Back in 1998, MTV premiered the TV series “True Life,” which featured a wide variety of stories with titles like “True Life: My Parents are Clowns” and “True Life: I’m On Crystal Meth.” Despite the crazy premise — which you would expect would have flamed out by now like a gossipy reality TV comet — the show is still running. Perhaps it’s our collective schadenfreude that keeps this show on the air. It’s hard to know.
Which brings me to this: I have a True Life confession of my own, worthy for an episode.
The title would be, “True Life: I’m Secretly A 65 Year Old Woman (In A 26 Year Old Body).” Not as startling or juicy as “True Life: I Live in a Brothel” or as generation-defining as “True Life: I’m Gay and Getting Married [to a person of the opposite sex].” But between working as a consultant for a company that specializes in retiree medical insurance and doing social media for a non-profit focused on end-of-life planning, I have a perspective on aging and dying that is, perhaps, better suited to someone twice my age.
For example, statistically speaking, women in their late fifties or early sixties make up the majority of people focused on “putting their affairs in order” — for their aging parents, their families and themselves. Women of this age range are the proverbial “ham in a sandwich.” For them, even though this conversation is difficult, it is very real and has practical implications.
So go ahead: ask me about the unintended medical, financial and emotional consequences of failing to plan for the end of your life.
And then consider healthcare for retirees. With some exceptions, only people 65 years old and up are eligible for Medicare. But I have actually know quite a bit about the future prospects of Medicare even though I won’t be eligible for another 39 years.
So go ahead: ask me about Medicare.
But only ask me if you have an hour or two to talk. I have knowledge. I have insight. I have opinions. I’m dangerous.
Meanwhile, while my friends join startups, non-profits based on empowering minority youth, and big tech companies like Google and Twitter, I spend my days pondering how to cultivate the right tone and engage the right audience to feel comfortable talking about death on Facebook.
My shorthand for this part of my job is that I want to make people “like” death. That’s “like” as in the Facebook thumbs up.
And this lends me a unique perspective for someone who is 26 years old.
I joke that I was the most prepared person in America when I turned 26 and had to get off my parents’ health insurance and find my own plan on the public exchange. I had been writing about Obamacare for a couple of years at this point as part of my job.
I suspect I will be similarly prepared, assuming I stay in a similar field, to get on Medicare and document my end of life wishes (a project I’ve already started and that includes a full-body donation to the University of California or, if that’s not an option, cremation). You see, in death as in life, I’d like to either be useful or not take up too much space.
This may seem morbid, and as is often the case, when I discuss my work, I am met with squirms or incredulous looks from peers my own age. But as was the case when I showed up at a Death Cafe in Sonoma, California and was decades younger than any other attendee, I am unfazed.
If anything, I am able to look dispassionately at the issues of aging and death because, with the exception of an accident, they are not issues that directly affect me. I understand the fear and superstition that surround this topic, but I can also see that the treatment of the topic is rapidly changing in a positive direction. People are taking charge of their own aging process, with articles like Ezekiel Emmanuel “Why I Hope To Die At 75,” and doctors are rethinking how they discuss aging with their patients, as evidenced by Atul Gawande’s latest book, “Being Mortal.”
Because ultimately, dying is just another part of life. It’s a part of my (true) life. And it will be a part of yours.