End in Sight

Must go, emailed a friend, running to a funeral …

I can identify with that.   Sometimes, that’s just how it feels.


When I mentioned my will for the fourth time, my son asked if I were concealing some terrible illness from him and I had to confess that, no, I just loathe the disorder people leave behind them because they can’t face the inevitable.

One of America’s best sayings is”Three sure things in life: birth, death and taxes.”


Making the arrangements isn’t so bad.  It’s the updating.

Objects you bought for little turn out to have appreciated in value because nobody makes them any more.   It’s a rewrite.

You make a list of specific bequests – people move abroad, you fall out, they jump the queue – and you have to write the list again.

Or you thought you could ask x or y to be executor.  Then he or she is borne down by a parent’s decline, or a late and all-consuming love affair.

Blast it, your best intentions of dying neatly are frustrated by the business of living.


I have to thank my father, a major emotional mentor, for my special relationship with death.  He was fey and he taught me from the beginning that death was just the other side of the coin: you had life, therefore, life ended.   “Death is a curtain” he said.  “Some people get to draw it aside.”

This was absorbed before |I was old enough to notice that my parents were quite a lot older than the parents of my contemporaries.   My mother was 44 when I was born, my father 48.   The endless lists of the Great War’s missing and dead in black bordered newspapers haunted my mother all her life.   My father volunteered 3 weeks before his 18th birthday and spent the war’s duration in Mesopotamia and on the North West Frontier (now respectively Iraq and Afghanistan).  The catastrophic European losses meant that his war was forgotten.  Now 100 years later, we notice the territory and occasionally I ask my pa “Can you hear, darling ?  They’ve got it now …”


I know people who can’t do death.  They can’t do dying either which is much harder work.  Dying and living get all mixed up and require another kind of courage.   The form of death has altered as medicine changed in research and practice.  You’d think spiritual beliefs would influence the acceptance of death but I have lost count of the number of card-carrying believers who can’t hack the notion of an end.  It always surprises me.  If you believe in the Resurrection and the :Life, how do you suppose you are going to get there except through an end ?


Of course, form helps.  The Jews sit Shiva, seven (that’s what it means) days of mourning, providing comfort, prayer, food and remembrance.  Imaginative people may make up their own rituals but are dependent on communication for making it happen, as in “Shall we get everyone over for a meal and toast George ?”

“Oh yes, lots of candles and his favourite music …”


Recently I heard the popular writer Martina Cole remark about the value of a wake but you don’t have to be Celt or Roman Catholic to understand that if a ritual marks the passing, coming to terms with it often takes longer than you expect.   And death is not cast in tablets of stone, it is cast in stories, funny and sad, horrible and wonderful, often introducing another side of someone you thought you knew.


The illusion that we all want to live “for ever” is some kind of perverse inheritance from fairy stories and presumes that ageing goes into neutral at about 60.   I wish.

Only the undead live forever and few vampires are as attractive as Robert Parris.


I long for what is called “a good death” of which rock ‘n roll says “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”  Too late.

I am not young, I have lived temperately  and how you look when you’re dead is how you look.

So I hope to die swiftly, with little pain, when I am not so very old.


Am I afraid of death ?

I don’t think so but it is a mystery.   Or maybe death isn’t but life is, so the ending of life is mysterious too.

God (prayer not exclamation) let me have my memory.  It will carry me where I must go.



3 responses to “End in Sight

  1. Sorry, this is nothing to do with this article, but it was the only way I could see of contacting.

    MANY YEARS AGO, on Word of Mouth on BBC R4, you quoted a poem which my female friends refer to as ‘the Gyny poem’ … which I believe has a final line something like, “such a short and ugly word”.

    I’ve been trying for years to find out who wrote it and what it is called, I even once got very strange looks going into the Poetry Room on the South Bank (where they are supposed to be able to find any poems) and attempting to explain the content of the poem …. I think I was lucky to get out alive!

    I would so much like to know who wrote it, I read and enjoyed many of these articles and the artwork,

    many thanks, by all means remove this comment as it has nothing to do with your article,


    • the poem is untitled as far as I know
      Attributed to AP Herbert (1890-1971

      • Paul Hatton

        Many thanks, after much google-ing I was able to find it at http://www.emule.com/2poetry/phorum/read.php?7,207865, it doesn’t appear to have a title, but starts “The portions of a woman that appeals to Man’s depravity”.
        However the poem is much less clever than I remembered it as being, I remembered it as using extremely complex anatomical terms,which it doesn’t.
        You must have read it awfully well all those years ago!

Annalog is all about discussion, so feel free to leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.