I’m 32. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve become positively aware of my impending death. I can honestly say that until last year, I never realised that this would be the ultimate end. Sounds stupid perhaps, and I suffer from no known terminal illness, but this notion of reality has been irking me for some time now.
Its irksome nature has manifested itself in the form of anxiety attacks (the kind where you irrationally believe that death is only seconds away), alcoholic escapism, superfluous outpourings of love, and erratic behaviour whereby erratic has become normal. Above all, there’s bewildered frustration.
Sometimes when I’m not too self-consumed (or maybe because I am too self-consumed), I lie in bed at night, clench my fists together, and say a kind of prayer to the darkness. I prioritise, and correct myself when I prioritise without family first. Family, friends, people less fortunate, the whole world, and occasionally God even gets a mention. I do this because, firstly, I’m afraid of death (or should I say dying – death itself can present no fear), secondly, because the thought of losing a close family member is immeasurable, and thirdly, because I know almost nothing of how terrible life can be, yet I understand the inherent human urge to cling dearly to life no matter how hard things become.
When George passed away a couple of years ago, Margaret conveyed the details of his death in a naturally loquacious, candid, and vivid manner. George smoked for nearly 60 years. Drank to the point where my mother won’t even tell me the stories. He played the piano. Made things from wood. Made people laugh out loud. George was told he had cancer on the Tuesday. He visited Jimmy, went to the bookies, returned home and died. Margaret said he didn’t look ‘bonny’ when his time came. He turned to his wife, clenched his teeth and said ‘Margaret , I’m finished.’ The mental image she portrayed was of George then shaking uncontrollably, briefly, before the life in his head set like concrete. My mother worries that I’m like George. I hope so.
As I took my walk to nowhere in particular this morning, I passed an old couple standing statuesque beside a bus stop. Behind them a mammoth swathe of blinding light reflected down off the River Tay, up and over the whole city. The couple must have been in their mid-70s, grey hair, glasses, and dressed as you may expect – smart: shirt-tie, blazer, modest long dress, woollen coat with a small crocodile pendant attached. Both stared straight ahead, not impatiently looking for the bus, but just waiting for the bus to arrive. They exchanged no conversation.
When someone close to you dies, it’s not ridiculous to think that part of you dies with them. Equally so, it’s not too outrageous to consider that perhaps part of their spirit lives on within you. For my part, I was born in 1977, and I want to live until I’m 77. I haven’t had a panic attack in a while now.