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Happy, healthy, dead

My mom is 90 years old and she has a handful of 90-something friends left, most of them women.

 They all are still pretty sharp, opinionated and open to rather personal questions.

Yesterday, my mom and I visited Pauline Cafaro (shown here on the left), who lives in an independent retirement community. Pauline was one of those outspoken women I loved from my younger days, because she always told you what she thought about you. (Cute hair, bad hair, looking thin, looking chubby, you get the idea.)

Anyway, we came around, easily, to the subject of how these women want to die.

Pauline's hoping to go in her sleep. So I told her the mantra my friend Chris told me once: Every night before you go to bed, repeat: “happy, healthy, dead.”

It won't mean you'll die that night, or even hope to, but it's a wish to be happy and healthy up to the last day of your life. Pauline liked it and wrote it in her notebook.

Mom, on the other hand, wants a few weeks or months of warning so people can bid her good-bye and she can do the same.

The conversation was filled with laughs and openness.  I'd encourage others to try these conversations with the older people in your lives. You'll know soon enough whether it's a place they'd prefer not to wander. But most older people think about these things, and even discuss it with friends, and it's fascinating to listen to these conversations.

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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