How to Die in the 21st Century… or, The Rise of the Smug Death.

It seems at the moment that every time I reach for the newspaper, I read of another person who is about to kick the bucket, and another person who has written a list of things they wish to do before their inevitable shuffle off this mortal coil. A cynic might say that they seem to be in the paper because this allows various companies and/or rich business people/celebrities to fund their Bucket List of things to do, most of which appear to include splashing about with a few dolphins, tootling off to whizz around the Grand Canyon by helicopter, and enjoying a round or two of crustless sarnies at Buckingham Palace. For those individuals fortunate enough not to be dying in the short-term – or at least those who unaware that they are about to – well, they’ll have to fund their own wish list. Manage to get a bit of a time-scale though, and top it off with some news coverage, and you’re sorted: friends, family and charitable strangers will club together to foot the bill for you.

I admit that this is a little glib of me, but I do stand by my original assertion that everywhere I look there is another terminally ill individual and another Bucket List. Just today I was reading an article about Kate Granger, the 31 year old doctor who is dying of a rare form of cancer. Ms Granger has decided to tweet from her death bed, to her 6000+ followers, and if she is too ill to tweet, she will dictate said tweets to her husband, using the hashtag #deathbedlive. She has written 70 birthday cards to her husband so that he has one to open each year after her passing (I’m sure any new partners will enjoy popping that on the mantel) and she has achieved various feats from her Bucket List, such as appearing as an extra on Coronation Street.

I quite agree with living life to the full – tricky of course, because life itself rather gets in the way – and if one were to live each day as though it were one’s last, then we’d probably all be shit-faced in the Maldives, fat as hell, grabbing the nearest dolphin and telling anyone who irritated us what we really thought of them… for possibly another 60+ years… thereby actually resulting in a generation of obese, drunken, skint, rude bastards, pulverising each other’s sunburnt faces whilst muttering that we never had managed that cucumber sandwich at Buckingham Palace.

It was whilst reading about Kate Granger, who, for the record, sounds like a very lovely person, that I was also hit by the realisation that suddenly we are all supposed to be cool about dying. There is a continual barrage via the media of people who are ‘bravely facing up to their mortality’, giving their tumours nicknames like ‘Lumpy’, cracking jokes with their jolly consultants and radiologists, and writing blogs about their musings on life, death… and – it goes without saying – the obligatory wish lists. And this is all very well and good, but when did it become the norm to begin promoting a vision of how we should cope with dying? As parents we are already given so-called ‘ideals’ to live up to, from ways in which to discipline our off-spring, to ways in which to wean them, and when to do so (JUST GIVE THEM A BANANA WHEN MILK NO LONGER SEEMS TO CUT IT FFS!). We are under pressure in the workplace, we are under pressure to eat an unprocessed, uncooked, raw Gwyneth Paltrow-esque diet, and now it seems that we are even under pressure to die ‘properly’. What happened to feeling a bit sorry for yourself? What happened to falling to your knees and screaming “Why the f*cking f*ck is it me, why why whyyyeeeeee?” repeatedly, whilst spitting on all your healthy mates and downing vodka like there’s no tomorrow (or less of them at any rate)?

Apparently, instead, it is far more de rigueur to start a blog, tweet some morbid incantations, declare yourself to be dying in a thoroughly modern manner, and scribe a list of things you’d like to do (but can’t afford) in the hope that Richard Branson will pay for you to visit the Empire State Building – which will in turn provide some decent pics for when you put together the powerpoint slideshow of photos for your funeral. Being hardcore about death, or at least too cool for the morgue with your black humour, has become as socially up there (or ‘bang on trend’ as Grazia likes to say), as cupcakes and the self-declared hipsters who call themselves ‘artists’ just because they make toys from old socks and open up a Facebook page selling them.

On a serious note, I can absolutely understand the shake-up to one’s sense of mortality that a close shave with death brings, having experienced my dad dying young and my husband nearly dying last year – and I can understand the cathartic process of writing, as I did when he was ill. I can only therefore imagine (unwillingly, because as it happens I’m happy to admit it scares me silly) the affect of knowing your death awaits you in a limited time-span, but simultaneously I think it’s a shame that we don’t live our days trying to do so without regret. Because is that not what a Bucket List is really about? I’ve written this blog in a light-hearted way, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to the people I’ve been writing about. Each to their own: who am I to suggest how anyone should deal with anything? I have no idea how I would react in that position, and frankly, I don’t want to know either.

It is only a shame that more Bucket Lists (or any that I’ve read at least) do not include such simple wishes as smelling cut grass under a blue sky; listening to your grandparents’ stories of the war; being kinder to strangers; feeling – really feeling – the wind lift the hair on the nape of your neck; and watching the wonder of small children as they experience all that is new around them.

As for me, I have always rather loved Heidegger, and his concept of ‘nothingness’ – the idea that sometimes, occasionally, not often enough, we are brought to the rather awesome realisation that there could all too easily be nothing. And the subsequent realisation that, for the time during which we are alive, we do indeed have everything. Treasure it. And this, I believe, is what the death tweeters are trying to say. They are trying to impart to us the wonder of everything, in the face of the all-too-soon nothingness that awaits us. Grab your everything; you’ll never have another.

“Dying young and I’m playing hard, that’s the way my father made his life an art.”

Ride, Lana Del Ray

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