Conversations about death: a guest post by Joe Hammond
I’ve never lost a person I’ve loved. I’ve never been floored or questioned death or talked about death or even thought about death. And I never expected that my first opportunity to do so would be with the knowledge of my own approaching death. But I’m now left with the feeling that my life has been missing something.
For all the loss and sadness that I feel, something significant has been added to my life.
I wish I’d always had this knowledge. I wish I’d always been able to talk about the end of life. In recent months death has been the subject of my most memorable conversations and definitely the best jokes.
Such conversations sit alongside the penetrating sadness of knowing that I won’t see my two very young boys grow up. It exists despite the pain of slowly saying goodbye to my wife and the fear I have for my family’s emotional and financial welfare. I’m about to have my feeding tube fitted, I’m losing my vocal chords and I need to give myself at least ten weeks’ notice to take a pee but I somehow feel okay. For everything that is being ripped away, I have been struck by something powerful and unexpected and helpful.
It’s that waist deep moment in the sea, turning the face into an unseen wave. The sea that’s swallowed and inhaled; the brine that sloshes through the brain. Up until this point the swell of the sea has done nothing more than gently lift the body a foot or so before carefully depositing it back down on the shallow sea bed, a few yards further into shore. Passively, hypnotically, time after time.
Up until I turned into the break of this unexpected wave there had been many elements contributing to a fearful life. I stumbled on with my frustrations and dissatisfactions. But the sting and the shock and the slap of my diagnosis has eventually enabled me to feel calmer about all this. To feel the sadness and the loss but not the fear. Because it’s not possible to be frightened of something you finally recognise and feel so close to.
I see a lot of panic in the faces of my visitors. I see that I now scare them with the thought of death.
And I can see that the conversations they are really having are not with me but with themselves; conversations in which they reassure themselves that they are not the ones now dying. Or that death is not a thing at all; that I am somehow different in this way. And I find myself wishing for those other companions, with whom I can talk and laugh and unwrap life and death as easily as if we were opening a freshly fried bag of cod and chips together.
This is it: being alongside those I love, feeling the sadness and feeling the joy. Because nothing in my life feels missing any more. Nothing is being avoided. I feel a gratitude for these unlikely individuals who sit with my withering body; who can hold my fragile bony hand and not recoil; who look up at the stars and know that their own lives, in the greater scheme of things, will not be that much longer than my own. Because isn’t that it? That we’re all just here in these moments of our life. You and me. Knowing this and feeling that it’s okay. And letting go of fear.