Monday, June 10, 2024

Friend’s death a stark reminder of our mortality…

March 24, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, News, Weekly Columns

( Chicago, IllinoisTime to shape up if you want to collect Social Security

I recently looked at my “Social Security Statement” and realized that I’m one of the hardworking boomers who may never see a dime of this nest egg.

After being in the work force full-time for 43 years, and paying into Social Security all those years, I’m beginning to have visions of going someplace where it doesn’t snow on the first day of spring.

But my escape may be short-lived.

No excuse

That’s because I have to be 66 years old to retire. I’m not rushing to check out of here, but you never know.

Last week, one of my earliest childhood friends died unexpectedly after a brief illness. In fact, the last time I saw her was about three weeks ago, when I drove to San Antonio after covering a political event in Austin.

Her name was Sirretha Fondren, and we were probably the same age. After serving in the military, Sirretha and her son, Tony, relocated to San Antonio.

When I saw her, I marveled at how well she had aged. There wasn’t a wrinkle on her face or a gray hair on her head. She was thin as a rail and still carried herself like the diva I remembered.

On Wednesday, I got the sad news that Sirretha had passed away after a bout with the flu turned fatal.

Her death was another reminder that — as hectic as things can get — it is a bad idea to put off the annual checkup.

Although the picture of good health, my friend obviously had some health issues that were probably not addressed.

Unlike the millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance — a travesty that has pushed health care to the top of the agenda, at least for Democratic presidential hopefuls — I don’t have any excuses.

Black men, women die younger

Like most of us, I would like to live a long, healthy life. But some of my past behaviors, and the genes I have inherited, may have already determined my life span.

Indeed, as a black woman, my life expectancy, according to demographers, is 70.2 years, compared with an average of 76.5 years for all population groups.

The odds of black men collecting Social Security benefits are even worse.

Black men have a life expectancy of only 66.1 years, compared with the national average of 73.6 years for all men.

So it is much too likely that a black man who works hard all of his life will retire from his job one day and go home and die soon afterward.

Obviously, it is up to an individual to take responsibility for his or her health.

But it’s a good thing that a lot of attention is now being focused on the health of black men, including raising awareness of prostate cancer.

Most of us also know a lot more about the dangers of bad cholesterol, lack of exercise and poor diet.

Still, we all know someone who left us too soon, and silently worried that had he or she only lost weight, stopped smoking, or got a membership at the local gym, things would have turned out differently.

If you fall into this category, it is never too late to get on a healthier path.

Still, I understand why some black men may feel they are being cheated by the government. After all, according to the statistics, they aren’t likely to benefit from Social Security unless they become disabled.

Hit the treadmill

My childhood friend Sirretha was able to retire early and enjoyed a period of leisure that included travel. In fact, she had just returned from Paris when she suddenly became ill.

But the loss of a peer is a stark reminder of your own mortality.

The realization that I have paid into a plan that could likely not benefit me or my beneficiaries (except for the $255 death benefit) is an incentive to get my behind on a treadmill.

The prospect of four years of retirement isn’t great, but it is better than the alternative.


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