Harmon Killebrew arrived in Minnesota as a boy of summer, growing into a Hall of Famer. But, like all of us, he was a human being.
Reading Harmon's final public statement last week, I was brought back to an interview he did six years ago for Ecumen's website about living, aging and the important part of life called death (excerpts below). A tip of the hat to Harmon for punctuating his life with a dignity-filled exclamation point.
On stereotyping and aging . . .
A big stereotype that I'd like to see eliminated is that you have to reach a certain age and you have to 'retire' not just from work, but from other things that you enjoy in life. Aging is an essential part of life. I think aging has a lot of benefits to it that people don't always think about. Society too often focuses on the physical aspect of aging, such as loss of strength or mobility.
But when you're older you've gathered experiences. People who are 69, 79 or 89 have a lot of life experiences, skills and wisdom that they've accumulated. I think we see the bigger picture. We don't sweat the small stuff. We've seen many things before and know how to deal with a wide range of experiences. As a society we should value the skills and experience that people in their 60s, 70s and 80s provide. There's a lot of wisdom to tap there.
On human engagement and growing older . . .
My whole life I've always been around people of various ages. If you're around people that are just like you all the time I think that can get kind of boring . . . I think another key to aging well is to stay interested in things that you enjoy. I greatly enjoy baseball . . . I'm still very much involved in the game through my work with the Twins and my Foundation work. I get a lot of enjoyment being around the people in baseball. I've made a lot of wonderful friendships. I also exercise my mind by staying on top of current events. I've always taken an interest in what's happening in the world.
How his youth impacted his view on aging . . .
. . . I got somewhat of a unique look at aging, that's had an impact on me. My mother was a caregiver for my grandparents. In fact, they lived with us. I remember that being a happy experience for my grandparents and for me. They were around people that were close to them. They were around younger people, such as me and my friends. It was by no means a lonely experience that sometimes people attach to aging.
On death . . .
In 1990, I began to feel severe pain in my neck and back and was having trouble breathing. I had a perforated stomach that caused my lung to collapse. Then doctors found an abscess - about the size of a football - behind my lung. They cut out part of my ribs and, unfortunately, a staph infection took over. At several points I almost died.
My wife Nita brought me back to our home. She took care of me and also brought home care in on a daily basis. The compassion of my caregivers was absolutely overwhelming.
People often don't like to talk about death. Yet it is an important part of life. I know that I want to die in my home - not a hospital or nursing home. I want to be in my home around people I love. That's why I'm so involved in supporting hospice care. When we come into this world, there is a lot of dignity around birth. That same dignity should be there as we approach death.