As some of you know, I am deeply interested in death and dying.
A few weeks ago I released the beginning of a film collaboration with my friend Andrew Hassenruck. Its intent is to keep some kind of record as I explore the possibility and option of taking my life.
When I say released, I don’t mean in a major way. I’m not a media star, and neither is my little film trending. Nevertheless, I have come out into the public domain with my enquiry. Everyone to whom I matter has seen it. Many people I don’t personally know, some who kindly follow my blog, friends of friends, friends of strangers, have seen it too.
Over the last decade, I have chosen to write from an undefended place. It serves me well as a connective measure, and if on occasion it can serve someone else, well, that is a cherry on the cake.
Although I’ve become comfortable with the process of working like this, putting this piece out there – still put my heart in my mouth. My close friends were already in the loop. I had had fulsome conversations (you know who you are) and felt into what it would mean, and what it would ask of me, to go public.
It’s an emotive and taboo terrain. It’s an unusual proposal. It’s likely I’ll trigger some people to anger, fear, judgment, or argument. Most difficult of all is when others want to fix me. I get the good heart of it, but that triggers me.
Don’t get me wrong, if I were offered private health care that would take me out of the six months between appointments and praying to get to talk to the same surgeon as last time, groove, I’d say an unreserved, yes, please and thank you. They are the facts of the matter, alongside the time it takes to journey through the necessary hoops. I’d prefer a shorter route to finding out if the surgery to fuse two discs in my spine, either alleviated pain enough to make a difference to my quality of life, didn’t work at all, or indeed made it worse. These are the possible outcomes.
It’s the intense level of generous but onerous offers to fix that sees me off. The endless treatments and practitioners that have worked miracles for someone else. I want to say: don’t you think I’ve tried a lot of different remedies over many years? Don’t you reckon I might have some people in place? Don’t you realize that my disposable income is very small and may well be allocated already? My low tolerance for such efforts may not be fair, or very graceful, but I also want to say: what if you don’t have to offer me anything, and neither one of us needs fixing? My point being that these old narratives make distance happen, and I’d rather hang out in the fields of helpless humanity, where tears and laughter are buddies, and it is as it is.
Death compels me, and always has done, though this last decade of my little life has been the kindest. Kindness found me when I gave up looking for redemption. It was always there. Do I regret how long I didn’t know that for? Yes, I do.
I wonder about the duet of my depression and physical pain. If I were of a lighter disposition, would it seem such a viable option to choose death in the face of increasing disability and pain? The truth is I don’t have and won’t find a categorical answer to such wondering. A simple thread of truth is this: if there isn’t a way to reduce the degree of pain in my back, hips and groin, the pain that is my constant companion, I don’t want to stay in the world. It’s survival. It’s both too much and not enough.
My specialist subjects of death and enduring depression are not always easy to speak about. I feel deep in my blood and bones that doesn’t serve us, and that the unspeakable needs a voice. Many voices. Being a tiny thread in that conversation matters to me. What if depression responds better to being welcomed than banished? What if suicide is not by definition a tragedy? (Though of course it often is) What if choosing to die, is for some of us, the optimum option? What if death itself is not a tragedy, but could be more of a sweet human event to be thought, talked about and walked towards, differently? What if the mirror twins of entering embodied life with the first breath, and slipping out on the last, were equally blessed? What if more of us could turn our faces into dying with awareness and kindness?
I know, that’s a lot of what ifs.
Here’s a thing, I feel a least some gratitude to this opportunity for sincere enquiry. I enjoy, yes enjoy, thinking it through, imagining and creating details. I can feel my integrity and my love of beauty, ritual and intimate communication in the harness. I would put my heart and soul into giving it my best, passionate effort. That must mean at least some part of me, however small, would be disappointed if the surgery is effective and I get to stay in my little life for a while longer.
In the few weeks since setting my film loose, I have received so much kindness and understanding. I am truly humbled by some Herculean stretching to empathy instead of opposition. Gratitude especially to my brother Paul, sister in law, Maureen and precious niece, Genna.
In April 2014, I started sending Postcards from the Window Ledge. My first blog post ends with these words.
Somewhere between a daughter being born and a sister dying,
I have found that I can love life and long for death at the same time.
That both are true, and I am as full of tenderness as of despair.
As Leonard Cohen says in the lyrics of Famous Blue Raincoat: I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. For me, the taking of a few notes along the road never fails to crack my heart open. With my heart open I always remember we are in it together. All our little lives rolling on and running out, in a ravaged and beautiful world, that in my humble opinion – is also dying.