2 Dr. Handsfields in Germany. At left, Geoff is a PhD in Biomedical Engineering.
On the End of Life


When I hear two or three of my ‘60s SHHS friends and classmates are seriously ill, and may die soon, my first impulse is to panic. My impulse is to conclude, “We’re all dying!”


Although we all will obviously die eventually, that impulse is not true. On the average we will live to be 85 or so. Some classmates will probably live to 100 and beyond. As we’ve seen, some die much earlier. 


Our question today is not how long we’ll live, but rather how will we cope with losing friends, and sometimes friends we’ve known all our lives? 


One method that helps is to keep as rational as we can be about the subject, without being callous or impersonal. Most of our worries and fears are false, and unnecessary. Fortunately, most of us get good medical care. 


Some of us rely heavily on prayer and faith. Others don’t. The least we can do is not demean or ridicule faith and prayer. 


If you’ve learned not to cry, to set your emotions aside during sad times, you’ll find that way of coping doesn’t work when people you know are very sick and dying. You can be a reasonable person and express your sadness, your loneliness and your fears. You’ll feel better afterwards. It’s a proven fact.  


In our own ways, we can contemplate the meaning of a good life. The subject has been discussed since the beginning of mankind. There is a strong consensus among us that family, friends and faith are most valuable and precious to us. The rest seems to fade in value. 


Life itself means our time on earth is limited. We usually live many decades. It’s natural for us to wish we could live to see our grandchildren become adults, and our great great grandchildren, too; to have many years of time for ourselves, to travel around the world many times, and do what we dream of. 


For better of worse, life imposes limitations on what we can do. Maybe we can reconcile ourselves with that. Most of our parents, grandparents and earlier ancestors did. We are the first generation to consider living past 100 years seriously. It’s unlikely many of us will. 


We have all learned what’s most precious to us over the past 10 or 20 years. We’ve learned the hard way how life on earth is limited. Most of us have turned more to our families and friends, to the activities and avocations with deepest meaning to us. 


Again, we've reached an age where it’s not unusual to hear “John Smith” our classmate is dying of cancer, or “Mary Jones” our classmate has died of a heart attack. It seems we always hear that kind of news when it’s too late, doesn’t it? We never get a chance to say goodbye to some of our friends. 


Many of us have  developed an affectionate attitude to all of you, even though we don't know all of you. It's not hard to do. 


Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s healthy and humanly nourishing to care about all our 1960s classmates. That doesn’t mean sleepless nights worrying about every one of them. But when we care — sincerely care — about each other, we belong more deeply to the human family.  We open ourselves more to the concern and love of others. 


As I’ve been saying since 2001, there are SHHS people who care deeply about and love every one of you. You don’t have to be one of the “popular” people for that. Yes, some people remember you and care about you. I know because over the years they’ve asked me about you and indicated they care about your well being.  


So here we are, aged 67 to 74 years old in 2019. Yes, we often hear that this or that old friend is dying. Again, what can we do? 


We can talk about it in a respectful way. I don’t mean we can talk about the nuts and bolts of some person’s illness, no. That’s intrusive and wrong. But we can talk about our feelings and our thoughts. We can help each other take care of ourselves as a family. 


This is our opportunity, right here. Not everyone will feel motivated to comment, or confident enough, but some of us will. 


I wish you all good health. I wish you all strength in coping with whatever obstacles come your way. I care about you and pray for you. Hundreds of us do. Believe it or not. -- Paul. 

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Mary McInerny Hickey on March 18, 2019 at 7:32 PM said:

Beautifully stated, Paul.

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