Let’s Talk About Death

You may want to grab yourself a cuppa for this one.  Or a glass of wine.  Or a fag. Whatever floats your boat…

I’m making the title as blunt as the post itself for a reason, and I realise that this is probably going to sound incredibly grim, but one concept that is never too far away from my awareness, is death.

More specifically, I’m aware of the constant, underlying fear I have of it getting the better of my loved ones.  Death terrifies me – as it does most people – because not only is bereavement a devastating, drawn-out and crippling process, but it’s also something we can’t predict, time or control.  Uncomfortable though this may be to read, the brutal truth is that any one of us, or the people we care about, could suddenly die any day, irrespective of age or any existing medical condition.  We all know that; we just try not to think about it.  Quite rightfully, we just want to enjoy our lives as much as we can by focusing on more positive things.

This post has been brought on by the fact that the other night my seventy year old father had a pretty terrifying health scare that prompted an ambulance being called out to us at 11pm on a Sunday evening.  During a tense and difficult wait for help to arrive there were moments when – in hindsight, probably just fearing the worst through panic – I became convinced that dad could be about to leave us for good.  Concussed, confused and covered in blood, an usually extremely intelligent man could no longer tell us what year it was, or who was Prime Minister, and was generally just coming out with mysterious statements that made no sense.  He certainly wasn’t in the frame of mind to do one of his Killer SuDokus (and broadcast its successful completion to all and sundry) or engage in a silly debate with me about local politics.  He was suddenly a stranger.

Thankfully, Dad is absolutely okay now, but seeing him lying down in the back of the vehicle in his dressing gown, the fragility of life gave me a big slap round the face and I remembered – again – the vulnerability we all face without exception.  Nobody is immune to death; not even the strongest, richest, healthiest people in the world, and it’s something that is going to affect each of us on multiple occasions throughout our lives. And no amount of luck or planning can help you control that.

Whilst all of this may be sounding incredibly depressing (sip the tea, down the wine, suck on the fag) I do actually find – bizarre as it sounds – that an underlying understanding and acknowledgement of death – and more specifically, the fragility of life – actually amasses a huge amount of benefit and enrichment day to day, and this is the point I’m trying to get across here.  So bear with me…!

I’ve never understood the point of trying to run away from things that make us feel uncomfortable, particularly when they’re things we can’t wholly avoid.  Rather than remain fixated on how best to hide from these things, which is a huge effort in itself, I’ve learnt that it’s far better to confront, acknowledge, and then learn how to manage with them.  Death is a classic example of something we often have a tendency to try and hide from; in fact it wouldn’t surprise me if some people started to read this post but looked away after the first sentence, perhaps dismissing this as too grim to continue with.  I can understand that; life is short and we don’t want to spend it thinking about negative things, but I also think that kind of habitual avoidance can be dangerous in the long run.

To me, an underlying awareness of mortality keeps our values in check and our perspectives balanced.  It really shouldn’t take things like a terrorist attack or natural disaster to be thankful for life, and I cringe every time I hear anybody say anything along the lines of, “well this puts things into perspective”.  We all do it from time to time, in fact in my previous post you’ll see a recent example of when I did this myself.  Likewise, when there was a recent terrorist attack in London, I found myself messaging city-based friends, including some I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, to check on their welfare, and it really shouldn’t have taken something like that to get in contact.  This, and similar situations over the years, have encouraged me to ensure that I make an effort with the people I care about; to take a moment every once in a while to think about those I haven’t had much recent contact with and send them a message.  We should never allow people we care about to simply become strangers, and I like to think that my own acknowledgement of death and the fragility of life, which has increased in recent years, has lead to me becoming somebody who (or so I’d like to think) puts more effort in now than in years gone by.  I used to be pretty damn shit at it to be honest, and I wouldn’t say I’m perfect now, but definitely improved…

I have also come to find that the fear of death helps me to rationalise events around me and ensure that I’m not giving too much time and energy to the things that don’t really matter in the long run.  We’re all emotional beings who experience a myriad of thoughts and feelings within as few as sixty seconds let alone longer; and they don’t necessarily always make sense.  We’re naturally impulsive and not always going to think or do the ‘right’ things (or in other words, the things that we believe to be so).  We can get irritated, frustrated, or allow silly things to make us say or do ‘things’ we may later regret.  And that’s okay (and don’t let anybody try and tell you it isn’t, because likelihood is that if they do they’re a robot / made from silicon / don’t really exist) but having said that, it’s also essential to try and take the time to acknowledge these ‘things’ and re-consider their importance in the grand scheme of things.

When you get to the stage that you’re lying on your deathbed, whenever that may fall, are you really going to care about the fact that the train was late on the 12th April, 2012? Probably not.  But that doesn’t take away the fact you spent half an hour of precious time that could’ve been spent more positively that day, on bitching about the situation to friends via SMS, stabbing the phone furiously when you could have been looking out the window at the hills rolling by.  What about that comment somebody made in 2007 which you felt was a bit rude – are you going to spend any more time neurotically ruminating on it as you did back then?  And… if you find yourself watching a loved one floating up an aisle in a wooden box are you really going to be thinking about that time in 2010 when they didn’t contribute their share for the taxi, that you spent most of the next day moaning about? Of course not; but you might kick yourself for your lack of perspective that contributed to these reactions, which in turn took time away from the more positive things which were there in the background at the time.

Treating everybody as though you may never see them again sounds terribly grim, and is clearly not an outcome you want to fixate over too much, but if it’s going to add even more quality or encourage you to really make the most of your time with somebody then – regardless of whether you’ve many more years together – surely that’s a good thing?

I certainly think so, and that’s why death, and the fragility of life, will never be too far from mind.

(Phew. You made it to the end of the post.  Finish that cuppa, think of something beautiful, and just smile.)

Song of the Day:  Phoenix – Fior di Latte

This is a new song from French synth-poppers Phoenix and it’s incredibly sexy.  I have probably listened to it about twenty times every day for the past week.  At least.  So it’s more than eligible for Song of the Day.  THAT bassline…

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