In contemplating death, the long gray slide into the fat of eternity, many of us clutch a variety of straws — faith, reincarnation, rapture, anything else — to soften the blow that won’t ever really be softened. But we’re going to try, since to at least consider it is a step in the right direction. So as today’s Daily Dose examines all things death, read it and don’t weep. It’s as inevitable as tomorrow.
Eugene S. Robinson, Editor-at-Large
1. The Future of Death
The World Health Organization reports a good news/bad news scenario: People are living longer. That’s the good news. The bad news is pretty existential: What are we going to do with all of that extra time?
2. Work Till You Drop
How comfortable would you feel with an 85-year-old pilot? Or an 82-year-old surgeon? Or an elderly security guard? And would those feelings change if you had to glide on by retirement and keep working until you were 85? These are important questions to consider as 100-year life spans become commonplace. Experts say the debate goes beyond meager pensions and into issues of identity for the aging. They say there are no second acts in American lives, but what about careers?
3. Lasting Longer Than Your Lucre
Four words: long-term care insurance. If you’re planning on living longer and not working longer, you’re going to have to figure out a way to do that without being a ward of the state or burden to your family. So what to do? Spend less? Save more? Financial advisers have a few ideas about making it without tanking it. One option: fixed annuities, which guarantee monthly income for as long as you live.
4. Dead, but Not Going Away
No one wants to leave the party before the party is over, but that’s exactly what has to happen. People left before you got there, and people will be there after you leave. But now there are apps that keep you chatting with friends and family or posting on social media well past your expiration date. Which is either genius or evil genius.
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While almost everything can kill you if the dice roll just right, looking back on what’s happened is the surest indicator of what could happen. So here are the Top 10 Causes of Death. And this list, topped by heart disease and stroke, is nowhere near as funny as something David Letterman would have done. But once identified, perhaps now these death traps will be easier to avoid.
2. COVID’s Death Disparities
There’s a racial component to COVID-19-associated death that is shocking but not surprising: Black people are 2.4 times more likely than white people to die from the virus, and minorities as a whole are about five times more likely than whites to require hospitalization once infected. Is it in the genes? Experts say no. It’s more about systemic racism, which is connected to a lack of access to health care and healthy food, and excess exposure to toxic chemicals.
3. So You’re Going to Die
Approaching life ending by way of life hacking? Genius. Shed your stuff, resolve festering conflicts, get your paperwork in order — I like this compartmentalization of the whole deal. It keeps you from contemplating the reality of a cold and moldy grave. Cheers!
Is there any sensible reason to not die while high? Lots of people don’t think so, including sensible people who are doctors, like Ira Byock, founder and chief medical director at the Providence St. Joseph Health Institute for Human Caring in Torrance, California. And as long as you’re not driving something like a school bus while both high and dying, how much harm would you be responsible for by dropping some LSD before the end? We imagine it would change the nature of those deathbed conversations, and possibly for the better.
You know that scene in the movies where you’re hysterical and your face gets slapped? Well, for all those who shudder at the thought of death, the Order of the Good Death is here to tell you to stop being such a big baby and deal with it. They advocate a “death positive” movement to rethink our long-held fears, rituals and squeamishness around the idea of kicking the bucket.
6. Best Places to Die
Not all of us get to choose where we depart this mortal coil, but if you can, there are four spots where dying is done better than most: The U.K., Belgium, Australia and Taiwan have figured out smart ways to take better care of the dying, or at least make the process more pleasant.
As of this writing, more than 300,000 people have died in the U.S. in a relatively short period of time from COVID-19. Now that vaccines are being deployed and those overheated numbers may start to cool, people are looking beyond pandemic death. But before we can move on, we need to properly grieve. It may be time for a national day of mourning, not unlike Memorial Day.
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when death is your business
1. Adelle Archer
Why wind up in an urn on the shelf when you can be something a bit more flashy? Archer’s company, Eterneva, has turned the cremains of hundreds of people into wearable diamonds. Creepy? Maybe to some, but Archer is seeking to change the conversation around death by turning your loved one into a conversation piece.
In the movies there’s always a cluster of detectives and cops gathered around the scene of the crime. But after they leave with the body, what happens? Moffett’s Aftermath is a crime scene cleanup company. So that’s what happens. Good work if you can take it. But take it or not, someone’s got to do it.
