The stark and gross numbers of reported deaths from Covid19 and its variants in the U.S. are now around 653,000. (September 9, 2021). Those people were connected to a family, they had a name, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and lived in a community where they were known by friends and neighbors. Their deaths were a deeply felt, personal loss to someone and to many still alive. Living in the midst of death and dying in the midst of living.
The data is still incomplete and unclear: ““We still can’t be sure, and future data could change the picture. But the evidence so far suggests that Delta is similarly severe to earlier versions of the virus, probably with only modest differences in one direction or the other. While Delta is certainly more contagious — and its contagiousness does call for some new precautions, like more frequent mask wearing — its severity does not appear to be fundamentally different.” (NYTimes, Sept 9, 2021)
Outside of the Covid crisis, death continues to claim the lives of young and old people where the mortality rate for the top ten in the U.S. for 2019 reveals the following:
- Heart disease: 659,041
- Cancer: 599,601
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 173,040
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 156,979
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 150,005
- Alzheimer’s disease: 121,499
- Diabetes: 87,647
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 51,565
- Influenza and pneumonia: 49,783
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,511
That total of the top ten is over 2 million per year and when you add the Covid deaths, we are approaching the 3 million mark, approximately 3% of our total population. When we see these kinds of numbers and statistics, they mean little except that everyone, almost everyone, knows someone who has died or someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Yet many are unprepared and when death is unexpected and sudden, the shock is often traumatic, stressful and upsetting. The world shifted under their feet and they are thrown off balance. Even when death is expected and anticipated, it is a loss and those who are left behind meet grief up close and personal.
A friend who moved to Mexico several years ago is dying of terminal cancer and she and her friends, while she was still alive, this past Tuesday, celebrated her life with an A-WAKE. That is a gathering of family and friends, while the dying person is still among the living. I like the idea although it may not appeal to others. Why not say all those good things and share stories while we are still alive and can participate? I asked a mutual friend who was there how it all went and she said it was exhausting, chaotic and beautiful. Exactly how life is!
Those of us closer to the end of life as we know it, by virtue of age and actuarials – predictions of uncertainty using mathematical models – may have a different view of death than younger folks. We are more aware of the certainty and because we have lived longer than many friends and family members, we consider ourselves among the more fortunate to be very much alive, even with death all around us. In the past three years we experienced the deaths of four close friends and two family members. Each of them, all men of different ages from 51- 96, left a wife and children to mourn the loss. “And in the end it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” —Abraham Lincoln