Does death at every age count? Why is it that when political leaders and the media report on a person who has died from COVID-19 they always tell us their age?
Are there political or media guidelines on how to report infections and deaths from COVID-19? If so, I can’t find them. Why is a person’s age a relevant factor to report?
And what does coupling the news of someone’s death with their age signal?
Is it to allow a collective, but quiet, sigh of relief because we know older people are more susceptible to this wretched virus and therefore the death is understandable? Is it because older people are closer to death anyway so their passing is less lamentable? Is it because older lives are viewed as lesser lives?
We hear the figures multiple times each day. We track infection rates, numbers of deaths, locations, clusters and trends. All of it is shocking …and we are only human. It is hard to maintain the sorrow and emotional fortitude to grieve the loss of every life. But are we becoming complacent about the losses, because they are mostly older lives?
At a time when we, as a community, are being encouraged to unite against a perilous virus (“none of us is safe until all of us are”), does the addition of a person’s age create an “us” and “them”? Does knowing the age of those who die bring us closer together, or does it feed the narrative of the “other” and drive us apart?
For me, a life is a life. No life is expendable or inherently more valuable than another. Every life is equal and every human deserves respect and equal access to the right care, regardless of their age. It is no more acceptable or less tragic for an older person to die from COVID-19 than it is for anyone else.
So next time you hear of someone who has died from COVID-19 and you hear how old they were, take a moment. What are they trying to tell me?
Some useful links:
Carer’s Circle article on Learning to talk about death – intro –
Carer’s Circle article on Talking about funerals, burials and final wishes –
EveryAge Counts original article – Does death at every age count – https://www.everyagecounts.org.au/does_death_at_everyage_count
Photo credit: Senior woman doing pose on Rawpixel