3. Cole Imperi
A noted thanatologist — yes, there is such a thing — created a podcast and has given at least two TED Talks on death. She focuses on finding the light in loss and grappling with the disappointments we suffer during life. She must be great at parties, right? And whether you think that’s snark or not has almost everything to do with the kinds of parties you go to.
4. Dr. Kristine Kevorkian
No relation to the other assisted-death doctor Jack Kevorkian, Kristine “Kriss” Kevorkian, is a one-stop shop for all things dead and dying. She counsels all and sundry through death, grief and the environmental impacts of your passing.
5. Stavros Lambrinidis
The European Union ambassador to the United States, Lambrinidis has had the unenviable task of trying to convince the U.S. to change its ways on the death penalty. It’s a mission that may gain a little more political purchase in the next few years, with the anti-death-penalty Joe Biden taking office.
Many of us would consider a good death one that didn’t involve us or any of our loved ones, but there’s an increasingly serious movement around the idea that a good death is one that lets you and your loved ones process the experience in a way that minimizes pain, suffering and emotional upset. And if that involves humor? So be it.
If Disneyland has been positioned as the happiest place on earth, is there an amusement park corollary that involves, if not unhappiness, at least certain death? There certainly is. At least theoretically. Behold the blueprint for a roller-coaster ride with a survival rate of zero, thanks to a plunge so steep and fast that it would kill you by denying oxygen to your brain, though not before you get a hit of euphoria. Not a bad way to go.
Consider it a constant warning to take the other direction. That is, welcome to the Darwin Awards. Given to celebrate evolution in action — or people whose master stroke of genius in whatever way it was applied was their last master stroke of genius. Decided to thaw out your bullets in a hot oven and didn’t live to tell the tale? The people at DA will do it for you.
4. Unsung Will Not Remain So
The world’s lack of appreciation for your 20-volume operatic treatment of the lives of noted Dutch scientists might rankle a bit. But great artists are often underappreciated during their living days. And they now have a handy way to preserve their work until it can earn the proper acclaim. POBA: Where the Arts Live is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the legacies of artists of all stripes.
You knew Amelia Earhart died under mysterious circumstances. But it turns out numerous famous figures, from Alexander the Great to Edgar Allan Poe, have great uncertainty attached to their demise. Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, is generally believed to have died of stomach cancer, but there is also evidence pointing to botched medical care. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could have been felled by bacteria from drinking bad milk — or syphilis. Unsolved mysteries? Better believe it.
2. Dying as Long as We’ve Been Living
If you want to take a long view — and you really must take a long one — and consider how death was considered from the beginning of time until now, here’s an academic rundown. Some early societies told stories about the deceased as a form of catharsis, while others feared the harm that the dead could inflict on the living.
3. The Good Side of Death
Believe it or not, the bubonic plague, which killed some 25 million across Europe during the 14th century, had an upside. By picking off the people it did, the disease might have actually been good for human evolution. It helped undermine the feudal system by shifting power to the labor pool, given the manpower shortages. And it could hold some lessons about genetics, modern sanitation and the future of fighting disease.
Carlos is joined by the fiery and fearless Rep. Maxine Waters, who is exasperated. Waters gives insight into the government’s handling of the pandemic, voices her struggles to understand those holding their desire for power over our democratic system, and speaks boldly about our need to end poverty. Who does she say is the best politician she’s ever met? Watch now to find out.
With millions globally losing loved ones to COVID-19, it is a good time to turn to the foundation of the woman who literally wrote the book on death and dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. There you can find tutorials and grief support to help you through the physical and mental challenges that come with loss. Tips for mourning during the pandemic include speaking to photos of the deceased, cooking their favorite meal or participating in other rituals that they enjoyed in life.
2. Encyclopedic Death
During moments when you’re not at your best and stressed like you wouldn’t believe, it might help to have the info spoon-fed to you in the fastest, most digestible way possible. Enter: The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. A no-frills collection of all things death-related, from advance directives to zombies.
3. Dying Somewhere Special
Is there a connection between architecture and death? You better believe there is. And Alison Killing is exploring how to better design spaces where we spend our final moments. From small things like bright paint jobs and quiet places for palliative care, to larger changes like big windows and better ambient light, Killing is rethinking it all. But she has to convince hospitals it’s worth the money.