We all know we’re going to die someday, right? I’m not so sure. For many of us, the emphasis is on “someday” with the belief that day will never come. Christian and atheist alike, few are ever ready. Ministers say of the deceased they’ve gone to a better place, a place that even ministers avoid like lutefisk.
Is it our advanced medical knowledge? We think there is a cure for everything, and if one doctor doesn’t have it some other one will or if someone similar to a witch doctor offers a way to escape the inevitable we don’t think twice . If there’s a 1% chance of some new chemo giving us more life, hang the suffering, hang the cost especially if Medicare is paying. Let’s go for it.
Am I the only one who disagrees with Dylan Thomas that we should not go gentle into the good night? Gentle is exactly the way I want to go, after a big party if I know I’m going. Indigenous people in Patagonia and I imagine elsewhere eschew hospitals for illness preferring to let nature take its course. I admire that attitude, but I feel alone. When part of the Affordable Care Act proposed paying for consultations for the dying and their family members, it was treated like the grim reaper swinging his scythe had proposed it himself. We can talk about sex, intimate details about gross medical conditions, but death is taboo.
Perhaps, beyond despising pain and suffering, it’s my sense of self and how I want to be remembered by my friends and family that forms my attitude. I fear the indignity that can precede death after a long battle with something like cancer. There’s a phrase for one side affect, namely chemo brain.
But this is mere prelude-prattle to what I think is particularly puzzling. As a society, our outlook on death, particularly of strangers, often depends on the means of death. Skim the stats below for the US.
* 36,000 people on average die each year from the flu
* Over 30,000 people die each year from car accidents (down from over 40,000 a decade ago)
* Approximately 1.4 million people have been killed using firearms between 1968 and 2011. This number includes all deaths resulting from a firearm, including suicides, homicides, and accidents.
* About 13,000 people are killed by guns annually. More die one at a time than in mass murders.
* Once a week on average a toddler kills someone with a gun. In 2015, the only year I could find statistics for, that number exceeds the number killed by terrorists.
3,000 people were killed on 9/11. In the process of retaliation 2,345 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, and 4,486 died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and over 66.000 Iraqi civilians were also killed in the process since 9/11. One Osama Bin Laden was killed.
* I could not tease out the number of deaths due to mass killings, which is defined as more than four people in the same incident. There were, however, 345 mass shootings in 2017 so multiplying by four at least 1,380.
* Over 100,000 deaths are due to accidents.
* Over 1,000 deaths were due to natural disasters in 2017
* Over 2,000.000 die annually in the US of heart disease, the leading cause of death. Cancer is a close second. Respiratory diseases third, accidents fourth, Strokes fifth, Alzheimer’s, sixth. Diabetes, seventh, flu and pneumonia, eighth, kidney disease ninth, and suicides tenth.
I wish to emphasize I have no intention of making any political statement here. What I’d like you to do is to review the list of deaths and decide which types you believe are senseless and which tragedies before reading further. If you’re ambitious rank them by most tragic and most senseless
Now, some questions.
* Do you believe families and loved ones grieve more if they view the death as a tragedy?
*Do you believe families and loved ones grieve more if they view the death as senseless?
I believe our culture and our media treat deaths that are often both senseless and tragedies differently. Indeed, when deaths are due to other people’s actions I am angry, but anger is one of the stages of grief related to any death. I imagine, it is the injustice that makes us angry. Justice is probably one of my strongest values. But here are more questions.
* Should we react more strongly to the victims of injustice than we do to the sheer numbers of deaths due to a single cause?
*Did you rate deaths by terrorists more tragic than deaths by toddlers?
* Are ten murders at once in a post office by one person worse than ten invidividual murders?
These questions plague me because I think people do think differently about different means of death and I want to know why.
And a non-related question about climate change. When people heard about the hole in the ozone, which could have grown to threaten life on Earth, people rallied. Dangerous products were banned and now the hole is healing. Why aren’t we reacting in a similar manner to the Climate Change threat?