On January 16, my father and I learned that he has terminal cancer. He's eighty-four. Yesterday I discovered that he's known about his soft-tissue pelvic sarcoma for almost two years but did nothing about it. My father is terrified of cancer, so he denied that he had it. He pretended it didn't exist.... My father has lived in a state of blissful denial his entire life. He used to smoke five packs of cigarettes a day, and until he was seventy he drank a quart of scotch a day. His diet consists of steak, salami, potatoes, bread, cheese, mayonnaise, ice cream, and pie....The other day I was cutting down a tree with my chainsaw, and I took a moment before making the final cut to prepare for death. It's not a difficult process. I said the usual prayer, accepted that in a moment I might be dead, and then felled the tree. Sure enough it didn't fall just as I wanted. Nevertheless, as I took the alternate escape route, I experienced no fear. Perhaps this is because my studies in metaphysics have led me to believe that death is a small thing; perhaps it is simply because I am practiced in facing death. Aristotle held that any human virtue was likely to be the result of good practice.
He told me recently that until he was eighty, he honestly thought he'd live forever. I didn't say, "Really? You thought you'd live in your house here in Los Angeles for trillions and trillions and trillions of years, making your wooden toys, watching Bill O'Reilly... for all eternity?"...
My father's mother died of heart disease and diabetes. She screamed and cried and begged God for more time, over a three-week period. It was very traumatic for my father. My grandmother was seventy-eight and had never once changed her diet after her diagnosis of diabetes. She gorged on cookies, cake, and pie and then screamed for more life. Her death was unfair, she cried.
You know you're going to die. It could be today. The good life ideally includes a good death. Why not practice for the great challenge you know is going to come?