When will you go to Heaven?

As I may have mentioned before, my son is five. And, like most of the five-year-olds I’ve met, he’s interested in and puzzled about death. Not in a morbid, death-obsessed way. He just doesn’t understand it, and he keeps asking questions because he’s curious. So one day – it’s been a while, so I don’t remember the exact circumstances – he looks up and asks “When will you go to Heaven, daddy?”

No matter what, that sort of thing catches you off guard. But I just shrugged and tried not to get super emotional as I look at him and say “not for a long, long time”. He looks at me and says “I’ll come visit you, so you don’t get lonely.” At that point, feeling myself tear up, I hugged him and changed the subject. Soon enough, we were chattering away about superheros. Really, it wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have.

But awkward questions, often enough, are also great questions. For an answer to this one – how long am I likely to live – I turned to the Actuarial Life Tables of the United States Social Security Administration. To begin with, an actuarial table (also known as a life table) is a statistical tool used to predict average life expectancies. And at the time I’m writing this (at the age of 43.87 years old), the Social Security Administration expects me to live another 35.71 years (to an age of 79.58). The table also indicates that I have a 5.4844% chance of dying before I reach 80.

I’ll take those odds. I play D&D, so I know that a 1-in-20 chance of failure (or, in this case, death) isn’t too bad. And besides, if I make it to 80 the SSA predicts I have another 8.13 years in me. That gets me to the age of 88. At 88, I have a 13.7126% chance of dying before age 89 – still not too shabby. That’s only a little worse than 1-in-8 chance of death. And if I don’t die, the SSA predicts another 4.65 years of life. So, call my age 93 at that point.

At age 93, I’ve got a 22.4931% chance of death. That’s about 2-in-9 odds of dying. And they predict another 3.19 years of life, getting me to 96. 96 gets me to a 28.7218% chance of death (about 1-in-3), and another 2.61 years if I “roll well”. That puts me at 98, and my odds of death don’t change too terribly (32.4599%) – with another 2.33 years if I’m still alive. And that makes me 100.

HOw does that compare to my family? Hmmm… my dad died of cancer at the age of 41, and it still gives me chills that I’ve outlived him. My paternal grandfather died of cancer in his mid-sixties, and my maternal grandfather lived to his late eighties. So, honestly, that 80 to 88 range looks perfectly doable. But, well, like I said: I play D&D. I’ll risk the odds, and plan to max out the SSA table at age 119.

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