My sister, Emily, died a week ago. Her funeral was my fourth in as many months. So, it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. But that’s not terribly unusual. Most of us in the ‘aged’ bracket (over seventy-five) think about death. We wonder how much longer we’ll be here. We wonder if we’ll go quickly and easily, or slowly and painfully. Emily’s today’s medical assistance in dying law. She was only one example of the many people whose request for assisted suicide, after being approved while they were judged to be mentally competent, was denied because of a deterioration in their thought processes caused, mostly, by the drugs they needed to block their pain. Critics of the law, including a number of legal scholars, argued that some of the restrictions in Bill C-14 would inevitably be challenged in court. They were right, and those restrictions will be lifted. It’s only a matter of time. I’ve never been able to understand how a decision made when a person is ‘of sound mind’ can be deemed invalid should that person suddenly be declared ‘not of sound mind.’ Why our Parliament threw that particular “spanner in the works,” (to use an expression Emily often used) is something I think every one of them should have to answer for. A lot of people have suffered, needlessly, because of their poor decisions. Sadly, Emily put things off for a little too long. By the time she decided that she’d had enough, her mind wasn’t up to par. She lasted another two bedridden weeks, floating in and out of painful consciousness, and pain-free oblivion. That is not going to happen to me. One of the things I thought about, when I first realized that I might have to take matters into my own hands, was the ancient (to my eighteen-year-old eyes) professor who taught my Journalism 101 class. It was an interesting elective that required minimal effort and suited my schedule that year. The too-skinny man had thick, receding, salt and pepper hair, a loud, croaky voice, and (to my seventy-eight-year-old eyes) would have been many years away from retirement. All I really remember from that course (I got a B.) is The Five Ws and one H rule. It’s the list of questions needing answers when information gathering or problem solving. I needed to know about, and be prepared for, any and all eventualities. I needed to know how to prevent unnecessary suffering, but at the same time not miss out on any joy. The questions are who, what, where, when, why, and how. So, it looks like I’m going to be spending a lot more time in front of my laptop. I’m going to write down every thought that comes to my mind on every one of those questions. Even if they don’t seem relevant. Even if they don’t even seem important. Writing things down makes you think more slowly, and more deeply. You can end up realizing that something you didn’t think was important was actually crucial, when you see it in writing. It becomes more than just an idea. Ideas can be chased around by new, and not necessarily better, ideas, and driven right out of one of the windows in your brain; windows that seem to magically appear along with wrinkles and stiff joints. But if you’ve written them down, they’ll never disappear. It occurred to me that the answer to the who question was going to be an autobiography, which meant that answering it was going to take much more time and effort than answering the other questions. It was going to tell the story of the outer me, how I’ve lived, what I’ve done, and the people I’ve loved and lost. I decided to include entries from my journal in the answer to the who question because they would tell the story of the inner me. They would show how I think, and what I think about. Many of my middle-of-the-night thoughts are common ones. What I didn’t do that I should have done. What I have to do the next day. Should I tell a friend what another friend said? If I do, will it upset her? Is it any of my business? I have to remember to call about the furnace. How did that joke about sex end? What was on that funny sign about children? Is that vitamin my friend talked about really helpful? How did that Einstein quote about riding a bicycle go? (I actually remember that one after thinking about it for a few minutes. It’s, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”) I used to keep a pen and paper on my bedside table. I’d jot thoughts down so that I could relax and fall asleep, knowing that I wouldn’t forget about them, and that I’d deal with them in the morning. When I discovered the audio memo app on my iPhone, I started dictating my thoughts instead of writing them down. My written memos were always clear and easy to understand. Even half asleep, my early training is still in control. But there were a few audio memos that I couldn’t make sense of, when I first started using the memo app. If I have to set my alarm, which I only have to do twice a week, thankfully, I decrease the volume on my phone before I go to bed, so that the alarm won’t be irritating. It took a few nights to adjust the volume so that I could understand the memo and not be irritated by the alarm. Before I found the right setting there was a memo that told me to “dye thin silk.” That afternoon, in the dairy aisle, at the grocery store, I realized that what I’d said was, “buy skim milk.” I also heard “closed window,” and “red hat,” but I’ve never been able to figure either of them out. (An interesting thing about the audio memo app is that it tells you the time the memo was dictated. Reviewing them made me realize just how irregular my sleep patterns are.) I used to just satisfy my curiosity about my disjointed, middle-of-the-night thoughts. I’d put items on my shopping list, or on my to-do list, look up the author of a particular quote, the symptoms of a disease, or the meaning of a word, and then get on with my day. But one morning, after looking something up with Google, and seeing that I’d looked that issue up only a few weeks before, I had a brainstorm. I decided to start keeping a journal of my thoughts about the issues that had kept me awake the night before. I was pretty sure I’d enjoy it, and it would be a good brain exercise as well, because I also decided that along with delving deeply into my personal thoughts, I’d copy and paste information from Google searches and Wikipedia. And I’d put everything I cut and pasted in italics. If whatever message I’d left myself was still of interest to me after I’d finished the daily crossword and my coffee, I’d open my laptop, type the audio memo I’d left myself, and let my daytime mind wander, guided a bit by online information. Some entries would be deep thoughts, and some just bits of silliness, but they’d all be me. As an aside, I find that finishing a crossword without a single mistake gets my day off to a slightly better than average start. I read that people who use pens are confident risk-takers, but that certainly doesn’t apply to me. I use a pen, partially because it’s easier to see, partly because erasing pencil marks smudges the paper, but mostly because I like grading myself when the puzzle is finished. The neater the page, the better I’ve done. On bad days, when I’ve had to make several messy corrections, I put the newspaper in the recycling box under the sink right away. Neat looking puzzles usually stay on the table with the rest of the paper until I’ve finished reading everything I want to read, which is often around dinner time. The word journal implies a daily activity, but my entries have always been erratic. I’d enter something three days in a row, and then there’d be nothing to write about for weeks. To be honest, it often depended not only on my mood, but on what else I had going on that day. The journal does cover a lot of ground, though, and I knew I’d enjoy going through it again as I imported it into this project. It didn’t take me long to realize that the answers to the what, where, why, when, and how questions would be collections of thoughts, some familiar, and, hopefully, some not, about medically assisted suicide, and about death itself. So, I’m going to go back and forth as the mood hits me. I’ll start off with the easy, enjoyable parts, and I’ll tackle the difficult ones when I feel up to it. To be very clear, this is an academic exercise. It’s a theoretical exploration of possibilities. I’m nowhere near actually planning my death. I have, at least I hope I have, a lot more life to enjoy. The only problems I have are the standard ones that come with being alive for so many decades. I’ve received no terminal diagnosis. My joint pain and stiffness are manageable, my memory lapses are irritating, but normal from what I’ve read, I’m completely independent in my self-care, and I live a fairly active life. But anyone who knows me would agree that I don’t like surprises, and that I’m a little obsessive about planning everything well in advance. “You’re OC light,” one of my friends once told me, with a big grin on her face. “You have only half the obsessiveness and a third the compulsiveness of regular OCs.” I was a little insulted, at first. But when I thought about it, I realized that she was right, and that it wasn’t a bad thing at all. Being organized, and planning ahead make life easier. Putting things away neatly, and where they belong, means that you don’t have to waste time looking for them. Knowing where you’re going, when you have to be there, and having what you have to take with you ready in advance, means no, or at least fewer, bouts of last-minute anxiety.