Category: dying


Dad

My Dad : 20/4/26 – 16/9/86

There’s something sobering about reaching the same age that my Dad was when he died.
He passed aged 60 in 1986 of stomach cancer after being diagnosed just 6 months earlier. Prior to that I never recall him being sick. Being in good health and then being gone is one of the scariest things. More so than those who die after what the newspapers euphemistically call “a long illness”.
I suppose, on balance, it’s better to go quickly than becoming a burden to your loved ones. Dad would have hated that.
I’ve recently found that I suffer from high blood pressure despite my virtual straight-edge lifestyle and relatively stress-free work. This has caused me to find articles about ‘the silent killer’ of a heart condition you don’t know you have until it’s too late.
I don’t smoke, drink in moderation, exercise like a demon and eat what I like to think is a healthy plant-based diet. Maybe I drink too much coffee so I’ve now virtually cut that out too.
I have begun to envy those who don’t seem health conscious in the slightest yet don’t seem any the worse for it.
Most books on ageing and dying refer to the consolation of faith at some point but I don’t believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation so these are useless to me.
The way I feel is that my heart or some other vital organ will give out sooner or later. “Most things may never happen:this one will”, wrote Philip Larkin in Audabe so when I wake in a cold sweat I can’t console myself that I’m worrying about nothing. It’s the very nothingness that is most chilling.
My Dad suffered briefly and then was gone. As a dodo or a doornail.
For now I put morbid fears to one side and keep on training and jogging. I know full well that however fast or far I run the grim reaper will catch me one day but I don’t intend to make it easy for him.

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AMORTALITY by Catherine Mayer (Vermilion, 2011)
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“What a drag it is getting old”.

Mick Jagger wrote these words when he was still in his early 20s. It’s a line from ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, the first track on The Rolling Stones’ 1966 album Aftermath.

Far from being the usual affirmation of the ‘sex,drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ lifestyle, this atypical Stones song addresses the plight of stressed housewives who turn to prescribed drugs to calm their nerves. Jagger adopts a mockney accent in an attempt to convince us of his sincerity but it all sounds very mannered and false.

If Jagger still finds aging a drag he hides it fairly well. Now in his mid-70s he’s still performing concerts and impregnating young women with abandon. He is living proof of what Catherine Mayer calls ‘amortals’; those who refuse to ‘act their age’ and live as if it were impossible to die.

With improved healthcare, it’s not just the  wealthy who are living longer with plenty of energy left to burn. Mayer observes that “there is no such thing as age appropriate behavior anymore” and refers to the growth of this ageless living as a “grey tsunami”. Fast approaching 60 and having run my first full marathon last year, I feel that I’m an active member of this tidal wave of ‘amortals’ but found the book disappointing.

It was conceived as “a guide to an uncharted phenomenon” and in the opening chapters the author is at pains to reassure us that it is not intended as a polemic. However, by the end, she gives up any pretense of objectivity when she challenges institutionalized ageism, stating : “I hope readers will take from this book inspiration to push for change, on a personal level and as consumers and voters”. So much for not being polemical! Continue reading

 

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramović (2016)

marinaI suspect most will, like me, come to this illuminating book through the publicity surrounding Marina Abramović’s recent works of performance art like The Artist Is Present at MoMa New York (March 14 – May 31, 2010) and ‘512 Days’ at Serpentine Gallery, London in 2014 or through the numerous fascinating video interviews and talks to be found on You Tube.

These show her to be powerful woman who is both strikingly beautiful and rivetingly charismatic. It becomes clear after seeing and hearing her how she can so fully captivate audiences and inspire adulation. Through the force of her personality and strong physical presence she comes over like a cross like a dominatrix or femme fatale yet also exudes warmth, humor and compassion.

The memoir – ghostwritten by James Kaplan based on extensive interviews – reveals her as an all or nothing character for whom nothing short of total committment is good enough. Continue reading

Nico: a faded femme fatale

NICO, 1988 directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli (Italy/Belgium, 2017)

Nico-1988By common consensus, the career high of Nico (Christa Päffgen b. 16th October 1938 d. 18th July 1988) came in the late 1960s as a Warhol superstar in Chelsea Girls and as the singer of three songs on the The Velvet Underground’s groundbreaking debut album.

While a conventional biopic would have centred on this heady, decadent period, Susanna Nicchiarelli chooses instead to focus on the last three years of Nico’s life. At this point, the artist’s striking looks had declined to the point that she openly conceded that she’d become “a fat junky”.

As the film shows, Nico never stopped being feisty and firey but makes no bones about the fact that the looks which brought her fame had suffered through a life of excess. She is no longer the stunning blonde model whose long list of lovers included cult celebrities like Alain Delon, Brian Jones, John Cale and Jim Morrison. Continue reading

HOMO DEUS by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage Books, 2017)
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Subtitled ‘a brief history of tomorrow’, Harari’s sobering study of where humankind is heading envisages a future in which secular sapiens are increasingly marginalised by the by now unstoppable march of technological innovation.

It is a quirk of human nature that we all like to think of ourselves as individuals. In reading this book you’ll quickly realise that we’re not as unique and irreplaceable as we’d like to imagine.

Although each of us has a unique DNA, the evidence of our online activity proves that our goals, desires and actions follow relatively rigid and wholly predictable patterns . Continue reading

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