and dying do not make for a jolly subject of any conversation, but it is part
of life. And none of us is getting any younger. Is death or dying something you
think about very much?
may prefer to think it will never happen and leave it at that. But if you are
one of those people who like to prepare themselves for what is coming down the
line, you might want to give it a passing glance from time to time.
As We Grow Older
not obsessed with death, but it does cross my mind on occasion – and probably
increasingly. Before I was 60, I rarely gave it much thought at all. The possibility
of dying seemed almost as remote as it did when I was a child, which is to say
it was over a very distant horizon.
that I am in the second half of my 70s, I have to face the fact that my
remaining years are increasingly limited. The statistics are not brilliant as
you grow older, for obvious reasons. And, with each quickly passing year, they only
of us knows when we’ll die, of course, but it is time to begin to recognise the
some of us live well into our 90s – and centenarians are becoming much more
common. I even have good genes, with current good health and my parents living
to age 90 and 91 respectively.
these are details. The truth is, we will grow older and frailer and will have
to face the end, sooner or later. In the words of a young woman living with
AIDS, quoted in my book on the subject some years ago, “You haven’t got forever
it the moment of dying that worries you?
some people die in great distress, the much greater likelihood is that you will
do so fairly peacefully. The profession of palliative care is getting
increasingly clever at keeping people pain free. In the coming years, it can
only get better.
haven’t reached the stage of thinking where I would want to be – or, indeed, where
I am likely to be.
do I often think about my own funeral. Occasionally, when I hear a particularly
beautiful piece of music, I will say casually, “You can play that at my funeral.”
But in fact, it would be better played at a funeral I was attending during my
lifetime as I would actually hear it.
is it the fact of no longer living that worries you? Of no longer being there
to enjoy the many pleasures of life? Or no longer being there for your family
and friends, some of whom may rely on you?
are undoubtedly ‘heavy’ issues, which you may want to prepare for.
fact, we do make many preparations without thinking of them as such. The urge
to ‘downsize’ stems partly from the wish to make your passing easier for those
who must administer your things. Perhaps you have done this for someone else
and it came home to you how very complex such matters are.
to long-lost relations – or friends you don’t see very often – may also be
stimulated by the thought of doing so before it is ‘too late’. Such thoughts
may remain un-articulated but are nonetheless real for everyone concerned.
Death of Loved Ones
If anything, I think less about my own death and more about the possible death of my husband, as statistically, this is the more likely first event.
been married almost all our adult lives, it is scary to think about being
alone. Those of you who are already widowed will doubtless know what I mean.
Writing About Death
I really am not obsessed with death, I have written two books dealing with two
different aspects of it.
was about young people with HIV and AIDS, all of whom were dying because there had
been no cure back then. It is not a morbid book at all, but it is an honest one
about people facing an early death.
I was impressed with their resilience and called it Wise Before Their Time, because that is what I felt they were.
second is about people who work with the dying. I had worked as a volunteer in
a hospice and found it fascinating that so many people could go to work each
day to help others die. I interviewed nurses, doctors, chaplains of various
faiths, administrators, and even a very reflective chef.
I called it Life in a Hospice, because this is what it was about – the living before the dying.
Last year, I watched a TV interview with Sir Ian McKellen, who always struck me as a very thoughtful man. I also have a soft spot for him as he wrote a terrific Foreword for my book about people with AIDS.
Himself in his 80s, he said he did think about death quite often and had even planned his own funeral. (And noted that he thought it sounded like such a good occasion, he wondered if he could plan an early dress rehearsal so he could attend.)
surmised that old people thought about death a lot, because it was a form of
preparation. When the time actually came, it probably helped them to feel that they
seems to me to be time well spent.
often do you think about death or dying? Occasionally? Not at all? Does it
worry you? Are you making plans for it? How have you prepared for your own
death? Please share your thoughts with the community.