Tag Archives: Death

Downstream – Anzac Day, 1995

You are stuck there in my pastlike a fly in amber:

The world changed when you left it seven years ago;
and with every day that passes
you are one day farther away from
the reaching fingertips of my remembering mind.

Like a train departing the station
or a river tumbling inevitably down hill,
I am leaving you behind
held fast by a point in time.

All I have to do is lead my life:
I work,
I eat,
I sleep;
and with every task,
with every mouthful,
with every dream
you are farther away from me.

And still I change.

I am no longer the person
who sat beside you as you died,
as you slipped gently into my past,
while I held your hand in mine
and wept
for a time.

9th March 2003

In the midst of life we are in death

We were called into a meeting room the other day – the whole team – at no notice. Solemn faces all round and the manager saying “there’s no easy way to say this, but for those of you who knew him….”

One of the young men had been found dead at the foot of his staircase the day before. He’d not turned up for work on Monday, HR had called his father, and it was his father who found him. He was 29.

I’d only exchanged a few words with him – he seemed like a nice lad and he was well-liked by those who worked with him.

What I found disturbing was the need for friends and colleagues to speculate: it seems his relationship had ended recently and there has been a lot of speculation that he committed suicide.

We all need an explanation, a justification, for young death. We look for an answer to the question “why?” We live in a state of secular denial, and so that answer has to be physical or psychological.

However, I’m shocked by how many people cannot accept the idea of an accident or natural causes. My family background, which includes medics and clergymen, means I know that there is no special age before which people do not die.

Shit does happen. Ulcers and appendixes burst. So do blood vessels in the head. People slip on stair-cases, fall through windows, electrocute themselves, choke on food, knock themselves out in the shower and drown.

This lack of acceptance of the brutal unfairness of fate is behind the desperate need of the Diana conspiracy theorists to believe that her mortality was a human betrayal, not a slip of the steering wheel. The idea that the universe could be that random, unfair and cruel is frightening. It could be you.

It is difficult to know what to hope for – to hope that he died of an accident is to hope that his life was stolen from him. To hope that he died of his own volition is to hope that he was so lost, lonely and desperate that he could not see how much the future can hold when you are 29.

Either way, my heart went out to his father, and I am glad that the person who has my spare key is not a member of my family.

Managing Cancer


I have two dear friends both of whom had operations last summer for cancer.

U had breast cancer. She chose to have a lumpectomy and to manage her post-operative care using homoeopathy. She’s a homoeopath herself but she is at least getting someone else to prescribe. S had ovarian cancer, probably a result of her genetic inheritance. She had an operation to remove the cancerous ovary, a course of chemo, a full hysterectomy, and she is about to start a second course of chemo.

I admire U’s integrity, though her personality is such that the decision to reject chemotherapy was barely a decision at all. She believes chemotherapy to be poison, western treatments for cancer to be based on false premises, and western medicine to be based on a faulty model. She could no more have accepted chemo than I could drink sulphuric acid. At the moment the decision looks good – she’s fit, she’s healthy, she’s working, she’s in a good relationship, the future’s exciting, she has the health and the energy to live life to the full.

I admire S’s fortitude. The chemo has made her very sick, she’s been unable to work during it, family members are struggling with the pressures of her illness, she’s dealing with it all because she has no choice. She’s also aware that you tend to catch her brand of ovarian cancer very late, and that even the hysterectomy didn’t manage to cut it all out.

So here we have U – apparently healthy but I fear that the tall hooded chap will tap her on the shoulder with a bony finger sooner than she expects, and S, who knows that the rattling noise behind her is the sound of his feet on the path.

I don’t know which of them is wiser. Such important decisions – how to live your life, how to face up to death – I worry that U will regret her integrity, and I worry that S will regret choosing weapons which make her so ill to fight the disease which is killing her.