Because I’m around death so much of the time my own death is never far from my thoughts. Maybe it is a little self-absorbed and possibly narcissistic but that isn’t my intention, I’m not thinking about how terrible it will be for the world when I am gone but rather I consider my death in its wider sense, in whether or not it is the end, about it being the driving force in much of what we do in life, I think about the philosophy of life and death and belief in an afterlife and I think about death in the “what’s it all about Alfie?” kind of way.
I am not the only person who thinks about death, not now and not ever, loads of us are at it, wandering round graveyards, listening to dark songs and looking at memento mori and doing Thanatology – yep there is indeed a science of studying all aspects of death which means it is not weird, it is an actual thing. There are aspects of the world that seek to prepare us for death or at the very least to reflect on it. Religion is perhaps the most obvious one but art in all its forms is a prompt too and so death is an aspect of much of the music I listen to and the art I look at and the poems and literature I read. I was looking at a copy of Gustav Klimt’s “death and life” , admiring the separation between death and life he depicts and I had recently read about how art work in medieval churches was designed to encourage or perhaps force people to reflect on their life and to prepare for death and what follows, thinking about that, looking at Klimt’s work and thinking about something I had heard the art historian and Nun Sister Wendy Beckett say about art and its role in preparing us for death, I had a head filled with death, death all the way. I wondered whether or not art depicting death could help to prepare me for my death and whilst thinking about that I realised, it won’t be me who dies. This me, here now, typing this isn’t the one who will die. This person here now can contemplate and reflect and mull it all over but this person cant rehearse for the death of the future me no matter how many Smith’s songs I listen to or paintings with skulls I look at.
My thinking about my own death now is a kind of game, like acting, I can think and write and perhaps cry but I’m still alive at the end of it and can have a cup of tea and a custard cream and think about something else after pondering death.
I cant really prepare for my death because I don’t truly know the woman who will die, it is not the me here now, I hope she will be many years older than me, I hope she will have more laughter lines around her eyes, I hope she will have been a happy wife and perhaps a grandmother and will have managed to give up eating dairy and will have built on the life this “now me” has had. I can think about how this “now me” would like to believe she would react if she were dying but its nonsense, this “now me” is playing at thinking about dying, not in a trivial way but in a way removed from full reality. “Now me” wont be there, “future me” will be. The essence of “now me” will be there, I may look similar, sound similar and act in similar ways but I wont be this me, thinking about my death now is no different than when I was a child and I used to think about what I would be like when I grew up. I didn’t succeed at guessing then, my predictions then were far removed from the reality and in thinking about my death and how I will deal with it I expect not to be able to guess now about what will happen then.
When the future me, the slowed down, older, more fleshy and wrinkled me is dying she will look back at this me and think how ridiculous to have pondered the unimaginable, to have thought about it and tried to plan and prepare and not be afraid and to face it. I expect she will understand why I thought about it and why I considered it and the role it played in my drive to comprehend myself and the world around me and the people I interact with and she will probably think kindly of me for having done this.
*Image of the Miles Moulson monument at Undercliffe Cemetery Bradford