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How long will you live?

In my extended family, I sometimes ask the 30-and-40-something members how long they think they'll live. Some think it's a weird question. But what I've learned from being part of a very large family, with multiple generations, is this: It's impossible to predict who will last a long time and who will die pretty young.

We recently learned that a cousin we didn't know very well died at age 56. She'd had some mental problems and because she was an only child, and her mother and father both died long ago, and her husband divorced her, we don't have anyone to ask the circumstances. She lived in California and Oregon. Very sad.

My mom, at 91, has outlived four brothers, two older, two younger. My dad, the youngest of seven, was one of the first to die at age 77.

According to the National Institute on Aging, in 1970, “the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 70.8 years; in 2008, it was 78.0 years; and by 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau projects life expectancy will reach 79.5 years.”

When my nieces and nephews ask me how old I want to live until, I often pick 79. I always wanted to be part of the big crowd.

At what age do you want to get out of this race?

(My 91-year-old mom with my extended family's youngest, 2-week-old Giovanni)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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