Mr. Chatterbox

By staff June 1, 2005

Wasn't it strange the way everybody important died at the same time? The Pope, Sandra Dee, Prince Rainer, Terri Schiavo. It's almost too much to absorb. Do you think God is trying to tell us something? Or was he just getting backed up?

One of the things on God's agenda is clear-get a Living Will. You do not want to end up like poor Terri Schiavo, with her smarmy husband, her sad parents, and the crowd of weirdos outside her window. (I was thinking of going myself-Jesse Jackson did-and now rather wish I had.)

By the time you get to be my age you've seen quite a bit of dying-not necessarily the last gasp kind so much as the side that deals with Hospice, searches for the checkbook, and then pays the $12,000-a-month nurses. It isn't much fun but it does feel like part of the human condition you just have to go through.

But a brain-dead state. What could that possibly be like? We need more information, and I think that's one of the reasons we're getting bogged down in this problem. If you're brain dead, do you see images? Do you dream? Do you think? Do you feel pain? Or is it is just a big nothing?

And of course this starving business doesn't help one bit. Certainly there's got to be a better way to deal with people like Terri than to starve them to death. Although I must admit, all the dying people I know totally lost their appetites. And how they hated that Ensure. They hated the taste and they hated even more what it meant.

At any rate, leave behind some sort of directive and put it in writing. Make it the way you want it to be. I, for instance, request if at all possible to be overfed to death. If for any reason you change your mind, write out a new one and tear up the old one. (They may not find the new one until after they've pulled the plug.) Put it in a safe place and tell people about it.

Believe me, it'll be a big relief to your relatives.

I remember when my father was dying I was sitting with him one afternoon and we were listening to Mozart and I realized to my horror that from his bed he could look out into the hall and then into the kitchen where his bright yellow "Do Not Resuscitate" notice was prominently affixed to the refrigerator. He'd been lying there for weeks and never once asked us to move it. That's what I call dying with dignity.

Sea Fever

I've said it before but I'll say it again-the only way to see Sarasota is from the water. Only then you do you realize how perfectly we mesh with the sea. Lots of cities in Florida are on the water, but not as successfully as we are. The bay is just the right width, the skyline just the right mix, and the little islands are just breathtaking enough, with their endless display of millionaires' homes. Even the new bridge, I hate to say it, fits in perfectly.

There are various ways to see Sarasota from this crucial angle, but one of the best is on the Key Breeze, the 41-foot sailboat (it's a Morgan; I'm not sure what that means but it seems to be good) owned by Tom and Sally Reed, a very interesting couple who did what so many dream of: abandoned their yuppie lifestyle (he was a teacher and coach, she was a pharmaceutical rep) and moved to Florida to start a new life with a sailboat. They have various itineraries, but for our purposes what you want is the two-hour Sarasota Bay cruise.

I loved the boat. It had little bedrooms and a living room. It even came with a dog. She was a Golden Lab named Abbey. It's very interesting to go sailing with a dog. Abbey can hear the dolphins and then she goes wild, running from side to side looking for them. She's fallen overboard only once. I was amazed at her sure-footedness.

I must admit the best part of the cruise was what I now refer to as "Celebrity Row," the northwestern side of Bird Key. This seems to be where all the big Sarasota celebrities live: Jerry Springer, Brian Johnson, some hockey player, and best of all, Michael Saunders. I found her house rather small and discreet for a woman who could have her pick of anything in town, but that just shows the cachet of Mourning Dove Drive. From the street, it has no drama whatsoever. But from the back-wow. All of downtown Sarasota is spread out before your eyes, close but not too close.

The high-rises peter out north of the bridge, which I found a little disappointing. Even the million-dollar houses seemed tucked away in the trees. Frankly, from a sailboat, I like mega-mansions better. That's why a sail around Bird Key is so fascinating. It's like Venice, with all the palazzos on the Grand Canal.

Tom let me drive the boat, and everyone agreed I was very good, although at one point, as I was trying to maneuver between two wooden posts that were perhaps a mile apart, poor Ilene Denton went flying overboard, saved at the last second only by the netting the Reeds had thoughtfully installed.

If you're interested in finding out more about the Key Breeze, call the Reeds at 346-SAIL. They have all sorts of itineraries available, or you can create your own. They even have special cruises where your ashes can be tossed into the Gulf, right after your living wall takes effect. In fact, you could even make that part of your living will. Just make sure your relatives know which way the wind is blowing.

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