Communiqués From Geezerville: Musings About Death
Corie Skolnick’s latest Communiqués From Geezerville “Musings About Death” talks about a recent doctor’s appointment over Zoom, the passing of Joan Didion, and having a healthy attitude about death.
I did a telehealth appointment with my new young doc the other day and she was alarmed at how much weight I’ve gained. She and I already have a historic friendly little tussle over how much wine I drink.
She says, “Keep it to one a day.”
I reply, “One bottle? I can do that.”
And we laugh and laugh. (Well, one of us does.)
Even over Zoom, she could see I’ve become quite plump. Oh, how very American, eh? To get fat during a period of scarcity and deprivation? (I’m not proud.) I submitted to a little bloodletting prior to our visit and the doc also took note that my cholesterol, previously an envious number, had risen dramatically. She wanted me to go on a statin drug to bring it down.
I told her matter-of-factly, “No way, Jose. Are you kidding me? If this is my chance to have a massive, fatal cardiac event any time soon, I’m thrilled. Are you at all aware of the cataclysmic events occurring all around us even as you and I sit here on Zoom and dither about my newly elevated heart attack risk? It’s literally the end of the world and we know it. I am so ready to face my maker up there in Geezerville in the sky.”
I kid. But, sometimes also, not. For sure, my sweet young doc is not a fan of my black humor. She’s about fourteen, so, she still thinks she’ll live forever. I promised her that I would lose some weight and bring my cholesterol down by improving my diet.
For sure, my sweet young doc is not a fan of my black humor. She’s about fourteen, so, she still thinks she’ll live forever.
This sweet young medico who tends to my aging carcass has a minor specialty in gerontology, so she’s the doctor of record for a number of my neighbors here in Geezerville and she tells me that, of all her “senior” patients, I’m the only one who jokes around about dying. I told her, that’s very odd. I can’t wait to die, I could use the sleep. That’s probably why she started to execute a suicide screening. She was cagey about it, but I’ve conducted more of these myself than I can remember, so I knew what she was up to right away. I’ll give that youngster credit. I was 99% certain she had some genuine concern for my state of mind, and she wasn’t merely worried about a gnarly malpractice suit from my heirs upon my death under her care. Even on Zoom, though, I could tell she wasn’t all that amused when I told her to “lighten up, we’re all gonna die.”
And, right that minute, as if I summoned assistance from the realm I dwell in most of my time now (the exalted world of the minor literati), my iPhone delivered like six text and email messages of varying alarm in rapid succession: “Joan Didion died!” “Did you see who died today?” “OMG, Didion!!!” And such like that. I told the doc I had to ring off the call because Joan Didion had died, leaving her, I am pretty sure, with the impression that Joan Didion and I were closely acquainted if not actual besties and, in that precise second, proving my point … we’re all going to die. (I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my imagination that Dr. M. was just as happy to get off Zoom as I was in that moment.)
Okay, I’m just going to come clean here. Until that flurry of messages about Joan Didion’s death made my iPhone sound like the poker machine in Coyote’s Café and Cantina in Henderson, Nevada, was paying off, I didn’t know Joan Didion was still alive. And also … 87? C’mon, that’s a good long life. She’s got no legit bitch, right? Right? How many of us will get to 87?
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I’m 100% sure that, until those messages started piling up, I hadn’t given Joan Didion a single thought in well over a decade. I remembered vaguely that she was considered a great wordsmith, and also that she was married to somebody famous, another writer, some guy with three names. I had forgotten this, maybe willfully, and in spite of the fact that her most celebrated tomes chronicled these events and won her many accolades for writing about it; John Gregory Dunne was exactly my age when he toppled over onto his supper plate two nights before Christmas in 2003; and then, within a year of that, Joan’s only daughter perished (still in her thirties). Now, you’ve got my attention.
“Life changes fast. / Life changes in the instant. / You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” —Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
I’ll say. How do you even survive that? And who would want to? Not me. But Joan had to. She survived her husband by eighteen years and her daughter by seventeen. That, my friends, is my very definition of hell. Give me the sudden infarct any day over that bullshit. I really do not want to know that kind of suffering.
Unsurprisingly, my oldest friend checked in when she’d heard about Joan Didion. She’s my Thelma and I am her Louise. We covered all the usual and expected subjects and I told her about my truncated telehealth appointment. She then described to me her mother’s most recent doctor’s visit. Leona (“Lee”), at 96, tells everyone she’s just waiting to die. She told her doctor, as well. And Leona’s doctor, much as mine had, conducted some “evaluations” on her. Yeah, no. Turns out that Lee doesn’t actually “want to die.” She just wants to “go to heaven.” In much the same way you or I might want to go to Cancun or Maui right about now. And Lee’s lonely. As my dearly departed mother-in-law once said, “Everyone I came with is gone now.” It must be hard to be the last geezer lady standing. I hope I don’t find out.
As my dearly departed mother-in-law once said, “Everyone I came with is gone now.” It must be hard to be the last geezer lady standing. I hope I don’t find out.
One of the cognitive tests involved Lee producing, on sudden demand, ten words that start with the letter “f”. She produced nine with impressive alacrity and the young doctor expressed amazement. But Lee was not finished. She insisted, “I have another one.” Her final “f” word was “filament”. Yeah, I know, not what you were expecting. Lee still goes to Sunday services at the Lutheran church every week (virtually, since COVID) as she has for the entirety of her long life, so she probably doesn’t even know our favorite “f” word. She certainly wouldn’t say it out loud if she did or be able to give you the working definition. That one didn’t make her list.
Her doctor was mightily impressed, though, and begged to know what Lee’s career had been, telling Thelma that her mom has the cognitive wherewithal of a rocket scientist (for her age). Lee confessed that she’d been “only” a housewife and mother and having never passed the driving test she’d never even been the kind of mom who could transport her kids around town to various appointments. Let’s just say, she has a few regrets and every single one is something that she didn’t do. In finality, Lee’s doctor was curious about her personal habits. Had Lee been a smoker? A drinker? To which Lee replied with utter candor, “No, I never had any fun.”
Fun. Now there’s an “f” word for you. Pass the Fumé Blanc, please. And, Baby Jesus, keep my children safe and please don’t let me outlive Pablo. Amen, and Happy New Year.