Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.
I think – although everything changes in the writing of a novel – but at the moment I think my third novel will be narrated by a beneficent angel because, particularly since my mother died at the beginning of 2011, I’ve been thinking about how little we talk about death or prepare ourselves for it. My novel will try to answer the question: how is it possible to have a good death?
Dr Kate Granger, a doctor and terminally ill cancer patient who muses about life and death has written openly, honestly and courageously about what a good death means (I heard her recently in a Radio 4 programme called How to Have a Good Death) and I urge you to listen to / read her words.
My idea for the novel – which is called For the Love of Life – is that the presence of an angel will make sure that the character whose death he is lives the most keenly experienced life she possibly can. And the angel will discover, through his growing love of life – and his love for her in particular – what it is to live like that. I want to write a novel that urges us to celebrate life because we remember death. There are other novels narrated by death, or which feature death as a major character: they include The Book Thief (Markus Zusak, Black Swan, 2007) and Tea Obreht’s Orange-prize-winning The Tiger’s Wife (Phoenix, 2011) and as Jon Underwood, who runs the Death Cafe website (Death Cafes are places where people gather to talk about death: their own or that of a loved one), said on Radio 4’s Saturday Live on 11 May:
Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant. Talking about death won’t make you die.
Our dying is as unique as our living has been.
It seems to me that if we honestly accept that we will die (that it’s not something that happens to everyone else except us) we will live a more fulfilled, joyous, painful, sad, glorious, furious, loving and examined life than ever we will if we think this unique life of ours will never end. I’ll do my best to show that this is so.
It’s in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, and Charles Jencks’s wife Maggie Keswick Jencks, who created the blueprint for cancer care centres that recognise how design can help recovery (they became the Maggie Centres) said:
Above all, what matters is not to lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.