My responsibility for my own death

July 17, 2013

    What a weird thought. I had no idea where this thought would take me when I placed it at the end of last week’s column. I knew if I committed myself to writing about it the thoughts would come. 

   I hope I will be living right here at Tiger Mountain Orchard.  This would provide me with an unending series of tasks in the garden. I once bought scores of azaleas, rhodies, ferns and lilies from a 92 year old man on Log Cabin Road in Atlanta. Maybe I could be raising more plants and flowers to give away.  I would enjoy that lots.  I enjoy it now. Maybe I will be doing it even more in 10 to 15 years.

   I will certainly want to be writing.

   I would love to continue teaching at Emory Medical School until the very end. This might require having someone drive me to and from Atlanta. Or perhaps once a month the family planning fellow, resident and an interested medical student might come up here to Tiger for a day.  Hard to imagine three young physicians benefitting from an 85 to 90 year old family planning doc. We’ll see.

     Several other tasks:

  • Copies of an updated will in a safe, at home and in a lawyer’s office.
  • A living will
  • Clearly written DO NOT RESSUSITATE orders in hands of doctors and family.
  • Enough cash for my wife or children to cover expenses right after my death.
  • I want to be sure to have copies of several funny movies.

   If I am at home at the end, my wonderful wife Maggie and I will be able to sit on chairs on our front porch. Chairs we have enjoyed sitting on with family and friends for decades now. 

   Most important will be opportunities to express love and gratitude to family, friends, professional colleagues and friends from church.

   There is one very tough thing I may have to decide about.  It is how to deal with pain.  As an alcoholic who has not had a drink for 27 years I wonder about using narcotics to minimize pain. I am sort of afraid of the addictive power of those drugs. But I am sure I will want to use them.  Probably will if necessary.

      As to my relationship with God, I don’t think things will change much.  I have never had a clear idea who, what, where or if God is.  I just don’t know.  God is very important to me but will remain a mystery to the end.

   The day I die and the day before I die my responsibility as far as God is concerned, will quite simply be to love those about me.  Hopefully, I will love myself too. I will be thanking God for gifts over a lifetime far greater than I have deserved.

   I wonder if I could die with a smile on my face.  I think that might just happen. 

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH
Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Georgia