When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t log in to the New York Times app. Regular readers know that as part of my routine, one of the things I enjoy is sitting down during the day to read the paper. Turns out that my subscription to the digital newspaper has expired, and so had someone else.
I say ‘my subscription’, but it actually belonged to my mother’s ex-husband. One of my favorite things about him was that he gave me this password and then never changed it. We hadn’t heard much about him for a while. My inability to log in made me suspect something wasn’t right, having successfully rode that subscription without a problem for close to a decade.
After some investigation, I found out that he died. His family must have decided not to renew the subscription. Probably a wise decision because I doubt the terms of membership extend to the afterlife.
Death is a topic that I’m very familiar with, having faced it every day, albeit second-hand, for a decade in the hospice care industry, but this was a new way to be notified. The last time a husband of my mom’s died, Air China called me early one morning and said, “He dead!”
My fear of death was tempered a bit in business school. A classmate who claimed to be psychic read my palm and predicted that I would live to the age of eighty and then suffer a violent death.
Later in life, I was to discover through my own examination of mortality that Mukul’s cheerful prediction of when I would die probably wasn’t too wide of the mark, statistically speaking. When I researched trends I found that a 38-year-old could expect to live to the ripe old age of 82.2.
I was on intimate terms with death. My job required that I gain an understanding of it. I could rattle off stats the way a third grader rhymes off multiplication tables.
At the time in the US, there were 2.2 million deaths annually, of which 1.8 million are hospice eligible – meaning that once you eliminate murders, wars, deaths in pregnancy, accidents and other unpredictable causes, it’s possible, in the aggregate, to see death coming. A survey with fifteen questions can tell, with 85% accuracy, if someone will die in the next two years. Hospice doctors can accurately identify a prognosis of six months or less 92% of the time.
Each day, 6,000 people die. Tuesday mornings between 6:00 and 8:00 AM during January, February, and March is when death knocks hardest at the door. For milestone events like major holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, the power of the human spirit is often strong enough to make it “a few more days” before passing.
Being aware of these numbers and their source has an upside: it robs death of its power. Death becomes not so much magical and unknown as predictable and quantifiable.
Despite entering the third quarter of my own game, it’s still all to play for if my psychic friend is to be believed. Time to celebrate life while we still have our health.
And thanks mom for the new subscription.
How has death shaped the way you currently live your life?
– feature image – thejasonarcher.com