Years ago, my husband, John Anderson, and I noticed that our male friends from Seven Mile Island were beginning to wear out earlier than their female counterparts.
Our female friends lost inches in height and gained inches in circumference, as they surprised themselves by turning 80. The sparkle in their eyes revealed that their capacity for intelligent discourse remained.
As they began feeling helpless, their husbands' health began to falter. This was not because the men were working harder. Most enjoyed beach walks or channel boating, as well as grandfathering and volunteer retirement activities, and each was a leader of leaders.
My first husband, award-winning Psychologist Dr. Erich Coche, held the dubious distinction of leading the male march to an early death when he slipped away from us, in 1991, at age 49. He left many of us shuddering at his sudden surrender to melanoma.
I was relieved to see that our male friends survived for some years, until Dr. John Tucker, a pediatric surgeon, disappeared from the earth in 2016, leaving Mary Jane to delight in their five granddaughters alone. Next, Phil Comerford, the brilliant financial whiz, permanently left Diana on her own for the first time in their adulthood.
Shortly after, Jim Wren, the king of kindness, and a super sailor, slowly weakened. Despite hearty swims in the cold morning bay waters, Jim died roughly one year ago, leaving Karin to maneuver single life with her customary pluck.
As I wondered aloud to John about which community leader might follow, I never considered the man who, for me, was the salt of the earth.
Bill Stump, a lovable curmudgeon, was in his 60s, so he had decades of his community spirit left, but life has a way of being in charge of decisions.
I learned about Bill's need for serious medical attention last fall. Since he was a foundation of great sense and spirit wherever he went, I crossed my fingers. He was remarkably central to his family, students, community and the Yacht Club, of Stone Harbor. Like Erich, John, Jim and Phil, wherever Bill went, greatness followed.
An overflowed crowd of family and friends Feb. 1, at the Lutheran Church, in Stone Harbor, listened to his brother, Gerald, tell us that Bill committed his life to loving his family and serving his community. Like so many of the solid-state men before him, Bill served others through judgment and omnipresent capacity to solve the problem of the moment. Whether he was modestly demonstrating excellence in sailing, winning reelection as secretary of the Yacht Club, delighting his math students at Wildwood High School, being president of the School Board or helping others start the Stone Harbor Museum, he strengthened the projects he touched and exemplified a legacy of service as central to his being.
Bill, as the most recent in this parade of men, enriched lives through his infectious wit and charm. Like Erich, Bill represented the qualities of 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, the passage read at his funeral. I agree that love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, and is not arrogant or rude.
Unfortunately, my friends represent men across the world. Men are 1.5 times more likely than women to die from heart disease, cancer or respiratory disease, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On average, men die five years younger than women.
When we factor personality traits into the age of death, we learn that men who can’t ask for help, get too stressed at life’s small hassles and push too hard to get their way are likely to have the worst health outcomes, according to work at the University of Akron, in Ohio.
For men, there is precious information in this data. Talk with males in your life to inform them of the research on the relative time of death. This can make the difference of a lifetime.
As this new decade continues, can we take a moment to appreciate what matters most? The energy of our Erichs, Johns, Phils, Jims and Bills leaves the legacy of being competent for one another. What could be more important than that?
To Consider: Are you surprised by this information? Could it make a difference in your life? What do you plan to do about it?
To Explore: Start with information about stress and gender. Why do men die earlier? https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/06/men-die.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.