The XX Factor

How to Die Gracefully

Ann Hulbert’s late mother is my new hero. In this lovely essay in the American Scholar , Ann describes how her mother, in her last months, turned down radical medical intervention of dubious value. She did not do this because she googled a million medical sites and called in favors from doctor friends who weighed the evidence. She did it in order to stay true to her temperament and her philosophy.

Here is the exchange between Ann’s mother and the doctor:

“If geezers like me have lots of tests and treatments,” she told the doctor, “there isn’t going to be enough money to spend on the other end. This health-care mess isn’t going to be fixed if we aren’t ready to get out of the way.” Nonplussed on his little stool, he shook his head and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’ve heard that view before, but never from someone in your situation. People generally change their tune when it suddenly applies to them.”

And here is where she is most admirable, in an old fashioned but also up to the minute, spare living, enviro-conscious kind of way.

A child of the Depression and of Swiss immigrants, my mother never outgrew an almost un-American aversion to waste (of time, among other things) and an appreciation of the unintended consequences of so many of our fine-tuned, frenetic efforts at control.

Modern parents , pink ribbon enthusiasts , germophobes, pay special attention: You can not in fact control everything, and soon enough you will know that.