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Author Topic: Mortality (not intended as a political discussion)
Greg Davidson
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How concerned are you about your own mortality?

I truly appreciate my life, but I don't think I have the same fear of death that I hear many people express.

My background:

I had cancer when I was 13 years old in the mid-1970's - at the time, the odds had just flipped from 80% fatal to 20% fatal (mortality risk at five years from diagnosis). For a while, I did some mental bargaining. If only I had time to do something meaningful, to be in love with a girl (that is - actually with her, not in my imagination), then that would be enough, and everything else would be a bonus. I remember the moment that I reached that point. Then it was, if I lived to 20, that would be enough - even more than enough. Later, married at 22, my milestone was 30 - if I lived to 30, that would be enough. At 30, I picked 50.

A few years ago I passed 50, and did not set another target. I am very happy in my life, I realize how truly fortunate I have been (and despite my hard work, I also recognize that luck has also played a part - everything from the country I was born in to the fact that I got cancer in 1975 rather than 1972). According to a New England Journal of Medicine study, people with the same disease and treatment as me have a cumulative 1-2% per year risk of severe, disabling or terminal cardiac problems. The trend in the data is almost a perfect straight line - which means that I have dodged odds of 39%-78% so far. I have spent the past months getting some cardiac imagery - sonogram and last week a cardiac MRI. At 52 my risk is like a white male aged 64 (evidently white males have a slightly higher risk). Still, the difference between 0.4%/year risk of severe/disabling/terminal (which is average at 52) and 1%/year is not large, and daily baby aspirins have to reduce the number somewhat. As with all of life, nothing guaranteed, but still not a bad position to be in.

Some of you must be older, or otherwise the odds that you are facing may be less in your favor. Others may be younger and healthier. Does your health, or your life experience, influence your perceptions and level of concern about your potential risk of mortality?

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Grant
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I am a little younger. I am now 37. I don't find myself pre-occupied by my mortality though I acknowledge it and I have one of those death clocks on my iphone that is counting down to 2050. My wife thinks it's morbid. I find it is a good reminder.

I find that my fear of death has increased since having children. I'm not sure if the fear is strictly for myself or fear of not being able to care for them and raise them until they are grown.

My first grip with mortality came when I was 11. I happened to watch some special on cable dealing with Nostradamus, narrated by Orson Welles. I became quite convinced that I was going to be killed in a nuclear war between 1996 and 1999. I was very upset at the idea, and could not sleep, and eventually became rather angry. I think it was the very first time in my life that I entertained the idea of entering the military, under the conception that if I was going to be turned to ash I at least wanted a chance to take somebody else with me. I wanted the opportunity to go out fighting rather then helplessly.

I also had a near death experience at the age of 15, in a hunting accident, but it was only briefly that I perceived that I was near death. During that time I too was very afraid of death, but it was not quite a horror at the method or pain, but rather a fear mixed with sadness and regret, since I too had not accomplished certain life goals that I had set for myself at that point, being married, having children, and having a ménage a beaucoup with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

The fear of death, along with shock and disbelief, passed quickly due to the fact that I came to believe that I was not in true danger of dying, which was of course false.

I had many near death experiences in the Army, but usually by the time they registered the danger had passed. I never had any problem with being "almost killed".

I've seen many other people die. Some of them were afraid. I very quickly became outwardly immune to the shock, though sometimes I could not eat or sleep for a while if the dead/dying were children. I became philosophical about death and entertained ideas of reincarnation and afterlife much more then before or after.

As I continue to grow older, I imagine my fear of mortality will continue to grow, since that seems to be the trend in my life, though I am not certain. After my children are grown and if I am confident that my wife is secure, then my primary reason for wanting to live would probably be so I can experience watching Star Wars Episode LXIX or something.

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AI Wessex
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Greg and Grant, your stories are interesting and enlightening. We're all aware that we will die one day (ignoring claims about super-longevity through medical manipulation), and think about it without knowing when or how it will happen. I fear the death of my children or grandchild far more than my own because I would have to live with the grief of their dying.

