Sheila has feared growing old her entire life. She’d seen her parents’—separately, and years apart—long but steady decline, noticing first that they weren’t keeping up with necessities like diet and personal grooming, then realizing with alarm that they didn’t seem to care. They had both ended up in a nursing home where they remained for years, which frightened and depressed her.
At times she thought she still smelled the dour facility—a combination of Pine-Sol, stale urine, and an air-freshener intended to mask these—as if its residue had clung to her. Of course, she wondered how this could be. How could the smell of something linger this long, and do you actually remember an odour or does a similar one trigger the memory? Sometimes the experience felt like a hallucination, but she wasn’t sure what that was like, either.
Old age was the thing that kept her awake at night. The loss of control, of depending on others to understand what she needed and then provide it. She didn’t know if she would be able to stand it. She would rather die.
What her own later years might look like took shape for Sheila when she saw that her children would be useless for anything resembling support. Things with Chloe had unravelled badly, and she hadn’t heard from Nate in more than five years. It wasn’t that she expected or wanted them to look after her. But it would be nice to know, when her mind is unhinged and she’s incoherent (and very likely incontinent), that she’ll be somehow tethered to the next generation, that they might at least hold onto her until it’s time to let go.
She has a plan for the actual end. When she knows it’s time, she’ll overdose on medication she’s saved (or procured) for this purpose. She’ll leave things in order, and a note with instructions, or at least her wishes spelled out. She doesn’t know when this will be, of course. She’s healthy and expects to live for some time.
By the time she’s ready for lift-off (as she’s taken to calling it), she wouldn’t be surprised if many others had firmed up a similar plan. Her generation will have been saving prescription medication, hoarding it, in fact, determined to put their lives (and their deaths) in their own hands.
By this time, old people will be conveniently housed in high-rise geri-dorms, repurposed residences at now-abandoned universities. And the practice of saving meds for the end will not only be common among the elderly, but maybe normalized, possibly even sanctioned (but not yet required) by the government. It might even be yet another innovative service offered by Amazon. You’ll log in to your account, click END, click I AGREE, and within four hours your dose will be delivered by drone to your dorm window. Twenty-four hours later, a recovery team will arrive and your next-of-kin, if you have any, will be notified. In the neighbourhood, kids will place bets on whose window the drone will visit next.