Although intellectually we all know that one day we shall die, generally we are so reluctant to think of our death that this knowledge does not touch our hearts or minds, and we live our life as if we were going to be in this world forever. As a result, the things of this world – such as material possessions, reputation, relationships, and the pleasures of the senses – become of paramount importance, so we devote almost all our time and energy to obtaining them and engage in many negative actions for their sake. We are so preoccupied with the concerns of this life that we do not think about the process of dying or what comes next. When the time of death actually arrives, we discover that by having ignored death all our life we are completely unprepared. As COVID has come on to earth and created so much death, we need to think about death and prepare for it in a positive way.

U.S. health officials report that 2021 is projected to be even deadlier that 2020. Data is not totally reported yet, but based on available information 2021 will exceed the previous year’s record number of deaths by at least 15,000, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s death statistics. 2020 had about 3.384 million U.S. deaths. The total number of deaths in the US during 2021 was about 3.5 million out of a population of 340 million. Last year was the most lethal in U.S. history due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic which accounted for 459,000 deaths. The 65 and older population accounted for 75% of the total deaths.

COVID-19 experts report the number of total deaths for the U.S. in 2021 was affected by the drug overdose epidemic that for the first time surpassed 100,000 deaths in a calendar year which is the highest ever. In addition, COVID helped cause the biggest drop in U.S. life expectancy since WWII. The CDC reported that the life expectancy for 2020 at birth was 77 years, a decrease of 1.8 years from 2019.

An increase in annual deaths is not unusual. The annual count rose by nearly 16,000 from 2018 to 2019 — before COVID-19 appeared. But the coronavirus clearly had an impact. The nation had the smallest population gain rate in history between July 2020 and July 2021, primarily because of the COVID-19 deaths, said Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire researcher.

Nevada deaths due to COVID have totaled about 10,108 from March 28, 2020 to February 12, 2022. Clearly, even here in Nevada, we all need to deal with this issue, not ignore or deny it. Certainly, there are steps we can take to deal with death, especially with the 65+ population.

Although it’s relatively impossible to get an accurate amount, the number of people who die in the world in each second is roughly 1.78 people per second. This is 107 per minute and 6490 per hour and 153,000 people per day. That’s a staggering amount and we need to pay attention. Death hardly exists in our conscious lives. When someone dies, we say that they “pass away or pass on.” Talking steps to prevent death is important. Leading a healthy life which includes preventive medical and social interactive measures, as well as talking to your love ones about death. This process includes advanced directives so your wishes are acknowledged and fulfilled as you die.

At some point in our lives, usually because of illness, we will lose the ability to make medical decisions or communicate what we want from our healthcare. The legal documents that allow us to spell out our healthcare decisions ahead of time – so we continue to get the care we want and avoid treatments we do not want – are called advance directives or advance care plans. 

If we lose the ability to make decisions, someone will have to make decisions for us. The person we choose to make those decisions for us is known as a surrogate.  Our surrogate should try to honor any wishes we discussed with them while we were still capable of making decisions. Their job is to make the decisions we would make for yourself if we were still able to do so. That’s why creating an advance directive by thinking about our priorities, discussing them with a surrogate, and writing them on a legal document is so important.

Your expressed wishes are legally and ethically more important than what others want for you, even if they feel that they are acting in your best interests. The two common types of advance directives that express your wishes about the health care you desire are Living Wills and Durable Power of Health Care, including the Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) which is a recently developed program that is designed to improve the quality of care people receive at the end of life.

Advance directives help patients and their families. It has been found that advance care planning helps to allow people to have improved satisfaction with their quality of care, die in their preferred place, receive fewer intensive treatments at the end of life, and reduce hospitalizations at the end of life. It also results in lower stress, depression and anxiety in the surviving relatives of a person who has died. Acknowledging death through actively talking about it and advanced care planning for your own death – “Adds Life to Years”.