There’s a natural order to life, rules which we expect to follow, principles which are generally accepted:
- Older people should die before younger ones.
- Healthy people should live longer than those who have lived an unhealthy life.
- Children should not die before their parents.
Unfortunately, these rules do not always apply. There are no guarantees about life.
We often hear on news bulletins of famous people dying. Sometimes their death comes as no surprise – they were getting on in life anyway. Other times, the news is a shock as their death seems untimely.
As a man in my mid-50’s I always do the maths.
If somebody dies who is just a few years older than me, I start to fear the worst. It makes me worried. Perhaps I haven’t long left.
When somebody dies who is well advanced in years -in their 80’s or 90’s – then that strikes me as something aspirational. I still have a long way to go. There’s plenty of time left for me to do what I want to do.
When somebody dies who is younger than me, I initially have feelings of shock and injustice. They have been taken too early. There was so much more life that they should have had. But then I think of my own age relative to their youthfulness and I think that I’m doing alright. I wouldn’t call it a smugness, more a feeling of relief and satisfaction.
Of course, I don’t know when death will happen. I’m not sure I would want to know either. If I was told that I had another thirty or forty years ahead of me then it wouldn’t be too bad. However, if I was told that I had five or even ten years it would certainly impact on the way I lived my life.
I would like to think that I wouldn’t want to waste a minute. There would be no going to bed early, no whiling away time in front of the television, no idleness, no worrying about the little things. I would try to live life to the full, to squeeze as much out of it as I could.
And yet it would be all too easy to sink into a pit of depression. How unfair life is! Why do I have to die so young! There are others who live a far unhealthier life than I and yet they go on to live to a ripe old age. That’s just not right, not fair, not just. I could easily fall into a state of demotivated despair. I could end up doing nothing. I could end up just waiting to die.
That’s probably why it is best not to know when death will strike. You can’t be sure how you would react to such knowledge. Instead, base your time scales on average life expectancy. In Britain, as of 2021, it is 79.2 years for men and 82.9 years for women.
That’s the true measure as to whether or not you have done well in terms of your life tenure.