My father died as a result of cancers suddenly sprouting within him, the pressure of one of these cutting off the majority of the blood supply to the upper half of his body and, more critically, his brain. In many ways this was a somewhat merciful release, given the confusion and fear he spent the last few years of his life in, mainly due to Alzheimer's. He was a proud and strong man, having served in the Second World War in the submarines and lived all over the world in the subsequent years. He was gregarious, loquacious and always the life and soul of the party. He was 52 when I was born and 56 when my brother was born.
By the time I had hit sixteen (many, many years ago) he was in physical decline, the ravages of time, a long working life and arthritis taking their effect, perhaps aided by the all too constant, but not excessive, imbibing of alcohol that became a fixture of his later years.
Having read the recent article by the author Sir Terry Pratchett (a firm favourite of mine), I have been thinking about the final days of both my father and myself quite a lot recently.
Morbid? Not really. I am both fascinated and appalled by the attitude to death that exists in the western world, the fear and loathing with which is approached and the sometimes almost sick perversity that it is revered. I believe that death is an integral part of life, a simple fact that we cannot avoid, no matter how hard we wish, no matter how desperately we apply our potions and our alchemies. Life should be celebrated, death accepted. Which is not to mean that you should not fight for life, if you are ill or at risk. The fight for life is a natural response and should not be impeded, unless the wish is otherwise.
Which brings me, after much meandering, to my point.
Let me die a youngman's death (Roger McGough)
Let me die a youngman's death not a clean and inbetween the sheets holywater death not a famous-last-words peaceful out of breath death
I am 37 years old and I am not afraid of death. I do not want to die, but I do not fear it.
I fear the manner of it. I fear my father's death. I fear the loss of mind, the loss of self, a prison not of the body but of the un-mind. I fear that every moment is a new one, tinged with terror that I cannot remember the countless moments that preceded it.
When I'm 73 and in constant good tumour may I be mown down at dawn by a bright red sports car on my way home from an allnight party
I fear the dismantling of my body, that slow accretion of age and chemicals and damage that is even now beginning to slow me, to hurt and remind me of time's relentless passage. I fear entrapment, not of the mind, but of the body, a constraint of incapability and immobility,where the flesh is hostage to other than the mind and the will.
Or when I'm 91 with silver hair and sitting in a barber's chair may rival gangsters with hamfisted tommyguns burst in and give me a short back and insides
I fear that sloughing of self, the mitigation and forgetfulness of time, where the bright days of my life, the memories of friendships and loves, the achievements and losses, when everything begins to dull and disappear, to fade against the exhaustion of the battle for life, when the meaning of it all is replaced by the numbing count of days survived.
Or when I'm 104 and banned from the Cavern may my mistress catching me in bed with her daughter and fearing for her son cut me up into little pieces and throw away every piece but one
I want a death of my own choosing. A death with flair and wonder and meaning. I want a heroic death, defying odds beyond my ability to win. I want a daredevil death, my last breath spent in an exhilarated whoop as I fly over the edge of the precipice, the waterfall, or in a sigh of contentedness as the cold of a mountain seeps away my life at dawn. I want a savage death, beaten and broken in a silent war for something I believe in, protecting those few principles still left to me.
Let me die a youngman's death not a free from sin tiptoe in candle wax and waning death not a curtains drawn by angels borne 'what a nice way to go' death
I want a death of such tragic consequence the world will mourn and wail and gnash their teeth and beat their heads. I want a death of such crass stupidity that people will mock and laugh until it becomes the stuff of urban legend. I want a poet's death, selfish and drunk, fevered with dreams and inspiration.
I want a death that is not silent, and broken and lonely, faded to memory and time and dust. I want to die a death of style and verve and singular panache. A death the equal of me, the better of me, a manner of death that does not mock the life before it but punctuates it with an awesome finality.
I want to die a young man's death.