Dying In Our Sleep

People have advised me that the best way to die is in my sleep. I’m not sure if they were wishing for my demise, or if they were merely suggesting that if I have a choice—whether to die while awake or die while asleep—I should make the somniterminous choice (that’s a word I made up, by the way).

But is that really good advice? Why would someone who’s enjoying a nice, peaceful sleep want to interrupt their nocturnal pleasure by departing their body and journeying to the Other Side? It’s like the alarm clock going off in the middle of a beautiful dream. Or like being shaken awake by some asshole, just at the good part where you’re about to have sex with a supermodel. That would leave me in a pissed off mood. I’d act like a grump, and then my departed relatives might not be so eager to welcome me.

Anyway, how many people actually die in their sleep? I suspect it’s a lot less than some of us think. After all, heart attacks are very painful. So if someone’s asleep and the BIG ONE hits, the pain is probably going to wake them up. It seems to me like there’s a good chance they’ll be spending a few minutes writhing around in coronary pain before the grim reaper finally hauls them off to the next world.

As for me, I don’t like the somniterminous choice. I want to be wide awake when the time comes. Let my last words be, “OH SHIT!” shouted at the grill of a semi truck, for instance. Then, if there’s an afterlife, I can leave the scene of the accident without having to deal with cops, insurance, or any of that hassle. It would be the ultimate hit-and-run.

I think dying in one’s sleep is overrated. What a boring way to go. As Hunter S. Thompson once advised:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S. Thompson, by the way, was the original gonzo journalist. The cartoon character, “Uncle Duke,” of Doonsebury, was originally based on him. He lived a wild life, riding with, and writing of, the Hell’s Angels, covering counterculture and Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, drinking heavily, doing drugs, shooting off guns, and thumbing his nose at authorities.

But ol’ Hunter couldn’t take aging and bad health. So at age 67, two weeks after football season ended, he shot himself in the head. His suicide note read:

No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun–for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax—This won’t hurt.

His funeral was held exactly six months later, on August 20, 2005, with his ashes being fired out of a cannon, accompanied by fireworks. 280 people attended this funeral, including John Kerry, George McGovern, Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Sean Penn, and John Oates. Yep, this bastard was well-loved, inspired many, and was not the type to die in his sleep.

I don’t advocate following Hunter’s example. I’m sure I’d wince like hell if I put a gun to my head. But I’m also no fan of dying in my sleep. Just the same, I suspect that’s how it will happen. After we reach a certain age, we can’t protect ourselves from well-meaning young people who haven’t appreciated the deleterious effects of old age. So they insist on incarcerating our enfeebled bodies in nice, safe rest homes, where our half-lives fizzle out into nothing, while we wither away and disappear.

They’ll stave off death at all costs, gavaging medication down our throats, poking us with needles, and performing CPR as needed. And when we’re in that situation, perhaps the only practical escape will be to wait until lights out, pull our covers over our heads, and slip peacefully away into a sleep they can’t shake us out of.

I may not be able to avoid such a fate, because I’m too chicken to shoot myself. But until then, I may look into how I can arrange to have my ashes fired out of a cannon. That’s the least I can do.

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