How to Die

That’s the title of the final chapter in the book, The Philosopher’s Diet: How to Lose Weight and Change the World (Boston: David R. Godine, 1985), by retired philosophy professor Richard Watson. “How to Die” originally appeared in a slightly different form in an issue of The Georgia Review, where I first read it.


I return to it regularly.


On this late summer morning of the day before my two sons set out again from home, each in his own vehicle, on their long, long drives to California and Colorado, the one to start grad school and the other his sophomore year of college, I have once again returned to Watson’s wonderful essay.


Richard Watson’s father died of starvation at 81. Something was wrong with his gut, and at some point, he simply refused to get additional treatment.


Watson recalls what and how his father loved to eat:


Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.31.52 AM


There is a lot more along this line: butter and sorghum molasses smeared on bread; Missouri Wonder beans cooked with bacon and eaten with raw onion; slices of tomato sprinkled with salt; popcorn that he’d grown himself and drenched with butter; catfish dipped in cornmeal batter and cooked in lard; pot roast and noodles; fried chicken; home-baked bread.


The son describes his last minutes with his father:


One late afternoon in the last slanting light of a winter’s day, my father asked me to help him turn over on his side. I did and said, “Is that better?”


“Hell, no, it isn’t better,” he said. “You ask the dumbest questions.”


I sat back down with my book.


In a little while he said, “It’s all right.”


About fifteen minutes later I noticed that he had quit breathing.


Each of us finds his or her own way to live, don’t we? And each of us finds his or her own way to say, “I love you,” don’t we?


The thing is, you have to look carefully and listen closely for it. You could start, you know, right now. After all, what are you waiting for?


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