Thinking about death isn’t maudlin – it’s a fact of life
I have known people in the throes of serious illness acknowledge that although they are sad to have to leave the party, their worry is not so much for themselves as for the rest, for the friends and family who will circle their absence long after their departure.
I came across something the other day that really resonated with me. I was reading about the death of the author Iain Banks, who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer, asked his partner to do him the honour of becoming his widow. There was a quotation from the writer Christopher Hitchens, also recently deceased, who said:‘ “I am not battling cancer, cancer is battling me.” It reminded me that not everyone wants to be a warrior.
Since my father’s leave-taking, in that hospital, there have been other deaths and illnesses,other dedicated, overworked, unassailably generous nurses and carers, other lost eyes in shrunken faces and to me his was a lucky, privileged parting.
Anyway, despite my maudlin reverie (actually I don’t believe thinking about death is maudlin; it’s like thinking about food or sex or politics or art – it is life), I met an invigorating, hearty companion on the day ward who helped kill the long hours between admission and procedure.
She had faced a life-threatening illness years ago and survived. With great gusto, charm, energy and good humour she was living out the adage “treat each day as if it is your last”. She was fully embracing her life. Wife, mother, worker, grandmother, travel lover, a woman not averse to the odd glass of wine and even an occasional fag, she exuded warmth and vivacity.
I hope she’s well; I didn’t see her at the end of our day. I was last on the surgeon’s list, and still floating through a Rohypnol haze when the day ward emptied.
It was good to leave the warm ward, leave the dry ghosts, to walk outside on that summer evening in the last of the corn-coloured sun, grateful that the shot across the bow sank with barely a ripple.