Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Good Night: Thoughts On My Death

Warning: This article will contain references to death, and my thoughts about my own. If this distresses you, please do not read further.


Last night, I wrote a poem on my mobile phone while lying awake at approximately two in the morning. In this poem, I included a line about thinking of death not doing the trick (of making me fall asleep).

I believe I should explain.

Understand: I was not joking. In fact, I think about death rather a lot, and almost always at night, when I am lying in the dark looking up at the ceiling. This is not something I am frightened by. One thing I can say with total honesty; I am absolutely not afraid to die. Death holds no terrors for me.

Substantially, this is because I have been living for decades on borrowed time. I am now 45 years old. At the age of 17, I attempted suicide thrice in the space of five days, finally putting myself into a three-day-long coma. When I woke from it, I was terribly disappointed to find I’d survived. The conventional tale is that suicide survivors are grateful to have lived through the experience. The conventional tale is a myth.

I invited death though it did not take me. You aren’t, usually, frightened of something you invite of your own free will. I assume that is easy to comprehend.

The only disturbing thing about death, where I’m concerned, is when it takes someone else – someone dear to me, whether human or canine. I am totally undisturbed about my own.

Many years ago, I recall reading a story about a man who’d died, and who found himself as a disembodied spirit, chased through the town by an energy being called the Corpsegrinder. The world of that story had the essence of the dead – “souls” wasn’t a term it used – only being able to stay earth-bound when held down by a physical barrier. Once away from such a barrier, they dissipated into space, essentially merging into the background energy of the Universe.

It wasn’t a bad story by any means; I’ve read far worse.

Though entertaining, that has never been my own idea of death. I have, of course, no religious belief, and no Allah or YHWH or Yama or other godling is waiting to reward me any more than a devil is stewing a pit in the deepest fires of hell just as my eternal punishment. As for the spiritualist lot, I have even greater disdain for them than I have for the religious believers. At least religions tend to have a fixed structure of belief; the spiritualist essentially seems to invent whatever he or she wishes were true and proceeds accordingly, just as though it were proven fact.

Spoiler alert: the universe does not work like that.

My view of death is rather complex and multi-layered, and not necessarily about my depression; but essentially it comes down to this: it’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. You could, maybe, delay it and prolong your life, even quasi-indefinitely, but that’s far from beating it. Even the universe is going to die someday, when the last brown dwarf winks out, leaving a cold, lightless void speckled by the corpses of burnt-out stars.

Death, therefore, is going to happen. Since it’s going to happen, it’s pointless being afraid of it. It’s silly, whatever Dylan Thomas said, to not

...go gentle into that good night
...Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

There’s a simple choice: one can be dragged, unwilling, kicking and screaming, towards one’s last heartbeat, one’s last breath; or one can accept it’s going to happen, and look to it with equanimity.

I go a step beyond equanimity. I think of death as an adventure, the one absolutely inevitable adventure that can happen. You could dream of a trip abroad, fantasise about it for years, and it might or might not come about. You could sigh for a lover, and she will almost certainly never appear in your life. But death? That is, absolutely, totally, certain to happen.

I did not choose to be born, and one of the many, many things I’ve never forgiven my parents for is creating me. I do not remember being born, of course; it’s not something I could enjoy. But, as far as one can do so, I fully intend to enjoy my death.

I realise that this is not what is conventionally considered normal psychology. That’s fine. I never pretended to be normal; no suicide survivor ever is.

Not that I’m necessarily indifferent to the process of dying, you understand. I don’t, for instance, want to burn to death or have my head sawed off by some ISIStani with a blunt knife. But nor do I want to wither away slowly from cancer or something similar. The absolute, total, last thing I want to do is end my life in a hospital bed with people around, waiting and hoping that I’ll either die and set them free from the dread of waiting, or hang on for just one more day. At that stage it’s difficult to tell. No, if I ever fall terminally ill, I’ll know what to do.

The thing is, I will more than likely do it anyway. I am, as I said, living on borrowed time, and what one borrows, one has to return, someday.

But that isn’t what I think about when I lie abed staring up into the darkness, thinking about death. Sometimes, I try to leave my imagination run free about it, and that has given me ideas for more than one story. At other times, I attempt to imagine I’m already dead. It’s an amazingly difficult mental exercise, to imagine yourself literally not being. Despite my best efforts, I have never managed to hold it more than a few seconds at a stretch. At other times, I look forward to it with pleasurable excitement, as one might for a lover who will one day, most certainly, come.

But I’m never frightened. That, as I said, is one thing I’m not.

What do I think about? The most common thing is what it will feel like; the actual moment of dying, when I have, hopefully, enough consciousness remaining to know what’s happening. That is the moment I want to savour, and my only regret is I can’t exactly come back just long enough to write about it. 

Will there be darkness and a tunnel of light? Will there be a sensation of falling, or rising, or something else altogether? Will I just wink out, or will my consciousness linger for a little while? I don't know. I can't answer these questions until the time comes. I’m sure it will be interesting, though.

More interesting than my life, at any rate. I suppose it’s not a secret to those who have been reading me that I’m a loner. More than that, I suddenly had an epiphany last night. I realised that I’ve become a genuine recluse. Not only do I not talk to anyone outside work, I don’t even want to talk to people. If I could put whatever I say to specimens on a recording and play it in the clinic, I would. People have become exhausting, far too much for me to bear. The only thing I really have left is my writing and my art, my cartoons and my reading. That’s all the reason I have to stay alive.

My brain buzzes with thoughts that will not let me rest; my fingers crawl with words that beg to be shed. Unless I can exorcise the first by expressing them in the second, I cannot go on. Sleepless nights are one thing; risking total mental breakdown is another.

