one who has gone through dying has lived to tell the tale. And no one ever will, so we are on our own. After going through it with Michael, I came to understand that dying is the ultimate release, the final letting go. His face was peaceful. When we die all our unpaid bills, the unwritten letter and embarrassing things we said will be of no consequence. What is of consequence is very personal: how do I feel about the life I’ve led? Michael’s death reinforced that my goal in life should be to lead a life I’m proud of. Three years ago I started falling down, and I was forgetting things. After thirty years of being HIV positive I thought my time had come. As I struggled with that reality I thought about my life, deep down, and I found I felt good about it. It had been a life of challenges and adventure and some fine people. I made life better for some of them. That acknowledgment was enormously reassuring. Now I know if I died tomorrow, I’d be happy.
I’ve thought about how I would do myself in if I knew there was no reason to live. I also believe our bodies are constructed in ways designed to keep up alive as long as possible, so when that time comes my body may struggle to hang on. I am also a big proponent of doing everything possible to eliminate pain at the end. There is no good reason to suffer, and how can you overdose someone who’s in the final throes? Killing them might be a blessing. In a good death our bodies and minds are at peace.
In the end each of our bodies will stop functioning. Worrying about it won’t make it any easier or prolong it. We have been blessed with a life. How we live it will determine how we finally let go. Accepting that you are going to die is a powerful incentive to make the most of each day.