Death: A Curious Habit

Years ago when I was the Publisher/Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a 64-page monthly literary art and photography magazine, we had an exclusive telephone interview with the actor, James Stewart. I was appreciative of the time we shared with such a generous and interesting person. He died a few years after the interview. I became curious about how he lived his life those last few years. Did he know how much time he had left? I know he was very active in saving elephants, and we ran a full back page advertisement without charge to promote his cause.

Since then, I have developed a curious habit of looking up the biographies of actors while watching old black and white movies. It is interesting to watch their performance while reading about their personal life. I read about their childhood, acting background, relationships, how and when they died. I find it fascinating to know how much longer they lived after they made the movie. What captures my attention is contemplating what they did not yet know. How many more years they had to live. Did their lifestyle, such as drinking or smoking contribute to their death? What would they have done differently? There are times that my heart goes out to the actors who did not know what their future holds for them.

I wonder what it would be like if each of us knew this quality of information during our own life. What would our decisions be and how would they be different? How many of us would want to know this information in advance?

I visited a website called The Death Clock and took their death test. The site provides a friendly reminder that life is slipping away… second by second, reminding  you just how short life is. My results? According to the rather unscientific website I have until Saturday, June 4, 2022. Now that just does not seem nearly enough time! It might be wise to live as though I only had those few years left (or less) and live passionately with a foundation of compassion for all living things.

Oscar

Oscar

The New England Journal of Medicine published a fascinating article on July 26, 2007, A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat, by David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H. Dr. Dosa is a geriatrician at Rhode Island Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University — both in Providence.

Oscar the Cat, was adopted by staff members of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island as a kitten and bailed him out of a nearby animal shelter. He has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has anticipated the deaths of more than 25 residents.

His presence at the bedside of a patient is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided compassionate companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone.

I recall my cat, Friday, who for the first time sat patiently on my bed years ago when I had double pneumonia. When I was well enough to finally get up he left the bed and resumed his normal activities. Of course, he was the same clever, black and white cat that stole Kentucky Fried Chicken pieces out of a neighbor’s bucket for months before I caught him in the act. He would sit under their picnic table hiding beneath the long tablecloth and cautiously reach his paw under the lid, take a piece of chicken and carefully replace the lid.

How does Oscar the Cat know when a patient is near death? “I suspect he is smelling some chemical released just before dying,” says Margie Scherk, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, an organization devoted to improving the health and well-being of cats, and a veterinarian in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Cats can smell a lot of things we can’t,” she says. “And cats can certainly detect illness.”

Oscar the Cat is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves. There is a plaque mounted on the hospital wall. On it is engraved a commendation from a local hospice agency: “For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat.”

Click A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat to read the full article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

There are genetic “switches” that determine much about our bodies, including hair color, blood type, and susceptibility to certain diseases. Researchers believe they have found a gene that regulates the time of day a person is likely to die. One scientific study published in the November 2012 issue of the Annals of Neurology, researching the body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm) report the discovery of a gene variant that not only determines the likelihood of your being a morning person, but also predicts, with accuracy, your likely time of death.

A team of American researchers from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that a complete blood count (CBC) risk score accurately detects people who were at a higher risk of developing heart problems in the future and thus can calculate their life expectancy.

Some people believe that the moment of death is predetermined. Perhaps, but I believe that daily we make choices that change the path of our life. Do your own research about predicting one’s death on the internet. I wish you a more vibrant life for the effort.

If you could predict your death, would you? What would you do if you found out you had a few weeks to live? Would you do anything different?

7 comments on “Death: A Curious Habit

  1. Spectacular read, packed full of great information and bringing stimulating thoughts to our minds, thanks for posting this Stephen!

    I had forgotten that James Stewart helped the Elephants in a major way, what an incredible and talented man.

    A day in the Life of Oscar sounds like a great and “must read!” Glad to hear that your cat Friday stood by you when you were so ill. I look forward to learning more about what cats know.

    It’s time to visit the Death Clock, must first check what my Body Mass Index comes out to be!

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  2. Jana, thank you for your comments. I’m glad that you found this post about death and living informative and stimulating. There is much that we can learn from our animal companions and wildlife. Over the years, I have shared my life with many cats, dogs, birds, and horses. Each one has a story. I will share some of them in this blog.

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  3. Stephen, I cannot wait to hear your stories about your other animals!

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  4. I will share them in this blog soon, Jana.

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