Just when do you want to die?


Exactly when would you prefer to die? Soon, before you are too old? Most of us don’t have a choice. I wrote this poem for Sally Bond, who died at 95 in a rest home on Christmas Day, 2014. But perhaps it will fit someone else you know, including you and me, one day. I like to think that the poem is so pragmatic that it helps me to live my life, that with this poem I’m writing into life.


Most of us are afraid
of a slow fade,
a late grave.

Most of us equate old age
with panic and despair
and things we could not bear.

We say, Not us! No way!
We want to be hit by a bus.
… But when?

Most of us blaze through middle age.
Much later, we mellow.
Less yellow. More grey.

And later still, we fade.
Then death is subtle
and dying is wise.

I asked my sister, When
will I be ready to die?
She answered, When you die.

poem & photo by Rachel McAlpine cc-by-4.0

This poem is in Senior Poems, a Kindle ebook to echo and soothe your thoughts and hopes and fears and joys as you face the bonus years.

26 thoughts on “Just when do you want to die?

  1. My sister in law and very good friend has always been active in areas of interest about which she is very passionate. But she was getting very tired at 67 and decided she would just have to retire from work altogether. I said that was good, she would be able to slow down. She was most upset and said very emphatically that she did not want to slow down. Some months later her heart suddenly showed major problems which are not readily resolved and she has to spend a lot of time resting. She does not like it. But she is torn between getting active, and having as much time as possible with her very young grandchildren. She is torn between slowing down, and being active.

    1. You must feel so distressed, to watch your friend struggling with these huge issues. Your empathy and support are surely helpful to her at this time. I hope she can do both: get active and get maximum granny-time. Take care.

      1. Thank you. I feel helpless more than anything. And it seems so unfair that the time she and her grandchildren have together may be cut short. I have been in her home when she is with the children and she gives them such quality together time. She is certainly making the most of that time. They are very lucky children.

      2. I understand that sense of helplessness. This is probably not much use but I’ll say it anyway: you really are helping. Although you cannot solve her problem, you do ease some of her pain.

    2. I was in my 40s when life struck me down to a very much resting model – it wasn’t heart related, although later it was discovered to have links to lung functioning. I resisted as your friend has done, everything took so much longer, and some things were darn impossible. But then when the lung issue got into the mix, things got a lot better…okay I still haven’t been out “dancing the night away” or too much out at night “fullstop” but what happened was I found other things I could do – and no one [but] thought anything of “how slow things get done…”

      Making memories with her grandchildren – sitting quietly with them, taking an interest – is just as good as running around with them…

      Maybe you might like to suggest to your friend, things she could do – like creating her own memories on paper – if she doesn’t like straight out writing/typing – then she might like to think of rearranging photo albums (I think it’s now called scrapbooking) or maybe she liked to sew once – do quilting or similar.

      What she needs also to think about is “mental agility” instead of “active agility” – in the process she might find that taking up a quietish craft leads her to being more active (loosely). Hard to explain what it means to use the word “loosely” here.

      1. Thank you. The idea of making memories is a good one. They do have wonderful quality time together, but a photgraphic record would be really good too.

      2. Thank you, Cedar51, for your insights. Your suggestions reconcile two conflicting needs: the need to take it easy and the need to make the most of time with grandchildren.

  2. A friend of mine sits every day with a cup of tea and thinks ‘If I die today, how will i live this last day?’ She’s pretty fearless. And has her Will sitting in full view on her desk. Personally, I’d like to die in my sleep, and absolutely definitely long before my son, but at about 100 sounds good to me : ) I love Life!

  3. I agree with your sister. I think my attitude toward when I might want to die could be influenced by my health status, especially the older I become. At my age my interest is more in how I die, not when, once I exceed predicted life expectancy figures — 71+ to 81+, I think, depending on where we live. All the years after that are likely a bonus. I’ve thought I’d last for 100 or more but would want reasonably good health and definitely my mind.

    1. The unknown is the most alarming, I guess. And we adjust our expectations and hopes accordingly as we age and learn more. Bonus years? That’s my theme song. Or bonus days. I woke up! So it’s a good day.

      1. I’m kind of an only child – I had 4 siblings but the next up was already at boarding school when I was born – I’m classed as one of those “special babies” – now there is only the eldest and me left. The eldest was already in her mid 20s when I was born. She just turned 92 this last week…

    1. Thank you Robyn. I’m always interested in the questions behind the questions, and in our unspoken assumptions. Not that I can produce any better reply than my sister’s one — which I love: it’ll do me.

  4. What a lovely poem! Death is so hard for us to think about, even though it’s the natural end to us all. Maybe it is good to think about our reasons for living, because when they are gone, then maybe we’ll stop fearing death so much.

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