So this is what I want to say. As long as I can carry on, as long as I see a point in remaining alive, I’ll continue expressing myself in writing, cartoons, and art. And when I’m gone, at least you can depend on it that I won’t have died unwillingly. There should be no tears shed for me.

I wouldn’t, after all, shed any for myself, unless they might be tears of joy.

[Image Source]


  1. But you will be missed.

  2. Science tells us that we are made up of a bunch of molecules which are groups of atoms with chemical bonds. OK, so I know I am mostly water and carbon with some other elements thrown in. None of which, on their own, have any idea they exist. At least science, if it thinks so, hasn't given any hints in that direction.

    Unless and until someone can use the scientific method to show how molecules, when they reach a certain level of complexity, can suddenly become aware of their own existence, I have to conclude something more is involved then science is capable of explaining.

    This of course has nothing to do with the belief in magic sky fairies, and more to do with the idea that sentience is a separate thing from your physical body.

    Where that gets you, damned if I know, but I have the feeling death is more of a system state change then an end. What comes next, you got me.

  3. I will enjoy your company, such as it is, while you are here. I have very similar religious views and understand this post quite well. I think about death, but not to the extent you have. I have hoped (no basis in fact) that in my last living moment I will experience some understanding that I do not have now. I would prefer not to suffer and may choose not to if and when the time comes, but I do not fear death. At this age it is becoming a regular occurrence among my contemporaries. I miss some of them, but when I'm gone I won't miss anything. It will likely be a relief from the world as it is. As long as I enjoy being alive everything is cool. When the bad days outnumber the good there will be a decision to make. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. I hope.

  4. Bill,

    You need to help get the TRVTH out to a bunch of yahoos who refuse to believe anything that their governments tell them not to believe.

    With me, it started with Vietnam and Seymour Hersh's revelations. And since then, it's gotten worse.

    Do you post on comicskingdom? They only have 11 editorial cartoons, plus Mallard Filmore, but that's more than I have access to on gocomics.

    Life could actually get interesting this election. At least one newspaper is saying Trump and Hillary have about 45% of the vote, and the Libertarian party about 10%. If the 45% is spread evenly, the election could go to the Congress, and they can pick anyone.

    Of course, all newspapers want to say the race is too close to call, so subscribe NOW to keep up with developments. They do NOT want to say, 'It's a done deal, no point checking again.' Especially if it ends up with someone like Truman holding a 'Dewey Wins' newspaper after Truman got elected. (Of course, that MIGHT not be the horrible mistake it's portrayed as; many newspapers printed two front pages at 8 pm the night of an election, then delivered the right one at 6 am the next day when they knew the real answer.)

    Please hang in there.


  5. Bill,
    Very interesting my friend. You think about death more than I do. Like you, I have no fear of death at all. Part of this is due to what I went through in the damn Vietnam war. I lost many really good friends. Some of them I never met until I was in Vietnam, but we were closer than actual biological brothers. War tends to make you very close to your buddies.
    I am not afraid of death, but have no wish to exit this life until it is "my time" to do so. I intend to enjoy as much of my life as possible. Old age is catching me now and health not being the best, even for my age, well, enjoyment isn't as easy as it once was. I have had to limit some really enjoyable activities of late, but maybe when the weather turns cooler this fall……
    Death, for me, is the final, ultimate adventure. I find religious people to be quite silly with their various heavens and/or hells. If there is a hell, I'd sort of like to visit it. Why people have asked me. Well, in my life so many people have told me to go there, I almost feel a sort of obligation to at least check the place out, if it exists that is. Hey, it may be a fun place so, what the heck. The stain version of heaven does not sound like a place I'd be happy at so I'll pass on it. After all, it doesn't really exist any way.
    My personal opinion, nobody knows what "comes next" after we die. I am certain of one thing about any possible "after life"; it will be one huge surprise for us if any such thing exists.
    Our only immortality is in the memories of those who are still alive after we die. Your stories will still be on the net after your life is ended, so in that way, you will live on after death. Your children and grandchildren will remember you, another form of immorality if you will.
    I have no kids and therefore no grandkids, but I do not care if I am remembered by even one person once I'm dead. If I am or not, I'll be dead and be beyond caring about such things any way.
    As fro living on borrowed time, well sir, I have been on borrowed time for decades now. When the bill comes due, I intend to pay it back in full.
    I want to add that I feel I have had a good life so far. I'll even go so far as to say I think the good things I have had outnumber the bad. Can't complain, and even if I did, nobody would care or listen. I lived my life my way and did the best I could and tried to cause as little harm as possible. I have loved and been loved, what more could I even think of asking for? Of course I have made mistakes, I'm only human, but no regrets.
    I have papers drawn up so there will be no religious service of any type, I'd rather those who want to have any service of any sort have a party instead.
    A selfish request to you though. I'd prefer you keep writing your stories and articles until I am dead, I would miss your work very much if you die before I do.
    Thanks for your time reading this reply (and all the other comments I have made to you blog over the years) and for being a friend I'll never meet in person.

  6. I understand completely your desire to control your death. As a nurse, I have seen a lot of people die, and there aren't many good ways to go.
    However, I hope that you realize that, of all the people on this planet, you are among the most valuable, in terms of contributing to light and hope and clarity of thought. I would truly miss you, if your light was turned off.


Full comment moderation is enabled on this site, which means that your comment will only be visible after the blog administrator (in other words, yours truly) approves it. The purpose of this is not to censor dissenting viewpoints; in fact, such viewpoints are welcome, though it may lead to challenges to provide sources and/or acerbic replies (I do not tolerate stupidity).

The purpose of this moderation is to eliminate spam, of which this blog attracts an inordinate amount. Spammers, be warned: it takes me less time to delete your garbage than it takes for you to post it.