A few weeks ago, I returned to Greenville, Ohio, to celebrate my 60th anniversary of my graduation from high school. I spent, yes spent, the first 18 years of my life in this small town of about 13,000 in west central Ohio, close to Indiana. It has only grown by 3,000 people in the past 60 years. It hasn’t changed much except for the addition of a few big box stores on the north edge of town, along with a downturn in the downtown area, once a thriving business center of shops and stores. There are some new medical facilities and a new high school since I graduated. I was born there in the local hospital, June 24, 1937, at 10 AM on a Thursday morning.
Of the 148 graduates and 29 associates (those who were in the class starting in 9th grade, but left before graduation) only 38 attended the reunion, many with their husbands and wives and some alone. In the first 50 years, 25 died and in the next 10 years 26 more left this world, one more than in the first 50 but given the variables of age and health, it’s understandable. Some could not attend because the lack of good health prevented their traveling and many have just lost interest in staying connected. 30 people who still live in the area did not show up for one reason or another. I moved away after graduation from college in 1959 and returned only to visit parents and relatives and see old friends.
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande’s recent book, with the subtitle Medicine and What Matters in the End now seems more relevant although I found it spot on when I read it a year ago. I had not given a lot of thought to how the lives of most people end in the final weeks and months and although I am blessed to be in good health and still active on several fronts, we know that life can change dramatically, even suddenly. Here is what recent data says about deaths in the U.S. in one year, 2012, and in spite of large numbers seeming to have little meaning for one person, this information may be of interest to some.
- Number of deaths: 2,596,993
- Death rate: 821.5 deaths per 100,000 population
- Life expectancy: 78.8 years
- Infant Mortality rate: 5.96 deaths per 1,000 live births
- Heart disease: 611,105
- Cancer: 584,881
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978
- Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767
- Diabetes: 75,578
- Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149
What that says to me is that I am not a statistic, at least not yet, and that it’s important to do whatever you can to stay healthy. Each person has his or her own story and each family’s story adds to the history of each generation. As I looked at those numbers, I wondered if those who keep such data accounted for those killed in the armed forces for any given year.
It also says to me that I have successfully reached “life expectancy” but at this point, under current conditions, barring anything that isn’t yet known or seen, I will exceed that number. It’s not a concern by how much or under what conditions. Suffice to say I live a life of gratitude each day and feel blessed to be able to continue enjoying the comfort and conveniences afforded me.
I am fortunate to continue working part-time both in my profession and beyond. I try to write something every day, continue to read and learn and I am in touch with a variety of people in different places. I check in regularly on my mental, physical, social and emotional conditions. And, we connect frequently with our extended family of seven children and thirteen grandchildren.
I have a life partner, wife and best friend who shows her love and support in countless ways that enrich my life. She shows her concern and care and I try to provide the same, and that makes our life together better than either of us would have otherwise. We have mutual interests in books, movies, travel, friends and food and are usually looking ahead to see what’s next on our calendars. I’ve written a couple of books the past two years, keep this blog and a web site and am working on a third book to see if I can get it out yet this year. Stay tuned!