When your left arm starts to throb

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. 

Well, ‘lately’. Since September 2018, when that skinny fucker with the scythe and cowl moved in next door, and proceeded to drill holes in the wall every few weeks in the form of some new and brilliant medical complaint. This month’s worsening cough and lump in my neck are presumably my neighbour’s version of a Ring security system pointed at my front door so he can make sure I don’t order too much from the pharmacy.

Being ill in some way nearly all the time, after 41 years of little more than the odd tree climbing injury, makes me see death – where it is, and where it conspicuously isn’t. Which is almost everywhere because wow do we do some job of avoiding it. 

And by we I mean you. You’re never going to die, are you?

Given it has a 100% chance of happening to everybody everywhere, just hopefully not all at once, it’s amazing how many people flatly refuse to contemplate death. Our brains prolapse if we think about our own end, despite our staggering consumption of detective shows strewn with cadavers, books treating serial killers like antiheroes and true crime podcasts proving murder can be a proper money-spinner. We will actually pay to experience the death of other people because surely as the star of our show we’re exempt.

We somehow carry on beyond death every time. Freud said: “We cannot, indeed, imagine our own death; whenever we try to do so we find that we survive ourselves as spectators.” You’re now picturing yourself as a corpse on a bed. So you’re coming back as a ghost, is it?

And the last thing we’ll do is talk about it. Death by whatever means – sickness, old age, suicide or Frisbee up a pylon – try to have a conversation about it and almost nobody you know will engage. Those who will are seen as morbid, sick in the head, as though talking about death might somehow make it inevitable. Top tip folks, even monks on a vow of silence don’t bounce when a bunion tips them off a mountain.

While we’re on monks, as we often are, of course we must address those of us who consider death a mere staging post because they believe in something beyond. Those people are deluded and none of them are reading this, so there, that’s them addressed. Oh wait, you do believe? So you’re coming back as a ghost, is it?

In some specific ways you can’t avoid death, predictably at that sweet spot where mortality meets capitalism. There’s a Sun Life ad for life insurance doing the rounds, where some old geezer says it’s a real weight off his mind that he won’t have to worry about finding a large sum of money to pay for his funeral. He won’t have to worry when he’s dead. If ears could do double takes. Do you know who’s paying for my funeral? Absolutely anybody else but me because I’ll be skint in the most complete and terminal way there is. Worry, I will not.

The way capitalism tries to cling on to your bloating corpse is honestly impressive. Another ad, Barclays this time, explains that some policy or account of theirs can offer you protection in case “you die or become bankrupt”. A classic pairing, up there with beer and scratchings. Thing is though, if I become bankrupt, I’ve a feeling Barclays might tell me to fuck off. And if I die, I’d love to be able to return the favour, but the small print says I can’t say a word for the rest of time so oh look Barclays wins either way.

Most crucial for the post-death market, we all must make a will. We must make sure our coins and trinkets are distributed justly among those left behind, because otherwise…what? It’s important what happens to our stuff, because why else have we spent our entire lives amassing it? Never admit all that shite in cupboards and drawers is ultimately pointless, never, for who are we if not our fridge magnets?

Ah but what about the mess left behind without a will? Tina and Dina pulling each other’s hair over the spoils of your jewelry case, Uncle John won’t talk to his brother over that three grand you promised him pissed up at Colin’s wedding, yeah but Granny would have wanted me to have that antique armoire no I haven’t had it valued yet how dare you. 

Two points here. You won’t be able to experience any of these family barneys, and that it’s all your fault will disturb your eternal slumber like an ant tickling an asteroid. And if the people you leave behind are the type to bicker over crap they can’t take with them either, well, maybe…fuck ’em?

But aside from the business of death, what of death itself? Why does it scare people so much? I reckon the fear of death is a fairly recent invention – we’re healthier, we live longer, so death seems more remote and alien than when your teeth fell out at 25 and anyone with grandchildren got drowned as a witch.

And thanks to social media we all think we’re so special now. We used to take photos but now we take selfies, and still nobody wants to see your tedious holiday reel. How can the universe possibly go on without me, says every fucking 20 year old now. If only we’d fucked the planet so hard they’ll all be on fire in a decade or so, hehehe.

I have two favourite death quotes. One is “I told you I was ill”. Look it up. The other is from Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Tell me there’s not an undisputable logic to that. Think, in your soul, and of your soul.  Where were you, before you were here? It’s where you’ll be again, and that’s just fine.

I do not fear death. I have lived well. I’ve done so much, been far and wide, loved, hated, felt everything there is to feel. My regrets are that I didn’t do more, but how many medals can a man realistically win? Even Bolt’s knees packed up eventually. Even Pele scored his last goal, not that he knew it. One day, that will be your last ever wank. No, you can’t have a medal, you filthy beast.

The single, immutable fact of life is that not even Dick Van Dyke is immortal. Think about death, talk about it, make peace with it, that’s my advice. Thinking you’re the one person in all eternity who’ll escape the chop will only make it all the more confusing when your left arm starts to throb. 

And yes, she’ll find your porn collection, but not even she can shout through six feet of mud.

One thought on “When your left arm starts to throb

  1. I know how you feel mate, I really do. As you well know I too am old and falling apart; my rusted auld wheels are wobbling crazily on a splintered and rotten axis- and this was the actual diagnosis given to me, but, then again, what the fuck would Halfords know about healthcare?
    I was speaking with my brother the other week and he said that, health wise, once you hit 50 (you think) everything is cancer. I agreed, I used to be bulletproof,waltzing through life caring not a jot about the Big C, but lately every ache and pain is probably undiagnosed stage 4. For example, I woke recently with a pain in my neck which hung about for about a week. The old (young) me would not have given my obvious bed related neck strain a second thought, the more recent (old) me had me with spine cancer on top of all my many other mibee phantom ailments. And that’s my problem, these days, I seem to be fixating a wee bit too much not so much on my death, or the not being here, but the problematic and probably pretty traumatising dying stage. I’m fearing my inevitable dying, and not so much my inevitable death. And, I am realising, I’m spending too much time and most stray thoughts, on worry.
    So, how did you spend your last 10 years before you died? Me, I’ve been spending them worrying, irrationally, about me dying.

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