Yes it is the one thing that no one wants to talk about and yet it is an inevitability – all of us will leave this place at some time. Some of us leave later in life, some in the middle and others a little earlier – but leave we do. And of course we leave for a range of different reasons from disease and health issues right through to the rigors of a life lived long and well. Now that I have reached middle age I increasingly think about the prospect of death and when and how it might come mainly because when you reach the mind way point the things you want to do begin to speed up unlike our young years when we think we have decades before us. Of course few people want to meet that maker too quickly.
For my part I began thinking about it first when I was in my late teens and I had a brush with an other wise fatal disease that would visit me again later in life. Then, around my fortieth year having worked myself to then bone I had a heart attack. It was a pretty surreal experience given I thought I just had a little indigestion. Here I was standing at the podium of a conference about women’s empowerment giving a speech and mid-way through It was like a truck had hit me square in the chest. Of course given the fact we had a great nosh up lunch I put it down to the prawns – I could not have been more wrong. I stood there and delivered the speech to its end and then left for home.
As I lay on the couch struggling for breath with the stitch I came to the conclusion that Dr Google did not know best and took myself off around the road to the local GP. Once there he put a little thing on my finger and the last thing I remembered was seeing my heart rate go the wrong way. I was gone. The next thing I knew I had woken up in the Royal Prince Alfred hospital in Sydney with these strangers coming in and out working on me. In the weeks that followed there were sonograms, all manner of tests and then the medication. In that single moment I made the decision to treat the rest of my life like it mattered a little more. Worry about the small stuff gave way to how I might be able to change the big stuff and, as a result, I set myself on a path that had no real end but a lot of really interesting topics to tackle.
Of course the other thing you notice once you have a heart attack and are on little tablets is just how many other of your friends are also swallowing a few little pills to keep the bad health at bay. Many years ago I remember sharing beers with the boys at the pub and talking tall stories and nonsense. Now, we go around the circle comparing who is on what sort of medication and what our dosages are. And then, after a few more beers, as we get braver, we talk about the if moment; “If I die this is what I’d like to have happen”. We talk about how we would like to have things done, where we’d like to go right down to what songs might be played. In other words begin planning for the inevitable. What is really interesting is very rarely do we have those same sorts of conversations with our better other halves.
But are we really do the right thing and having conversations about death in the right way? Of course the answer is no because as men we would rather talk about the easier side of death such as the song we’d like to have played as we are rolled down that aisle and up that hill. Instead we should be having a conversation not about death but about life. How can we stay alive longer to do all the things we dearly want to do and experience – from the family stuff right through to climbing that mountain. The sad reality is that Maori men have a right rate of early onset death than non-Maori. We re more likely to have high blood pressure, heart attacks, aneurisms and cancers. Yes the big C word I am all too familiar with. And yet we are talking about things that all very preventable. Take blood pressure and heart attacks – why shy away from that salad or that 5km walk around the neighbor hood when it can add years to your life. Prostate and Bowel cancer – why wait until the ambulance comes to take away when all we need do is get tested? Lung cancer – put down the smokes and it might be a completely different story. In other words much of what confronts us as Maori men when it comes to health is all very much preventable and it takes just a little time out of our week. So yeah – lets not have a conversation about death; let’s have a conversation about life – and how much more of it we squeeze out of our bag of bones (and no I don’t mean pork and bacon bones). So if you feel something is wrong – get tested. If you know you’re a little on the heavier side walk it out, if you know there is a history of some bad juju in your whanau get yourself checked.
I’d far rather have a conversation with your brothers about what we are all going to do over the next fifty years than constantly see remembrance walls of photos of those who have been taken way too young.
So – the next few months I’m heading into a drastic new world of the old health kick – my target is to drop twenty kilos – let’s see if I can get there!