21 May

Flower Art, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Sparks Of Life. Flowers Mean More Than Flowers. A Wonderful Talk About Aging.

by Jon Katz

For me, a day of learning.

I’m learning that flowers mean more than flowers. Garden and flower people will know what I mean. They stand for color, hope, rebirth, and renewal; if we pay attention, they light our souls. They open us up.

They bring me from a dark place to a colorful one, a place of light and promise. I’m learning how to live in grace and meaning and face reality.

This afternoon, I went to Saratoga Hospital’s Cardiology offices to speak to my cardiologist, Matthew Fairbank, a wise and empathic man.

I hoped to have a long and vital conversation about aging, tests, expectations of mortality, and the intrusions of medicine.

These things are on my mind as I close in on my 77th birthday, which is older than I ever expected to get. I admit all those ghouls and trolls coming after me for my typos and struggle with specific names got to me more than I realized. Was I heading to dementia? Was my Dyslexia that bad and getting worse?

I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of living too long.

It was an essential conversation, perhaps one of the most important in my life.  I wanted to tell him that I didn’t wish to spend the rest of my life getting tested and chipped away in surgeries that might prolong my life but not make it worth living. I don’t want to live a life of tests, pills, and surgeries.

I don’t wish to spend 10 to 16 years dying in pain and discomfort, as is the fate of millions of older Americans.

I’ve been a hospice volunteer and worked with the Mansion residents for more than a decade. I can see how I want it to end and how I don’t want it to end, so I needed some guidance.

Maria and I have had long conversations about death and my age.

(And yes, I’ve read and written many times about Atul Gawande’s excellent book on mortality, Being Mortal. A hundred years ago, it took Americans a few weeks to die. Today, it takes them 16 years, and many of those years are in agony and despair. Modern medicine does beautiful things, including to me. And it does horrific things. I don’t want to end my life in that way, for my sake or Maria’s. That’s not how our story is going to end.

But Matthew Fairbank was way ahead. We were in sync, on the same page, open, trusting, and honest. This was just what he wanted to talk to me about.

I’m not sick and have no intention of dying soon, but Maria and I do have to talk about the future with some tears at times. We love each other so much, but age doesn’t care. I’m 76, and that takes some planning and thought.  I’ll be 77 on August 8.

I don’t see this as a gloomy conversation but one to make life meaningful, honest, and beautiful. For us, this is what it means to love. I wonder if Matthew Furbank will ever quite realize what our talk meant to me.


He shocked me. Before I could speak, he sat beside me and asked me questions about my life: Was I happy? Was I busy and fulfilled? Was my marriage sound and robust? Did I love my work?  Was I glad to move to the country? I said yes to all those things and added more: my blog, my dogs (and cats), my donkeys, my farm, and my photography. He asked a bunch of medical questions, too, about my breathing, energy, and sleeping.

He blew my mind after reading my EKG and looking at my history. “I don’t want you to take any tests,” he said, “and you are wise to consider any serious surgery at your age carefully. There is nothing wrong with you. Your heart is in very good shape, and you are happy with your life. I agree with you; go and live it. If something goes wrong, call me, and we’ll deal with it.”

I felt surprised and disbelief. This was so much what I wanted to hear and needed to hear. Old age can be challenging and confusing, but it can also be beautiful and full of meaning. I have never had such an honest discussion with a medical person, especially a man. It meant a lot.

We talked for 45 minutes. I showed him my blog and my photos—pictures of Maria and the farm, photos of Zip and the animals, and photos of Zinnia and the donkeys. I told him I married the most wonderful woman and bragged about her art.


We talked about attitude and its important role in recovery from open heart surgery and any illness. “Attitude is sometimes 90 percent of recovery,”  he said. I told him I was home and out of the hospital three days after my open heart surgery. That’s not what usually happens, he said.

I thanked him profusely for giving me the speech I had prepared for him and for affirming the very things Maria and I talk about all the time—be happy together for as long as we can and take it from there one day at a time. I have expected a difficult argument.  I got a wonderful boost. I know I won’t live forever or even for a long time. I don’t care about that. I want my life to be happy while it lasts, not a prolonged struggle with health care, medicine, and self-pity. I want to be able to love my wife in every possible way.

After our talk, I felt I had a perfect shot. Flowers, beware Zip, and the dogs will grow with me. Maria will stand beside me.

RPA Fairbank told me what I needed to hear—people my age struggle with names, sometimes get drowsy and sometimes fall. That’s what happens when we get old. I have a wise and solid grip on it. I believe in radical acceptance. It’s time to get on with it.

He said my cognitive skills were excellent; he could tell from our conversation. I knew who I was, where I was, what I loved, and how I felt about aging. I will write Matthew Fairbank a letter thanking him and telling him how much our talk meant to me. Maria was as happy as I was when I called her and told her she wouldn’t believe how the conversation went. She said this was terrific news for us both.

At first, she froze for a second, thinking when I said she wouldn’t believe what I was about to tell her that Matthew was ordering some severe tests. She was thrilled when I told her he ordered no tests and told me he would see me in a year. We talked like happy newlyweds all the way home.

I reported that he said there was nothing wrong with me and no reason to test me.

I wanted to hug him, but I shook hands instead. See you next Spring, I said.



Color and light.



Not one flower, but many


Forget me not.

Purple Columbine opening





  1. wonderful news and a brilliant day for you all around! I am so happy for you, and your life!
    Susan M

  2. Jon, I am so happy to have found another who feels the way I do about longevity for longevity’s sake. I do not fear death, I fear living too long in a useless, broken body that I can’t take care of myself. Had a hard conversation about that with my Hubs, and he didn’t like it. (He’s Catholic, enough said) I told him that I get to decide how long I want to live, and in what manner I live. I won’t put him through what I’ve seen happen to so many couples, including my mom and dad, his mom and dad, and the list goes on. It doesn’t have to be that way. I can plan and take the action, so that the end of my life can be one of intention, rather than just withering away in a state where all of my choices are gone. In the meantime, my work is to take care of my body, mind and spirit, and not leave any of that up to “fate.” Aging isn’t a disease, it’s a process and I have input in the process. I love that your doctor was totally on board with your wishes AND asked you questions about the quality of your life! I have a doctor like that now, and hope to keep her. Again, Jon, thank you for sharing your journey with us. I can’t even begin to tell you how much you have affected my life.

  3. I love this Jon. I’m so happy for you to have such a health care provider. I was a hospice nurse, and I came to understand there are worse things in life than dying.
    May we all live until we die.

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