Using Death as a Learning Opportunity
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Whether you know the person or not, it's never easy talking about someone's death. It's always uncomfortable, and most importantly we must always be respectful and sympathetic to the people directly affected. But, I argue, we can acknowledge someone else's passing and learn something about the reason why this person died without being disrespectful. This article was motivated by a conversation I had recently with a co-worker about a mentor of hers who had died very suddenly, many years ago. She described this mentor as very smart, kind, a great teacher, pretty healthy, ate well, and one afternoon, he was at home puttering around the house when he collapsed. Later, his daughters found his lifeless, 44 year-old body in the front yard, next to the yard tools he was using. Cause of death: A heart attack.
As I have learned about chronic diseases and interacted with people over the years, I've noticed a disconnect. In our quest to be kind, we overlook a lesson and a reality that could save our life, and the lives of our loved ones. In fact, we seem to shower the deceased person with complements to make ourselves appear more sympathetic or to possibly disguise the underlying reasons why they died, even when some of those complements are factually wrong. Let's be honest, with the above example, this person's lifestyle wasn't healthy, they didn't eat well and that's why they suffered a heart attack. You may say "Well What about genetics? Did they play a role? It's possible, but they should not take sole blame.
"But the most important distinction is that their dietary and lifestyle choices didn't make them a bad person and doesn't take away from their legacy, in this case, of being a great mentor and great human being."
We're not addressing the cheeseburger-eating elephant in the room because it's uncomfortable, and addressing it, to some, would seem like victim blaming. But I hope that after reading this article, you understand that it’s not. Too many people are dying, prematurely, of a disease that is 99.9% preventable and caused by our lifestyle choices. We're killing ourselves. It’s not anyones fault but our own. And for what? For the short-term pleasure of eating a bacon-cheeseburger? According to the CDC, someone has a heart attack in the US every 41 seconds, that's over 735,000 per year. Of those 735,000 people, over 500,000 suffer first time attacks and over 200,000 are having a heart attack for at least the second time. Heart disease costs us over $200 billion dollars per year and the trends are not getting better. It doesn’t seem like we're learning.
Several studies have boiled down dietary and lifestyle habits that are most effective at prevention of cardiovascular (CV) events. Credit to Dr. Joel Kahn, MD, who was a guest on my podcast, who penned a concise yet powerful piece on CV events. His article outlines modifiable factors such as:
Physical Activity, 30-40 minutes per day
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and reduced fat
Healthy body weight/BMI, Waist circumference
Limit Alcohol consumption
In the studies cited, cardiovascular risk was reduced by up to 80% or more, just by modifying these habits and patterns. Diet and lifestyle matter.
When it comes to chronic diseases, I feel like as a society, we have a mentality of "Oh, you know, this stuff just happens". That's unacceptable. Now, like mass shootings, we hear about these events so often, we've become numb; they've become common place. At this point, no matter how ignorant you are to nutrition, no matter how little you know about what food does to your body, there is no excuse for living a lifestyle that takes years, sometimes decades, off of your life and takes you away from people who love you so dearly. This is especially the case when you are a parent and raising children who need you to be there and provide for them.
We need to be compassionate and sympathetic yet direct. We need to stop tip-toeing around or covering up the hard realities of why these people died. If we want to progress as a society, if we want to save lives, prevent heart attacks and be alive to enjoy quality time with our friends, family and grandkids, we have to be frank and concede that people were living a lifestyle that promoted poor health. We should acknowledge that these people could have taken steps to prevent this chronic disease and then become healthier ourselves. Don’t become a statistic. Don’t leave this earth 20 years premature because you didn’t take the time to learn how to live heathy. As I’ve said in the past, we need to educate people in a compassionate and understanding way. There’s so much information out there and our lives are so busy, I understand that becoming healthier can seem daunting. I have created the a Facebook Page and Podcast for EVERYONE who wants to learn simple, lifestyle changes to become healthier. Take responsibility. Now is the best time to learn and change.