Features

Don’t think twice, it’s all right


It's time to start thinking about the end, before it's too late to take control.

My mind is increasingly turning towards my death. I have – of course – no idea when this will be, although the fact that the joint life assurance with my wife expires when we reach the age of 80 suggests that I may wish to commit suicide before that 80th birthday, so long as my wife is still alive – she would be 70 and still in need of money.

Having said that, I obviously need to take steps to ensure it won’t be seen as suicide…just in case the life insurance fine print precludes paying out any cash if I choose to end my life rather than having it ended for me.

And if my wife is no longer alive by the time I reach 80, I see no reason to relinquish this money: our children will no doubt sooner have the cash, rather than a father who probably will be a physical if not mental wreck, dependent to some extent on them for emotional needs, at least. I certainly don’t want to end up in a care home, which at best will drain all our savings into stemming the inevitable, and at worst will just see my arse wiped and some kind of pap inserted into me to fend off starvation.

As for my wishes as to how I am disposed of, that has changed over the years.

Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be buried in a country churchyard, far away from the sound of traffic. Not cremation. Not because I dislike the thought of my body being incinerated – although for me it inevitably has connotations of Nazi extermination camps –  but because the cremation ‘ceremony’ is risible in the extreme, a dull nothing in which a few hackneyed words are mouthed, accompanied by a few useless tears and the dirge of some inappropriate tune.

If there could be some rousing speeches – some shouts against the universe, some howls of outrage against the absurdity of this brief existence – then the whole ghastly process might be worth spending a few quid on. But then, I used to be a romantic, when such possibilities seemed available.

Today, I am a realist. That may be sad, a decline from being willing to fight, to an acceptance of the futility of fighting, but I at least do not feel sad. I merely want to be left alone, to watch, think, observe, chortle and, yes, despair before the end.

This is not melancholy. It’s much bigger than that.

At the end – no protestations to the contrary allowed – one is alone, no matter how close family and friends might be.

At the end – no protestations to the contrary allowed – one is alone, no matter how close family and friends might be. Our final destiny is separate, private, solipsist. As Jeremy Bentham said to his quack on being told that he was dying: “then minimise pain.”

As a romantic I always ‘knew’ that what happens to one’s body is insignificant to oneself. As a realist, I insist that it should not matter to anyone else, either.

The final insistence I can have while I am alive – perhaps the only genuine insistence – is over the disposal of my body when my spirit has gone and I am dead. At the moment there are no forensic body farms in Britain, but if by the time I die they do, then that’s where I would like my body to be placed – in a field somewhere, under a tree, in the open air and uncovered, letting the elements dictate everything about my decay.

Or try to see if some medical researcher somewhere would like to hack away at the layers of fat, gristle, bone and muscle. If we have a garden, place me there in a wicker coffin – or cardboard would do. It’s perfectly legal to bury a person in their own garden, although funeral directors resist that – they don’t make any money out of you. Please don’t waste money on their ‘services’, ornate but essentially tacky coffins and fake mourning decked out with plastic flowers, a stranger mouthing cliches over a corpse. What could be a less dignified way of being seen off for the last time?

Whatever you do – do not waste money on a funeral director, a cremation, a ceremony, an elaborate and utterly pointless ritual that not only lacks meaning, but which lacks decorum, dignity, and devotion. Mourn if you wish; but do it without strangers dictating how it should be done, when it should be done, where it should be done.

Call it cool pragmatism

One cannot die without evoking mixed feelings in the ones left behind, and no doubt you will have your fair share of those about me. But I will be gone; for me, nothing left behind will be worth anything at all, except for our children, and they are priceless, mortal, wonderful, and will, I hope, be the last thing I think of.

So, please do your best to preserve capital; dispose of my body as cheaply and stranger-avoidant as possible; live on in the painful knowledge that all is entropy, all is ultimately insignificant; not least this redundant slab of decaying flesh. The only thing to be treasured is our children.

And just one final point: I write this in full possession of my marbles, without bitterness or regret. Call it cool pragmatism.