Monday, August 10, 2009

Morbid curiosity or simply morbid?

As an Employee Benefits actuary at a large firm with a small pensions department, part of my job is to process the applications sent in by plan participants who want to retire. Additionally, I also receive requests for death benefits to be paid. So, I deal with death "in theory".

I'm fascinated by this paperwork. I love to look at the birth certificates. I think they are a great snapshot of a certain time and place in history. For instance, most of the birth certificates I deal with now are for people who were born in the 40s and 50s. Many of them are from the midwest and south because of the clients that we serve. In addition to having spaces for the mother and father's names, there are numerous other questions. These questions vary from state to state and by the years during which those were the birth certificates in use. For instance, one question I frequently see is "Legitimate?" I'm pretty sure this is not a question that shows up on a birth certificate for a baby born in 2009.

It's not my fascination with the birth certificates that makes me question my own personality quirks. It's the death certificates. Besides the fact that many of these certificates are often for people who are right around my parents' age (I am constantly hounding them about taking better care of themselves), I am always drawn to 2 lines in particular. "Cause of death" and "time from onset or diagnosis to death."

We Hoosiers are not the healthiest bunch. Besides repeatedly being told that the way to stay healthy is to eat right and exercise, we still consume copious amounts of fried foods, sit on our davenports (couches to the rest of the country) and light up our cigarettes. Consequently many of the causes of death I see are heart attacks or heart disease and cancers of all sorts. This makes me sad that we can't get our acts together. What is even worse is when that blank for "time from onset" reads 2 months or even 2 weeks. Apparently we're not getting to the doctor like we should either.

What makes me post this today? I processed a request this morning that started out as a retirement benefit and ended up as a death benefit. A woman, on the cusp of her 64th birthday, filled out retirement paperwork during June so that she could retire on July 1. I'm sure she was looking forward to retirement. Maybe it meant more time with her husband and grandkids. Maybe it meant finally entering that gardening contest. Maybe it meant trying out sky-diving for the first time. Unfortunately, before the paperwork could even make it to me so that she could start receiving her monthly benefit, she died in July just a few days after her 64th birthday. I never met her. I never knew her, but I hope that I can learn from her.

We are so not promised tomorrow. I know it sounds trite, but if you love someone, tell them. If you have a dream, don't let the naysayers keep you from trying to reach it. I know I'm doing my best not to let them keep me from it.

1 comment:

Jill said...

Holy moley! What a story! Thanks for the kick in the pants....makes me feel better about all the exercise I've been doing.


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