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By June 9, 2015March 6th, 2021Longevity

My moment of reflection over the obituary of a junior high school teacher of mine was cut short when I read “He died unexpectedly at 85.” I couldn’t help but ponder the incredulity of the phrase. Really … unexpectedly, at that ripe old age? Such hubris.

Have we truly entered the new age of longevity? This level of confidence, almost arrogance in the face of aging suggests so.

I suppose in the same way “60 is the new 40” was popularized, cliché-makers can now claim “He died unexpectedly at 85” as the new “He died unexpectedly at 65.”

My dad died at 63, when I was 36. Back then I remember telling my investment guy to build a plan to make my finances last till I was 65 – based on my heredity plus two years for good measure.

Who knows whether the times have changed with age, or aging has changed time? But nowadays the likelihood of achieving the average life-expectancy of 78 seems totally doable. So with 65 just around the corner, I’ve upped my expectation by 10 or 15 years.

By the way, this new optimism is also consistent with those surveys that report most people consider “old-age” to be about 15 years beyond their current age. Attribute it to plausible deniability, perhaps, but you have to appreciate how in just the past decade or so the expectation of living longer has all but rendered irrelevant the condolence — “Oh well, he/she lived a good life.”

Proof positive: My mom is 85 and more active and social than I am now. She and our family anticipate enjoying many more years together.

Our goal as individuals and society is to make longevity a reward rather than a burden. We’re making progress. Yet we’ve got plenty of work ahead of us. Fear of living with dementia or outliving our retirement savings weigh heavier than ever.

Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” The sentiment sounds much more pleasant than what aging researchers dubbed the “compression of morbidity.” Either way, hopefully medical and sociological advances determined to help ensure healthy, purposeful longevity will render death always “unexpected.”


  • Gary says:

    I am always impressed with your ability to find the perfect quote to support your claim.

  • Matt Perry says:

    I actually think that the phrase is heartening. In other words, the family saw him as a healthy and active soul, just like your mom. I hope that when I’m 102 and I pass away, my kids will use the same phrase. “He died unexpectedly.”

  • Ed Witts says:

    I have been contemplating the same thing, glad you express it so well.

  • Many times, when I first see a patient with multiple chronic diseases, 20+ meds and advanced age, I wonder how this person could still be alive….
    Then I care for them another 10-15 yrs and then one day they die.

    I wonder how they could have died; they seemed invincible….

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