Mike Czup unspooled the hose to wash his hearse. It was time to pick up the body of yet another neighbor who had died in the prime of life.
Since he started working at 15 in the funeral business, Czup has seen plenty of tragedies. But the 52-year-old said he’s still coming to grips with a disturbing fact about the bodies he washes, embalms and entombs: About a quarter of the people he buries are younger than him, as residents in this once-thriving coal town are dying earlier and earlier.
In the past six months, Czup has arranged the funerals of a 37-year-old killed by complications from diabetes, a 54-year-old killed by lung disease and a 54-year-old killed by a stroke, among many others who died prematurely.
Too often, they’re leaving young children behind. Czup’s taken to bringing a PlayStation 5 and buying candy before services — anything to distract.
“How long until this is me?” the funeral director wondered, noting his stress-filled 18-hour days and unhealthy diet.
Ashtabula’s problems are Ohio’s problems — and in large part, America’s problems.
Americans are more likely to die before age 65 than residents of similar nations, despite living in a country that spends substantially more per person on health care than its peers.
Many of those early deaths can be traced to decisions made years ago by local and state lawmakers over whether to implement cigarette taxes, invest in public health or tighten seat-belt regulations, among other policies, an examination by The Washington Post found. States’ politics — and their resulting policies — are shaving years off American lives.
Ashtabula’s problems stand out compared with two nearby counties — Erie, Pa., and Chautauqua, N.Y. All three communities, which ring picturesque Lake Erie and are a short drive from each other, have struggled economically in recent decades as industrial jobs withered — conditions that contribute toward rising midlife mortality, research shows. None is a success story when it comes to health. But Ashtabula residents are much more likely to die young, especially from smoking, diabetes-related complications or motor vehicle accidents, than people living in its sister counties in Pennsylvania and New York, states that have adopted more stringent public health measures. [Continue reading…]