University of Warwick


Death found an author writing his life.. Desig...

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Expanding one’s vocabulary deserves missionary zeal, but how many of us bother to learn a word a day?

Here’s a word for you – micromort – it’s the one in a million probability of death. Check out the chart. Very cool.

Most of us don’t spend much, or any, time worrying about our impending deaths. But make no mistake, everyone’s death is pending and has been from the moment you first drew breath.

The lucky majority, and I use the term “lucky” subjectively, will shuffle off to the undiscovered country at various degrees of ripe.

Statistically, only a small percentage of those over 70 can be considered healthy enough to be envied. The rest are, in various ways, chronically ill or disabled or both. One’s sixties, realistically, are the last frontier because the exercise one didn’t bother to do, the healthy foods not eaten, sleep deprivation, needlessly self-imposed stress and a general wishful thinking about being one of the lucky few because one’s great-grandfather married a twenty year old and had a half-dozen babies with her when he was 70 won’t matter one bit. Old age is ruthless and can really only work with the raw material at hand, not the genetic promise willfully squandered decades before.

Some of us though will bite it long before our born on dates could conceivably be considered stale.

Bad luck. Bad timing. Bad roll of the genetic dice rendering us susceptible to environmental triggers for all manner of nasty conditions. Whatever. Still dead.

And the odds mount as we age. At 60 a man’s risk of dying in his sleep on any given day is 27 out of a million. It climbs to 118 out of a million at age 75. In 1841 the odds sat at 86 and 266 per million respectively. But though modern life affords us more years, it doesn’t usually grant us good ones.

If you knew that sometime in your mid to late 60’s you’d physically deteriorate to the point where daily life was a real struggle, would a long life be as appealing?

The yogis – the serious ones – tend to live and live and then just die. But I suspect that their lifestyles make that possible in a way that no one in North America can really emulate.

My mother had a health scare recently. A lump in her breast turned out to be a harmless cyst, but at nearly 80, she has slowed noticeably. Her eyesight is failing at a rate that will result in blindness at some point yet to be fully copped to by her doctor, and she suffers from a variety of ailments that haven’t dampened her enjoyment of life but are harbingers of heart disease and strokes yet to come.

I am reminded of mortality – again – by the death of a friend’s father this last weekend.

Sudden but yet not really.

“How old was he?” Rob asked.

“Five years younger than Mom,” I said.

“Oh, well, that’s getting into prime death territory for men.”

And he was right.

We are lulled by media stories of centenarians climbing mountains but they make the news precisely because there are so very few of them.

The clock is always ticking. It just speeds up at 60 and gets steadily louder and slightly faster with every year after.