Friday, April 23, 2021

3. Someday I Will Die

When I was in tenth grade I played a forest ranger in what perhaps might be the silliest musical ever produced titled, “Little Mary Sunshine.”  I can’t even remember what the show was about, but I do remember an important lyric from the showstopper “Mata Hari”: 

“As she died she said, ‘What fun! It’s the only thing I haven’t done!'”

At 16-years-old I vividly recall saying, “Yes that’s how I want to go out too.”  

At 50-years-old I am well aware I am in my second act.  I don’t think I’ve had my showstopper yet, but I’ve had a hell of a soundtrack.  I know that I have less time in front of me than I do behind me.  At the same time I see gun violence escalating which reminds me I may not get as much time as I would like.  Every day in the United States there are mass shootings and there is no clear end in sight.  I am not at all afraid of dying, I’m just afraid of not living while I’m still alive.  

Even as a teenager I was cognizant of the fact that it was more important for me to live a life of variety, curiosity, and adventure rather than to stay in one place, only have one partner, only do one thing for work.  I wanted to live a life that was filled with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, victories and setbacks.  I didn’t mind losing a game or getting hurt, just so long as I played hard and gave it my best.  So when all was said and done on my death bed I could sing the Mata Hari song and mean it. [FYI — the version of the song that has this verse is on the 1962 soundtrack, not the 1959 rendition, because the world needed two distinct versions of Little Mary Sunshine].  

One of the many things I am grateful to have learned on this journey is the relevance of balance.  The Buddhist yin yang symbol represents perfect symmetry and respect for all energies.  It illustrates that we cannot have true joy without true sorrow.  We cannot really laugh unless we can really cry.  We can’t truly celebrate until we can truly grieve.  We can’t appreciate health if we can’t respect sickness.  And we can’t fully embrace life unless we can fully embrace death.  Our ability to feel one is directly proportional to the ability to feel the other.  My life would not be fulfilling, meaningful, and really fun in the now, if I didn’t fully recognize and respect the fact that my body will someday die.  

Perhaps I wouldn’t have this perspective if I hadn’t already been around so much death.  I came pretty close to my own life ending when I had spinal meningitis in 1993.   Jhan’s death in 1998 was traumatizing, yet he also demonstrated to me that one’s death can be just as meaningful as one’s life.  Jhan’s energies at home were focused on meticulously controlling his immediate surroundings as much as possible in a way that reflected his values, his humor, and his great passion for music.  His death was carried out exactly the same way in his same room, showing that one can assert respect and intention in both realms.   He reinforced what I had believed even as a teenager:  Quality of life is more valuable than quantity of life.

Meanwhile I continue to live in a culture that prioritizes the exact opposite.  The American medical system seems to believe that one “should” extend the chronology of the years even one is living a quality that lacks dignity, compassion, meaning, and connection.  I have been a donator to Compassion and Choices for over 20 years because they advocate for legislative changes which supports the rights for people to exercise all their medical options, including the option to die with dignity when it is time to do so.   I believe these values are going to be changing greatly in society over the next decade.  

Although I had always meant to create a legal will, I didn’t actually have the impetus to do so until COVID hit New York.  The pandemic snuck up on us quickly — within 14 days it paralyzed our entire metropolis.  There was no way to know initially if I had it or not, if I was going to live through this or not.  So I sat down.  I breathed.  I did a lot of jolking (jogging and walking).  And then I got on LegalZoom and wrote a will.  I didn’t fully anticipate I was going to die from COVID, but it brought an incredible amount of serenity to know have my intentions were in print just in case.   And so it is with that peace and clarity I’m stating some of my future intentions here toward my end of these 50 Lessons.

I have no interest in retiring before I die.  I love my Work too much, I think I’d be quite lost without it.  If you love what you do you’ll keep fighting to do it until the end.  No one exemplifies this ideal better to me than comedian Joan Rivers.  Although the circumstances of her death in 2014 were quite tragic, they are also quite enviable.  The woman did what she loved for 50 years, then she went to sleep and never woke up.  She never slowed down, she never broke down, she never got seriously ill, she never required residential assistance.  She played one last full house at Laurie Beechman Theatre and she was gone about a week later at age 81.  In a way that is sad, but I also look at her and think, “Yeah, that’s kinda how I want to do it.”  

When I’m gone I don’t want to be idealized.  Americans tend to make deities out of people who die and I don’t want that to ever be me.  There is nothing about dying that makes me or anyone else a saint.  I do not want to be that guy on Facebook who people talk about “missing” or that “his death shouldn’t have happened.”  My passing will not be an excuse for you to complain that life is “so unfair.” Although I know very little about the afterlife, I know I won’t be checking for notifications on Facebook while I’m there so please don’t send me messages.  You will not honor me by playing the role of victim.  

If you miss me after I’m gone, and want to honor me and feel my spirit, then I offer the following options:  (1) Tell someone you love them.  (2) Eat an amazing piece of pizza.  (3) Laugh out loud at something completely ridiculous.  (4) Look in the mirror naked and acknowledge how fucking fabulous your body is. (5) React to a criticism with compassion and understanding. (6) Donate to Compassion & Choices. (7) Scream your head off at a political protest. (8) Play "It’s A Sin” by Pet Shop Boys. (9) Tell someone, “I don’t believe in shoulds." (10) Have incredible hot passionate sex.  Any one or combination of these activities will help you to feel close to me.  Complaining on social media will not. Shaming your body will not.  Hurting other people will not.  And I will haunt your asses if you start using “shoulds” against yourself or others.  

After I’m gone I hope people will celebrate.  Based on what I shared in Lesson 9 and Lesson 4 I know some people are already planning to celebrate but I’m talking about the people who actually know me and love me.  When you truly care for someone you want them to have the highest quality of experience possible.   The people who know me well  know I’ve been considering the gravity of these issues for a very long time.    

I am starting these conversations now because I don’t want to be burdened with starting them later.  I have often been a bit ahead of my time by talking about gay men and mental health, using PrEP for sex, supporting polyamory in marriages, long before they were commonly discussed in society.  So as I turn fifty I’m starting a new dialogue:  Let’s talk about living life fully by talking about death.  Let’s have open conversations that support and sustain a quality of life that’s comprised of meaning, purpose, love, and fun.  It is only by in recognizing the impermanence of life that we can truly infuse meaning in the present moment. I say we make these moments count for something so that when death comes it will truly be “the only thing you haven’t done!” 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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