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She said to me as we arrived at AT&T Park (Oracle Park today) on the T MUNI (which no longer runs from West Portal) for the game, “This is what I love about living in the city!”  Peggy Kaplan was 91 when I met her 12 years ago.  We both boarded the MUNI Metro train at West Portal for the ride to the park.  Getting on the T train at the West Portal station guaranteed you a seat.  Peggy took the empty seat next to me.  She was dressed head to toe in Giants’ regalia.  We started talking almost immediately and did not stop until we got off the train at 2nd and King Streets.  I learned that Peggy had lived in San Francisco since she was 4, when her parents moved the family to the city.  We discovered that we both graduated from the same high school.  Peggy went to Presidio Junior High and was in the pioneer graduating class at George Washington High School.  I graduated in the class of 1958.  From GWHS, Peggy went to Cal and then to Nebraska for medical school.  In her day, she was one of only four women in medical school.  Her medical practice was in geriatrics and serving the disabled.  Her husband died a year and a half ago when we met.

At one point in the conversation I asked her how at the age of 91 she was doing so well.  She credited Taiji and Yoga.  Both programs were taught at her church, St. Francis Episcopal Church on Ocean Avenue, near her home.  She invited me to join her.  As a result of that meeting, Peggy and I had several “dates”, going to the museum and attending Giants’ games together.  I also visited her in her home.  Thanks to Peggy, my reading and study of aging and dying took on increased depth and meaning.  The final years of my mother’s life contributed greatly to this exploration as well.  

Here is a sampling of questions and reflections that I ponder and meditate upon these days:

•    “What is a good death”?

•    “Would we rather die too soon or too late”?

•    “In ICU, one observes the erasure of the once bright line between saving a life and prolonging dying”

•    “The tipping point is when death would have been a blessing and living a curse”

•    “The antidote for over treatment is not under treatment, but appropriate care”

•    “At the crossroads, each miraculous life-extending technology pulls up from the depths a tangle of our most deeply held and unarticulated moral questions and puts them under a halogen light”

•    “How grateful are we for the gift of life and what are we willing to undergo for more of it”?

•    “Over the past 50 years, health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process”

•    “How do we make sense of the loss of human bonds that death brings even to those who believe in heaven”?

•    “Does a caregiver’s suffering have moral standing”?

•    “Can a daughter/son express their love for their parent by doing all they can to let them die; or is that an expression of their selfishness and buried hate”?

•    “The hallmark of a good death was not an absence of suffering, but the ability to meet it with faith, courage, and acceptance”

I was deeply impacted by an article in a 2014 issue of The Atlantic.  Written by Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist, bioethicist, and the vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, the title of the article was: “Why I Hope to Die at 75”.  At the time of writing, Emanuel was a healthy 57 year old, not bargaining with God because of a terminal illness; rather, he had just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with 2 nephews.  He was in very good health.  And he was opposed to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides.  Emanuel wrote:  “I am talking about how long I want to live and the kind and amount of health care I will consent to after 75.  I am not advocating for 75 in order to ration health care.  What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life.”

When I told my son, Jason, how excited I was about the article and how very much I agreed with the author, he said, “But dad, what about your children and grandchildren who want to spend more time with you in the future”?  I responded:  “…spend time with me now; don’t wait.”

In September 16, 1986, Rabbi Kenneth Berger wrote a sermon titled, “Five Minutes to Live”, in response to the tragic explosion in space of the Challenger Space Shuttle.  The 7 astronauts on board the shuttle remained alive for the 65,000 foot fall to the ocean. Rabbi Berger raised the questions:  “Can you imagine knowing that in a few moments death was imminent? What would we think of, if God forbid, you and I were in such circumstances?  What would go through our mind?”

Rabbi Berger then closed his sermon saying: “The explosion and then 5 minutes.  If only I…if only I…and then the capsule hits the water and it’s all over.  Then you realize it’s all the same—5 minutes, 5 days, 50 years.  It’s all the same, for it’s over before we realize.  If only I knew—yes, my friends it may be the last time.  If only I realized—yes, stop, appreciate the blessings you have.”

If only I could—you still can, you’ve got today”.

(Peggy Kaplan died in 2020)

4 thoughts on “Peggy”

  1. In an age when we live more with Formularied Health Care than wholistic care where individual uniqueness and sensitivities are considered (even with AI and BARD}, I shared the “Peggy” story with my primary medical physician.

    A physician is a human being like everyone else and struggles with questions and decision for oneself, family and patients. My primary physician fully appreciated the “Peggy” story. I informed Cal I did so and the response received.

    I post it here to suggest possibilities for sharing the wisdom while maintaining respect for Cal’s privacy and creative proprietorship

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