by ANGELA MOLLARD
Dying worries the wits of of me
It’s not just the genuine fears – will it hurt, how will my family cope?
But the irrational: will anyone change the dishcloth? What if my husband opts for all his Rolling Stones tunes at the funeral – ‘Angie’ might be OK, but ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’?
I considered writing a letter to be read after I’d carked it (‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles, please), but knowing my lot, they’d file it with the bills and find it six months after I’d been coffined up in a ghastly red confection (red washes me out and, no doubt, I’ll already be looking a bit wan).
Hubby, meanwhile, has requested ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ and wants his tombstone to read like Spike Milligan’s: “I told you I was ill.”
Before you criticise me for being tasteless, understand this: even glimpsing the word ‘death’ paralyses me. I can’t read obituaries because stories of shattered families crumple me for days.
At my grandfather’s funeral, I stood to read a poem and couldn’t utter a word. Humour deflects the thing I fear most.
When men were dying in trenches and the pre-vaccination era saw parents routinely bury their kids, death was familiar.
Everyone had lost someone; it was an accepted layer of life. Now, most of us don’t live so intimately with death. And those that do often have time to contemplate the life being lost.
Some recent worrying news, my parents chugging through their 60s (but still boogie boarding) and the realisation I’m getting close to half done has made me confront this discomfort with discomfort.
As Steve Jobs’ sister said: “We all – in the end – die in medias res. In the middle of a story.”
So, I’ve been reading Anne Roiphe’s memoir, Epilogue, in which she says just putting the key in the door – a task always performed by her husband – is an exercise in heartbreak.
But it’s something else Roiphe relates that stayed with me. A week before her husband died from a heart attack, he walked into their kitchen and said shyly to her: “You have made me very happy. You know you have made me a happy man.”
Roiphe recalls, “There I stood with my white hair and my wrinkles and the face I was born with, although now much creased by time, and I felt beautiful.”
Ordinarily, the new Facebook app that allows you to send one last message after you’ve died would’ve made me sneer. How mawkish – who wants their loved one booming in from beyond the grave as they’re eating muesli? (Or Coco Pops, since my lot will be shot of all the healthy stuff the second I’m out of sight.)
But just as social media has reinvented the way we connect, perhaps it can also help through the process of disconnecting; of saying goodbye when there are things left unsaid.
How poignant the YouTube clip left by Ben Breedlove, the teenager with a heart condition who told of the soft serenity that fell over him on the occasions his heart stopped. “I can’t even describe how peaceful it was,” he says in the video, soothing his loved ones, who found it the day after his death.
Not everyone will have his quiet instincts or the foresight of the late Kristian Anderson, who sent a moving YouTube clip to his wife: “I need you like I need a cure for cancer.”
And not everyone will have the wherewithal to write or record. But just thinking of the message you’d like to leave may prompt you – like Roiphe’s husband – to say it in those precious days before you’re gone.
Angela Mollard is a Sydney-based journalist who has now combined motherhood with writing for magazines both in Australia and the UK. You can follow her on Twitter here.
How much have you thought about your own death? What is the message that you would like to leave?