The latest information on the average life expectancy for people in the US has inched up to 78.7 years. Women of course live longer than men on the average too. If you make it to 65, men will go on for another 18 years with women again getting a few more years extra (1, 2).

What does one do with all this time?



Endless visits to physician’s offices?


In a new book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande takes a look at quality of life for an aging population (3, 4). He also points out that the healthcare system is good at keeping us alive but pretty poor at helping people to fulfill their dreams and potentials.

A quote from Being Mortal: “People with serious illnesses have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives. Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others and achieving a sense that their life is complete. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The question therefore is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health care system that will actually help people achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.”
Catrinas 2
I don’t think he goes far enough. It’s all well and good to stay connected to family and friends and feel one’s life is complete as death comes nigh, but there is the creative side of some people that must be fostered. Not everyone has creative output in the arts, music, dance, literature, etc., but 1) we all benefit from the creative output of others, and 2) those that do create need to be helped to hold on to the creativity until death.

In Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (5) a reference is made about a person who died in the middle of composing a poem and who was so engrossed in his work that not noticing  dying, went on to complete the poem anyhow. The character in the book points to this remarkable art with great pride.

Who knows maybe life will repeat fiction and someone will create art at the moment of death and provide for us an essential connection between the two planes of existence.


  1. CDC report finds US life expectancy reaches new high. Fox News, Oct. 8, 2014.
  2. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2013: With Special Feature
    on Prescription Drugs. Hyattsville, MD. 2014.
  3. Cummings, Q. A Book About Dying Tells You How to Live. Time, Inc., Oct. 9, 2014
  4. Gawande, A. Being Mortal. Doubleday Canada, 2014.
  5. Stranger in a Strange Land. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Image: A sculpture illustrating Catrina, one of the figures used in Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) celebrations. La Catarina © Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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