Praia da Rocha (Foto Inês Lopes)

Death is certain, so let’s enjoy life

“Death is inevitable, but life, that’s the tricky bit…” Simon Travaglia

After celebrating a relatively optimistic new year in anticipation of 2023, a year that has to be better than the previous two or three years (something we’ve certainly hoped before…), I was a bit discouraged to look at the annual review of those who passed away in the past 12 months.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth led the list when she died at 96 after her husband Prince Phillip died a year before at 99. Those were very long lives. However, I was also struck by how many contemporaries, and even those younger than me, were no longer among the living.

My lovely wife just recently turned 78 and I’m not far behind. That means we’re officially old and can’t get out of it, no matter how young we think or act; and to be honest, we don’t feel particularly youthful anymore.

Noticing how many others were leaving early got my attention. Heck, Lisa Marie Presley died at 54. Two famous rock ‘n’ roll drummers, Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters at 50 and Robbie Bachman of Overdrive fame at 69, are gone. Olivia Newton-John at 73; Meat Loaf at 74; Naomi Judd, 76; Bobby Rydell, 78; Jeff Beck, 78, and David Crosby, 81, aren’t making music anymore. Neither are Jerry Lee Lewis, 87, nor Burt Bacharach at 94. Not all are younger than me, but all made memorable music as the soundtrack of our lives.

A remarkable contemporary of mine at 77 is lesser-known, Tony Dow, who died this past year. He played Wally, the older brother on the TV show Leave It To Beaver at the same age and the same time I was watching the program and fulfilling my role as the oldest brother in my family (the bruise on my younger brother’s arm only disappeared when I went away to college).

Speaking of television stars, Cindy Williams, 75, of Happy Days and Kristie Alley, 71, of Cheers are now off air.

One of my favorite actors, William Hurt, is dead at 71, as is Ray Liotta, one of the Goodfellas, at 67 and James Caan, the older brother in The Godfather at 82.

One of my favorite comics, Gallagher, 76, is no longer smashing watermelons, while one of my least favorite lawyers Ken Starr, 76, is no longer investigating people. Pope Benedict XVI is also dead at 95.

Plenty of greats and near greats were obviously older than me personally when they died recently – not as it should be but simply the way it is.

Great ladies like Angela Lansbury, 96, Barbara Walters, 93, and Madeline Albright, 84, are no more. Gina Lollobrigida, 95, and Raquel Welsh, 82, sex symbols for an age, are gone but not forgotten, yet.

One of the greatest movie stars of all time and a fine actor, Sidney Poitier, 94, hopefully will never be forgotten.

Plenty of sports figures have heard the final whistle, none greater than the immortal Pelé, who was only 82 though he seemed to have been around forever. Bill Russell, 88, a true basketball hero; Maury Wills, 89, a baseball star as was Tim McCarver, 81; Bobby Hull, 84, one of ice hockey’s brightest stars; and two American football legends Ray Guy, 72, one of the best punters of all time, and Franco Harris, 72, who made a miracle catch. All these athletes are remembered in their sports’ Halls of Fame. Shane Warne, one of the only cricket players I, as an American, ever heard of died way too young at 52.

The point of this review is to try to figure out just what to think about the old truism that the only two certainties of life are death and taxes. Well, so far, we’re still paying our taxes.

My favorite comic/philosopher George Carlin put it bluntly when he once remarked “Good news for senior citizens: Death is near.” So, I guess the next question might be – so, how near?

Well, the worldwide life expectancy for both sexes is 73.2, with females living longer on average till 75.6 with males at 70.8. So, how about that? Many of us are already living on borrowed time. In fact, according to the US Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator, I’m expected to live 10.4 more years or until I’m 88, with my lovely wife living until she’s 89. In fact, the average age when folks die in the United States is nearly 74 while the average death in the UK is 79, with life expectancy for both countries slightly higher, with the Brits at nearly 82 and the Americans at 79.

To put life expectancy in context, people can expect to live until 85 in Hong Kong and Japan, which are numbers one and two on the list, while deaths in Haiti (165) are at about 65, with the inhabitants of the Central African Republic not lasting much longer than 54, which puts them last on the list of 193 countries considered. Spain (seven) is way ahead of Portugal (23) with an expectancy of almost 84 compared to 82.

  1. Somerset Maugham once suggested that “Death is a very dull affair and my advice to you is have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” Advice that you may have noticed, if you’re still reading, is advice I’ve decided not to follow exactly. What I’m really trying to focus on is what we do until that point of no return.

Many expat readers of the Resident, like good ol’Pat himself, are retirees living in a country that tops most of the lists of the best places to spend our so-called golden years. In other words, death is certain but if we haven’t died yet, how are we spending the time until our lease on life finally expires?

There are several factors that experts suggest influence life expectancy. We’ve already noted gender as one, with genetics being another. So, if your parents lived a nice long life, then you might too.

Hygiene and access to healthcare are also considerations and one of the leading concerns among those on the internet considering Portugal as a place to retire. Portugal does okay on that account but does really well on some of the other factors including diet and nutrition with our Mediterranean diet thought to be helpful.

Lifestyle is considered important, and the Algarve looks strong on that account with lovely weather, friendly (not hostile) people and plenty of opportunities to exercise, you know, like long walks on the beach.

Then there’s the crime rate, with Portugal as one of the safest countries in the entire world, which helps us all live a little longer.

So far, we’ve survived Covid-19 and not had to endure Russian-inspired wars like in the Ukraine or Syria. So far so good.

But what are other factors that seem to contribute to a decrease in life expectancy? Many appear to be more personal in nature, like too much or too little sleep or sitting too much.

Some data has seemed to indicate that not reading books (or what I think is probably more generally a lack of education) and not socializing enough may shorten our lives. Well, we have some excellent expat social groups throughout the Algarve, so we have no excuse in that regard. Also, being pessimistic is not helpful when we’re trying to survive. As my loyal reader knows, good ol’Pat is an optimist and that just might be helping.

It has been reported in the leading English-language newspaper in the Algarve that Americans are moving to and retiring to Portugal in ever-increasing numbers, and while I don’t think life expectancy is a main reason, maybe it should be. After all, Europeans live 2.2 years longer than people in the US and Portugal answers many of the concerns.

While there might be a few more smokers around the café tables here than there, death rates due to opioid overdoses and suicides (sometimes related), and infant mortality are lower. Obesity is a problem and though we do have a few well-advertised McDonalds around, fast-food outlets aren’t on every corner. If you drive on the N-125, you might not think roads are safer here than on American highways, but they are.

One of the things that new arrivals tell me is that one of the reasons that they no longer feel safe is gun violence plaguing every facet of American life from schools to nightclubs, from cities to small rural communities. In fact, homicides are a leading cause of death among younger adult Americans, who will never get to be old enough to retire to the Algarve.

So, “death is inevitable, but life, that’s the tricky bit” (Simon Travaglia).

Also, I’m just not worrying about the afterlife, which I know virtually nothing about. Ayn Rand once quipped “When I die, I hope to go to heaven, whatever the hell that is.” I just don’t know, but I agree with Groucho Marx when he said, “I intend to live forever, or die trying.”

What I do know, dear Resident reader, is that living out our days here in the scenic, historic, and warm Algarve has certainly turned out to be a good idea.

Literally all my friends here mention how lucky they are to have found their way to the southern coast of Portugal. “The idea,” or so says Ashley Montagu, “is to die young as late as possible.”