May 11th, 2012

Dr Johnson Was Wrong

It happens with some people who have lived a long time that they just stop bothering. My granny Vi, for instance- a lively, worldly, fun-loving woman who- at around 75- plonked herself down in her armchair, with her ciggies, her gin and her Daily Express, and slowly, very slowly, faded away. We- her family- thought it was a pity. She wasn't ill or in pain, just tired. Just bored. Towards the end she turned bitter- and the unending sarcastic badinage she and my grandfather kept up made them difficult to be around.  

She has become my model of how not to do it. By "it" I mean dying. I wish she'd tried a little harder. Some people do. My other grandmother kept going- and interacting and being there for others- until she was all but transparent with old age. Then she dropped. But perhaps Granny Vi couldn't help herself. This is what worries me most: that death will take me by the scruff and hurry me along and I'll lose control of all my hard-won philosophy and go out in some abject fashion, whining and complaining and being a nuisance. That's what Dr Johnson was worried about too when he said, "It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives". He was getting his excuses in early. But that separation of death and life is a verbal quibble. Next door to a falsehood. Dying isn't something apart from life; it's a part of life, the last bit of living that we do. You can't section it off and pretend it doesn't matter. Living and dying are part of a continuum and- unless you die suddenly and unexpectedly- it's impossible to say where one ends and the other begins.  Our manner of dying will be the latest and most vivid memory we leave to our posterity. It matters enormously. 

Life is precious. We mustn't give up on it prematurely. We need to make the most of every last crumb.