Just checking

Charles 4 Comments

Man writing on the paper in the office


In the good old days, death happened before we were ready for it. It struck untimely. Now, it creeps up, perhaps getting to us long after we have timed out.

Which raises the question: when is a timely death?

Journalist Matthew Parris is not alone in contemplating old age with trepidation. In a recent article he asked “How long do you want to live?”

It is a question my generation are the first in modern history to be asking ourselves in very large numbers. We ask it because we are among the first to expect — again in very large numbers — that our lives may be prolonged past a point when we may want or think we ought to live.

We will ask it, too, because we are the first generation among whom a majority no longer believes that suicide is a mortal sin.

I’ve decided to write myself a letter to be opened at the age of 75 and thereafter revisited annually. It sets out my criteria for carrying on. These are the criteria for me alone and I don’t apply them to others, who must frame their own.

Dear Matthew,

To the following eight questions a box is to be ticked, “yes” or “no”. The answer to some may obviate the need to ask some others. If the answer to either of the first two questions is “yes” then brush this letter aside and live on. If the answer to both is “no” then read no further, and reach for the razor blade.

1 Do you still, on balance and taking good times with bad, enjoy being alive?
2 Is there anyone else whose life would be devastated by your death?

The final six questions are not critical, but they may help you to decide in case of doubt:

3 Are you still of any practical use?
Are you more or less of sound mind? — in which case who is the prime minister, and multiply two by nine then subtract seven.
5 Are you more or less in possession of your physical faculties?
6 Are you still curious about the world? Can you get on a plane?
7 Behind your back, do people pity you?
8 Can you justify the cost to others, to the NHS and to your country of staying alive?

Full article here.


  1. Charles

    Interesting concept; dodgy questions.

    I don’t think that knowing the PM’s name is a gauge of much.
    Being able to get on a plane would not be a determinant for me.
    Who knows what the unkind think, behind our backs?

  2. Charles

    Yes and worrying about the cost to the nation is just a hostage to the doubts of all of us who are modest and inclined to be self effacing. Heaven save us from a world peopled by those who assert, confidently, ‘because we are worth it’.
    Still, the first two questions on their own are worth noting.
    I might add – although it’s perhaps covered under curiosity – ‘do you still want to know what happens next?’

  3. Charles

    Oooh yes, Vale. Do I want to know what happens next would be a good one. I think, Kathryn that it would need to be personalised. But not a bad idea in principle – just needs refining. For this chap, being able to board a plane is clearly a determinant.

    I still like the general idea of writing down the things that make your life worth living and revisiting that list regularly…not at any specific age, but when you feel it is time to look at it. I also like the idea of having some control over how long you live, if life becomes too long for you. This level of control will come for our generation I am sure of it. We are the first generation to really plan for old age and we will, I suspect, re-invent the entire concept of old age and its expectations.

  4. Charles

    I was going to post a comment on this, but them I realised that it would just be a re-statement of what Vale said. Personally speaking (and I can, of course, only speak for myself) I find 3 and 8 rather offensive.
    I can see 1 and 2, in addition to their given purpose here, being quite a good way of cheering oneself up during a bleak period!

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