Our Own Expiration Date

Feb 8, 2023 | Death, Dying, Loss

I think there are two kinds of people, those who watch expiration dates and throw out the ketchup and mustard as soon as the date arrives and those who don’t look at expiration dates or think about them. My dad died on January 24th, 2023 and he did not look at expiration dates or think about them, even when his own date was pending. This lifestyle is akin to lifting the top off a jar of pickles and with one nostril searing sniff you discover that the brine has turned bad and yet you place it back on the fridge door. When we were growing up dad told us that he would live to the ripe old age of 140, then he revised it to 120 and towards the end he revised it to 100. Never did he believe he would die before 100 years old. He was 87 on January 24th, 2023. Pickles shouldn’t expire. Dad believed he shouldn’t expire either.

During the last week of his life I was able to spend a good bit of time in the hospital by his side and it was clear that he’d given up. He refused to eat his meatloaf. He didn’t want to try to get up and walk around. He fell asleep during the Dallas Cowboys game right after getting worked up over the kicker missing three extra points, “Can you believe that! This doesn’t happen in professional football,” and then out like a light. He stopped showing an interest in taking care of his health and begged me to go get him a hot fudge sundae which he knew would send his blood sugar to the sky. Yet, he still talked about the last oil well he hoped to drill once he got out of bed. 

Watching dad’s health decline over the last three years coupled with his blind hope in continuing to live like a 40 year old has caused me to rethink my view of expiration dates and how I live with mine approaching. The conversation in our house has routinely gone like this:

“Honey do you think this taco meat is still good?” (Husband is dying to eat it)

“Off course it’s still good, it’s been sitting in the refrigerator.” (Albeit for three weeks)

”I’m not sure, it smells funny. Come here and smell it.” (I go and smell it.)

“Smells okay to me, just heat it up well before you eat it.” (Husband heats and eats meat, he survives).

This shows a belief in how our world and American culture in particular provides us with something we can do to mitigate anything going bad: the refrigerator, the microwave, high heat. In dad’s case it was his devotion to taking vitamins and minerals and exercising with religious devotion. The last time we walked around the high school track together he was 86 and needed to sit down on the football bench at the halfway point of each lap to catch his breath. There comes a point when high heat, refrigeration, vitamins and minerals and exercise  just don’t do it anymore. We recognize this and adjust or we stick it back in the fridge and it just sits there until someone else has to deal with it. How many times have you come home from a vacation and there is moldy food in your fridge which you leave alone hoping that someone else will take on the smell and pour the gross glop down the garbage disposal?

My husband and I have been the ones dealing with my dad’s denial. This involves lying to the person, “You will be able to drive again when you recover from these injuries you sustained in the car accident that totaled your car,” dealing with their household goods which they refused to believe they would no longer need (including 5 bottles of KING cologne), buying slippers because they can’t put on their shoes, negotiating with the healthcare world because they forgot to pay their Medicare overlay premiums… it is a long and arduous list, but someone’s gotta do it.

“All flesh that moved on the earth expired,” Genesis 7:21. This refers to Noah’s time when literally everything “expired.” We are guaranteed an expiration date. Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Jacob, Ishmael and the people of Israel are mentioned in the Bible alongside the word, “expired.” My dad’s refusal to submit to an expiration date has taught me to throw out the bad stuff before it goes bad and not leave it to our heirs to clean up the mess.

An important aside, I loved my dad dearly. He was like a mighty tree that refused to fall. His trunk bending long before the limbs started breaking. Counter to our cultural obsession with wrinkle free beauty, his face was gorgeous in the hospital just days before he died. Everything else looked long past it’s due date but his smiling, laughing face still twinkled with the best of his character. The last thing I saw him do as I left the hospital room was blow me a kiss and say, “I love you too.” This happened after I brushed and hairsprayed his still brown hair because the physical therapy girls were coming to evaluate him that afternoon and he said, “They’re cute young girls.” Gosh…really?

When a person whom you love dies you can’t help but wonder about your own mortality and how you will age — will you age gracefully or grudgingly? Realistically or in total denial? So go ahead, throw out that old ketchup, mustard and mayo and call your estate planner. When your kids come home from their restful vacation, they don’t want to throw out your moldy bread.