I seem to be spending a lot of my time thinking about death at the moment. It is probably the influence of several things:
Aunt had a suspected heart attack a few weeks ago; Aunt in Belfast died last Monday; there was the walk to remember Mike who died of pncreatic cancer; yesterday was Remembrance Sunday; it would be Mother’s 95th birthday 26th November; after hearing him interviewed by Will Self at Conway Hall last week, I bought a copy of Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End.
Celia rang me as I was hurrying off to work this morning to say Gawande was on Radio 4’s Start the Week. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I have checked that it is available to listen to on the BBC On Demand online.
I haven’t read his book either, but I have read the first sentence:
I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn’t one of them.
It’s an arresting sentence; a ‘Hey Edna’ as such sentences were described when I was studying journalism; a sentence that makes you want to read on. I quoted the sentence to Aunt. That might seem mean to talk about death and dying to someone who definitely felt their own mortality tremble last month. However, we have talked about care for the elderly; deaths good and bad; attitudes to dying; and similar subjects a good deal over the last few years, and rather as I thought, she was interested and I promised to buy her the ebook version so she can read it on her tablet where the RNIB have set it up so the background and font allows her to read despite her AMD.
In the talk we attended, Gawande discussed the idea of doctor as hero, how every doctor wants to be the one that saves lives against the odds; a superhuman with a scalpel if you like. That works well with the young and fit, but the desire for happy endings and prolonged lives can mean medical intervention for those whose last months or years could be more comfortable and serene with palliative care.
Most of us don’t want infinite life. I know there are some who are arranging to be frozen so that when the science comes along they confidently anticipate being defrosted and not being able to understand any of the technology in their homes.
What am I saying – homes? They’ll be homeless. Newly undead, out of touch with the world and homeless, unless their bank accounts and homes are frozen too. That’ll help enormously with the housing crisis. I’ll settle for one ending to this life with no encores, chilled or otherwise.
In Colm Toibin’s novella The Testament of Mary there is a description of the risen Lazarus, neither dead nor completely alive, and an embarrassment to his family who don’t know how to deal with him.
I realise I have wandered through this post with thought bumping into and creating new thought, rather like they do when I am going to sleep, so I shall stop and make tracks for bed. I may find the thread of my original thoughts another time, or maybe not.