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Dying of old age in old-time Phoenix


As someone who is planning to die of old age someday, I've been pondering what that would have meant in old-time Phoenix. Nowadays, of course, everyone wants to know what people died of, even if they're very, very old. I have no idea what the obligations of doctors are now, but presumably they can't write that someone died of old age anymore.

It's true that people are living longer than they did in old-time Phoenix, but they're still dying of the one thing that can't be stopped, old age.

I don't know how Dayton A. Reed, whose marker from the Pioneers' Cemetery, at 11th Avenue and Jefferson, states that he was 53, died, but it could have been of old age. Nowadays 53 doesn't seem all that old, especially to someone like me, who's older than that, but I'm inclined to think that if someone passed away at that age in old-time Phoenix, it would have been accepted simply as God's will.

By the way, as a kid, and even a young adult, I pretty much considered everyone from 50 to 100 to be about the same age - old. When Sun City first opened as a retirement community, you had to be at least 50, which sounds kinda young to me. Now it's 55, and even that sounds young. My grandmother, by the way, who was born in 1901, lived to be 99 years old. And to her it must have been amazing.

Statistics on how long people lived in old-time Phoenix really don't help me. Yes, a lot of people died at a young age, medicine wasn't as advanced, and besides it was Phoenix, not San Francisco or New York (where there would have been better medical care in the 1890s). And so if you lived past 50 in old-time Phoenix you really were an elder - and lucky! Of course many people lived much longer then, which must have been even more astonishing. Our popular image of witches comes from the very old women, who would still care for their homes, and sweep their porches, long after they had lost all of their teeth (ever wonder why drawings of witches show them that way, holding brooms, with chins jutted out?). Just as now, old men were rarer, as it's just natural for women to live longer, and besides men tended to be the ones who did the more dangerous jobs that would get them killed, like being a cowboy, and men tended not to care for their health as well as women. Still true today!

Since I will be donating my body to the Medical School in downtown Phoenix, I will be following their rules, which simply means that I have to die of old age. I will deliver the oldest, fittest body to them that I can when I'm through with it, which I'm hoping will be a very long time in the future. And when I die of old age, if they can't write that on the report, I would like them to write that "this man died from living too much."


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