Thoughts on Death

Posted on Monday 9th October 2006 at 00:00
Is it just me or has October become the fashionable month to die in this year? Last week I heard that an old school friend of mine had lost his grandmother and now I've been told of another two deaths this evening. One of them a friend of my housemate and another the grandmother of a uni friend of mine. Ok, so she died in September and I only just heard, but even so. It does seem like a disproportionately high mortality rate. I wonder why?

Perhaps the autumn is favoured among those who don't like winter or wish to get it out of the way before anyone thinks to buy them a Christmas present that will end up going to waste. I've always felt that that would be the worst thing about dying on your birthday or at Christmas. All those brand new presents, just bought, just opened. Maybe not even opened yet. Too new to be used and suddenly and something to cry bitterly over when sorting through a loved one's affects while still deeply grieving. I would hate to do something like that to a family member or friend.

Actually, if I were to die and have a conscious experience in some kind of afterlife I reckon my overriding feeling would be of extreme guilt for the hurt I'd have caused anyone who cared about me at the time of my death. Tis enough to put you off dying altogether actually. I guess in many ways it has been that thought above all others that has stopped me from giving up when times have been rough. I could do anything to myself and not feel a thing, but I couldn't put my family through it all.

I've personally known three relatives die in my life time. Of those three I was old enough to attend two of the funerals and cried at one of them. Though the last two were scarcely two years apart something had changed in me by the second one and I didn't know how to cry anymore. I felt guilty then as well. It seemed terribly rude and selfish and unfair not to grieve for both these people in the same way, especially as they were both important in my life.

At the moment I have three relatives treading that thin line between this world and the next. In some ways they have been going for a long time but I don't think that'll make it any easier when I finally get that dreaded phone call. The trouble with being terminally ill is that no one really seems to know how long you have. I have one uncle with leukaemia who has had many health scares and who I'd expected to be dead for a couple of years by now. Another has gone downhill fairly quickly and looks as likely to have 2006 on his grave stone as 2007.

Sudden and unexpected death is much worse from the shock point of view though. Once upon a time, about 5 or 6 years ago now I knew a guy who suddenly died quite unexpectedly and we were all greatly shaken by the news. He was the man who ran the marina where my parents keep their boat and he was possibly the chattiest, jolliest man in the world. Over Christmas he went round in a Santa's hat giving out sweets to everyone he saw. At New Year he hosted a party for all the berth holders in the marina's dry dock of all places and it was a very jolly affair. I still remember him playing with the fireworks, trying to get them to light in the rain and singing Auld Lang Syne louder and with less tunefulness than anyone else there.

The next morning he felt slightly off and went back to bed while his wife was out. At around 10 in the morning he felt and odd pain in his chest and, worried, he sat up and died instantly of heart failure. He was found like that shortly afterwards by his poor wife, sat up in bed staring straight ahead.

My next door neighbour died a little while back. I can't claim to have ever liked the man, but I had nothing much against him, although he didn't seem to like having kids and later teens living next door to him. He died of a brain haemorrhage quite unexpectedly, as for that matter did a friend of a friend I'd once had a drink with in our local pub. He was only 22 and his death shocked the whole town.

The only other death that has happened close to me was the death of my cat a little over 2 years ago. It was three weeks after I'd left for uni and he left home to die. He was found by the RSPCA and put down as he was clearly in some considerable distress and suffering from heart problems. What struck me wasn't that he had died, as that is a fairly logical assumption for a 19 year old cat, but that I wasn't there. Somehow I'd always assumed over the years that when the cat who'd been a member of the family since before I was born finally died, I would be there to comfort him. I'm not even sure I really took the time to say goodbye properly to him before I left for uni and this fact is bringing tears to my eyes even now. The sad truth is that I feel incredibly guilty towards my cat because I never really repaid him for the affection he showed me over the years. Even in later life when I knew he was dying I still took him for granted, because he'd always been there, in the same way that my parents always have been here for me. If I could see him now I'd say sorry to him for not being there til the end. He died alone, without his family around him. I know that is how they prefer it and it is why they go off to die but even so. I'd also say sorry for not realising until now that it is more or less exactly 2 years since his death. I didn't cry for him then but I have done since, and I do now as I write this.

R.I.P Domino


You only realise how much you appreciate someone when they are gone.

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