To Greg's, what makes your story interesting is that you have lived your entire life knowing the measure of your mortality. Yet you're still here, not just against the odds but in a self-aware way having lived your life knowing them. We might all be better off if we had information like that about ourselves.

To Grant, I can't fathom observing death in battle first hand. I get angry just thinking about what you had to go through, convinced that neither fate nor necessity put you or your comrades in the position where strangers intent on killing you would take your lives, randomly taking one of you and not another.

I'm 64, nearing retirement. I'm generally healthy, but I do think about death in an abstract sort of way more than I would care to admit. The thought is a weight on my spirit, but I can't say how I will feel about it if and when I have to begin to confront the real likelihood. However, something happened to me just yesterday that makes Greg's starting this thread eerily prescient and reminded me that mortality isn't abstract and isn't always seen ahead of time.

I have a pool table in the basement of the house I have lived in for the past several years. We're in the woods surrounded by all sorts of animals. I enjoy almost all of them, but am very afraid of snakes. Last night I went down to play for a while as I usually do before bed. Something in the corner of the floor caught my eye. I glanced quickly and almost dismissed it as a brown and white patterned ribbon, but then it moved slightly. I didn't panic but went closer and saw that it was was a baby Massasauga rattlesnake. In my house!

M. snakes are common in my area, generally shy and haven't killed anyone in Michigan in decades. A 7-year old boy was bitten by an adult M a couple of weeks ago and has only a swollen hand and some stitches to show for it. I actually took all that into account and even pointed my finger at the snake and said "Stay!" in a firm but quiet voice so my wife upstairs wouldn't hear me. I went to the garage and got my heavy gardening gloves, pinned the snake with the butt end of my pool cue, picked it up and threw it out into the yard.

I don't think it's worth calling that event a brush with death, but it made me stop to think about death in a way that I hadn't in a very long time. I expected I wouldn't sleep afterward or would experience a recurring nightmare about snakes that I've had since I was a child. But I fell asleep quickly and don't recall any dreams. I'm sure I will replay every part of what happened many times so that I can understand it and my own actions better. But it made it clear for me, at least, that death as an abstraction can lead to more anxiety and a feeling of impending doom than the very rare real deaths that I've experienced during my life. So I actually feel good today, but I'll keep my eyes open when I go downstairs for a long, long time.

[ July 07, 2014, 10:03 AM: Message edited by: AI Wessex ]

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:

To Grant, I can't fathom observing death in battle first hand. I get angry just thinking about what you had to go through, convinced that neither fate nor necessity put you or your comrades in the position where strangers intent on killing you would take your lives, randomly taking one of you and not another.

::embarrassed:: I would feel remiss if I did not clarify that I have not served in combat. It is a recognition that I have not earned and an "honor"/sacrifice that I never had to make. Every death that I have witnessed while serving took place in training exercises or were the result of suicide. Every "close call" I have experienced while serving were the results of training exercises or driving in foreign countries in highly flammable/explosive vehicles where the driving safety is not as high as in the US. I have had friends and acquaintances die in combat zones, but it was far removed from direct experience.

All other deaths I have experienced as a civilian were the results of my time working as a paramedic on the street or in hospital ERs or witnessing the death of family members in hospital.

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AI Wessex
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No worries, in my case the snake was only about 18" long. In retrospect I could have let one of the cats take care of it.
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rightleft22
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I served in the military, been fairly productive and successful member of society... I’ve done my duty in that sense of those things. I continue to attempt to improve myself, learn better, do better... even though I now know change, dramatic psychological change, doesn’t happen for 99.9999% of people. We may 'grow' but seldom if ever beyond our boundaries, our fate.

I have never been married, don’t have any children. Not because I didn’t want any of those things, it just didn’t happen. In hindsight I can see that there were good reasons that that never happened for me, nurture and nature that was going to be my fate.

If I hope I hope to find a community I can be a part of, have a sense of belonging for the second half, statistically things don’t look promising for me.

After turning 40 I have done allot of reading about the second half of life, now that I’m in my 50’s the question of death does come to mind more often. For me it’s not a fear of death, which comes for us all, but a concern about the process of dying... and the word concern may be an overstatement. (I wonder if the fear of life is greater then the fear of death or if that is distinction matters much)

What I have been looking for in my search is examples of people who have lived their second half of life well, those who have found their truths and lived by them in a contented state.

