Would it help to know your end date?


Snoopy and Charlie Brown sitting on a dock, Charlie says "Some day we will all die, Snoopy." Snoopy responds: "True, but on all other days we will not."

There’s a new book out that’s getting great reviews but I can’t read it. When Breath Becomes Air is written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 36. He died the following year. In his book, he wondered how to best use his remaining time since he didn’t know how long he had. His resolution? “Even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.”

His insights sound compelling and insightful, right up there with Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Had Kalanithi not died, I might read the book, but I’m too wimpy to stare death in the face. Maybe one of you could read it and tell me what I’m missing.

From what reviewers have written, Kalanithi’s musings were insightful and philosophical. My own thoughts about death are more simple, more concrete, more practical. I’d like to know exactly when I’ll die so I can sort a few things out, such as:

  1. When should I complete that last bit of client filing that’s been in my desk drawer since I was diagnosed with leukemia over three years ago now?
  2. When should I cancel all my library holds, pay off my 50¢ overdue fine and return all my books? I don’t want J. to have to rely on the kindness of librarians after my death. If I knew my due date, I could make sure I end my relationship with the library on good terms.
  3. Need I start on my 2015 taxes? J. too would die, but of a heart attack, soon after I’m gone if she had to address my self-employment filing system, i.e., one big messy pile each year.
  4. Should I schedule coffee with you this week or will I be around next week?
  5. Should I buy those cute new yoga pants or a few new shirts to cover my girth or those snazzy shoes if I’ll barely be able to wear them? I buy few clothes as it is, and they won’t fit J. after I’m gone, now that there are 6 sizes between us. Knowing my end date could make me one of those anti-consumer fanatics.
  6. Toilet paper is on a tremendous markdown this week. How much should I hoard?
  7. Will I have time to finish that $6 cauliflower we bought earlier in the week? Furthermore, how much home-cooked food should I be stocking in the freezer? People often lose their appetites after the death of a loved one (and the dead person doesn’t eat much either). J. eats like a bird at the best of times, so any leftover meals will likely get freezer burn. Although I worry about J.’s not eating through grief–alternatively, she may binge on all the high-sodium foods we’ve kept out of our home–I won’t be here to force feed her. Hey, could you guys could ensure she doesn’t waste away?
  8. Are there any other loose ends I should be cleaning up so they’re not left to my beloved Antiprocrastinator after my demise?

I could go on.

I won’t know my end date until it arrives since no one does. In the meantime, I’ll try, like Dr. Kalanithi, to keep living until I die. Waiting to die is the alternative, and what’s the fun in that?


9 thoughts on “Would it help to know your end date?

  1. Who cares about paperwork, taxes, filing systems, frozen dinners and library books? Just make sure that we see and know the real person that you are: generous, friendly , considerate, warm and so humorous. And don’t forget, I trust that you will be attending the next few of my New Years Eve parties!


    • PMH: I was tempted not to post this comment since it may give people a very distorted impression of me. We both know I’m cranky, difficult, and rigid at the best of times. I will concede to humorous, though, if you insist. As for New Year’s, so long as you don’t mind my going home to bed by 8:30 p.m. or so, I’m in! Thanks for being such a kind, supportive friend. XO


      • Cranky, difficult and rigid?? None of my friends fits (even remotely) that profile. So I must have responded to the wrong Annie. My sincere apologies for that.


  2. Beautifully written. I wish no one had to face such a difficult thing in the face, but I totally understand what you mean about it being too much to read. What a great way to say and think though………. Keep living… for now (and hopefully much longer!)


  3. Annie,

    Wow I cannot believe how much alike we are, well other than the fact you are really smart and super nice and also funny. I would so be putting together a very similar list, however, I may be obsessed with….is the bathroom clean, what about my dresser drawers. Should I eat the entire bag of wine gums instead of trying to make them last? Etc. Etc.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with me!

    Love Kathy


    • Dear Kathy: Your impression of me is highly skewed. I am only smart and funny and nice in my blog, but much less impressive in real life. I cannot relate in any way to your cleaning concerns, as you well know, and the answer to the wine gums query is obvious: of course I’d eat all of them, but if I ran out of time, I’d hope to be buried with them. Thanks for making me laugh. XO. Annie


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