In the past few days I've been confronted with a number of end of life issues. Among them, a close friend that is a grandmother herself, lost her grandma after a long stint in long term care, a couple other friends lost close relatives, and I got to guess about my own demise as I studied the many nuances found in a long term care insurance plan that I pulled the trigger on. On the kayaking front the School of Let's Go For It Paddling lost it's Professor Emeritus when Eric Soares left us last week. Over the weekend the VOR and I attended an annual party near Madison, WI, an event older than many of it's attendees, and the topic of both the route to and the ultimate check out itself were discussed around the bonfire.
The one thing that most everyone agreed upon was that the Thelma & Louise plan was the preferred ideal. No draining nursing home stay, just careening off the cliff yelling 'yeeehaa!' at the top of our lungs. We also determined in our beer fueled wisdom that the route to the edge of the cliff was to stay healthy, active, and avoid 'acting our age'. One of my early deer hunting mentors was found by his son, dead in his tree stand of a heart attack at age 76. Ronnie told me that every one of the old deer camp group came up to him at the funeral and told him they would sign up for his dad's check out method, no questions asked. It would seem, and various studies agree, that when a person quits engaging in activities because they consider themselves to be too old, that's when the long slide to the soft bland food, adult Depends, and drool cup begins. Sadly, friends that have attended Woodyfest, as this party is known, in the past stopped coming because they decided that standing around a bonfire drinking keg beer in the snow and watching illegal fireworks was something more 'appropriate' for college aged people. The Guardian had an article on the biggest regrets of terminal patients. Number one was a failure to be true to oneself and a wish that they hadn't worked so much was a close second. Five years ago I got a call from No 1 Son on a Thursday in mid October. "Dad, Loveland (our favorite CO ski area) got a two foot dump and the Pack plays the Broncos on Monday Night Football. Lets head out tomorrow, ski three days, and then scalp tickets to the game!". I regretfully told him that it sounded great but that I had meetings scheduled at work, a ton of other stuff, short notice, etc., and that we would just have to do it another time. I hung up and called him back five minutes later and told him you get the motel and I'll take care of the air. We had a great time and I was happy that we were able to go for it. I realize now, after reading the Guardian article, that by doing that I had pretty much given regrets No 1 and 2 'the finger'.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Eric Soares, co-founder of the famed Tsunami Rangers, in person but we had exchanged some notes on various blog posts over the years. I like the way he wrote, his philosophy of paddling, and how he wove it into his life in general. One of his last blog posts, the Ten Commandments of Sea Kayaking, was one of his best and spot on. His 4th of July post on the hunt for stars and levels resonated with me as well. I've watched Level XX instructors that could not connect with or communicate worth a damn with their students, and frankly should not be allowed on Lake of the Isles alone in a breeze over 10 knots. I've also personally had a number of instructor/mentors that passed on the star/level routine, yet have developed both excellent skill sets and the ability to pass them on and connect with students. The main thing I sensed with Eric Soares, his writings and actions, was that he had the mindset and attitude to go for it. Take proper precautions, have your 'out' scouted in advance, use the right gear, but push that envelope and give it a shot. Early reports said that a fall skiing at Tahoe exacerbated an aortic condition that he had surgery on before and that he passed unexpectedly in the hospital. My best to friends, family, and those who knew him well, but I have to believe that he went out doing one of the activities that he loved.
I guess the moral of this somewhat disjointed ramble around these end of life issues is to stay active, play smart, and for God's sake be true to yourself and others. Be inquisitive, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and push that envelope just a little bit. If you don't fall on the ski slope, get knocked over by a wave, or make that little extra effort to hang with family or your buddies then you are cheating yourself. In other words, go for it. Something tells me that Eric Soares had no worries about the five regrets in the Guardian article when he finally left us, and I sincerely hope that none of us do either when the time comes.