The ones who seem to be best off are the ones who have not asked the questions.

For the unfortunate who have asked the questions ... well they cannot be unasked and from what I can tell few have found answers satisfying. Some retreat into fundamentalism, some continue to wrestle to seek and find some joy in that; some manage to make a leap beyond answers... now I’m not even sure what living well to the end would look like for me. Fundamentalism and the leap from the absurd are not possibilities and seeking losses its appeal when you know end result is to return where you started, even though in doing so you might see it as if the first time. (At that point I think you’re supposed to die, new only lasts so long.)

To be frank I don’t understand those who want to live forever, those who fight for every breath... but then maybe that not a choice we get to make.

We live so long now. I don’t see the point of extending life just because we can - life above all else only because it is life, even though as a society we spend much of our time destroying life.

I think of the pro-life moment that on one hand will do everything to prolong and save “life” and then on the other hand also works so hard to cut any program that might help that life have a chance to succeed as we might define success even at it basics. (If we save a life ought we then responsibly for it)

I watch my parents, Uncles, Aunts, friends growing older and what I see isn’t encouraging. The other day I see a 70 year man swearing at and yelling at a neighbor because he didn’t get his way in some condo decision. After 70 years are we doomed never to have learned anything about communicating and playing with others.

I suspect what I witnessed was just a frustration, a road rage, at not being in control, perhaps unable to face the loss of the illusion control. - “Life/Death Will Will be done.” Are we doomed to this rage at Life?

I get it, Life requires the sacrifice of Life. Death is a necessary process of Life and Life a process of Death. We can say Yes, Yes in Life’s wonder and horror... or look away,... or pretend we can fix it... or hope to end the cycle and get off the ride.

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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by AI Wessex:
No worries, in my case the snake was only about 18" long. In retrospect I could have let one of the cats take care of it.

I admire your actions. Two months ago I ran into a snake of approximate length, non-poisonous, in a hospital parking lot. I took pains not to run over the snake with my own truck but I feel guilt over not focusing my cojones into picking the snake up and transporting it to a safe location rather then abandoning it to almost certain death by some other motorist. I consider it a keen moral failure.
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TomDavidson
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For the first time in my life, I actually worry about death -- not because it's closer, but because I'm not done shaping my kids yet. They're looking good, but they're unfinished.
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msquared
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I really thought about it when my twin brother died 4 years ago at age 46. Luckily my kids are basically raised and I know I did a good job with them. I would like to see them get started on their life paths and maybe grandkids.

msquared

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scifibum
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I worry about how the kids will fare if I die. I am doing my best to make sure they'll have financial support. Actually, I'm not doing my best. I'm sure I can do more. I need to investigate how to make sure the money can't be squandered or lost before they are grown up. The people I can trust aren't in the best position to stay in control.
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rightleft22
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So having children seems to make a difference in how one views death, which I guess makes sense.

Not having children has given me way to much time to spend in my head.

I read a book way back, I think it was 'A long way Down' and one of the characters explained that just like a TV cop show where 90% of a episode focused on the action and 10% on characters lives that 10% was about the right amount of time to spend thinking about yourself, contemplating life and such, any more time in your head is not helpful. I'd agree with the author on that.

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Greg Davidson
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Maybe the last of the issues I had with my mortality was when our kids were younger (8, 5, and 2), and I looked at all our photographs, and I wasn't in most of them because usually I was taking the pictures. I wanted my kids to at least remember me when they had grown up. At the time, our solution was "picture day" - we got a light blue sheet and hung it as a backdrop from a bookcase, and then took pictures with me in all of them (we still have the pictures). Subsequently, my sense of humor and view of the world has definitely shaped *(scarred? [Smile] )them.
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Gaoics79
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I like to buy alot of insurance, critical illness, life, etc... probably too much. Part of it is being an insurance lawyer and part of it is I take some morbid fascination with planning my own catastrophic ailment / death and getting satisfaction from knowing my wife and soon to be kid (any day now) will have a pile of money, a house and no mortgage. Not sure why.
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