What is it about November that always makes me think of death?
It comes in on the ghoulish, cold breath of Halloween, with La Toussaint – All Saints’ Day – and la Fête des Morts. On November 11th, we honour the soldiers who lost their lives defending our freedom. We set the clocks back and suddenly the light that lingered in our afternoons disappears, just as the rain sets in with the cold and damp.
Perhaps it’s only normal and right that in the final throes of autumn, as winter creeps in, we think about our own mortality.
The problem is that death – la mort – is the ultimate taboo. People in our society will talk about politics, sex, religion, money – anything at all with greater ease than they do this ultimate and inevitable stage of life.
We fear it. We deny it. We live our lives pretending that it will never happen. And then one day there it is: the end of the story. And we weep. We feel sadness for the loss of a loved one, for our own impending death. We grieve and remember and then, we forget about it all over again.
We’ve all lost loved ones, some very close and all too recently. It’s normal to grieve. I still miss my mother, whose death came all too early, and my Belle-Mère, whose recent absence is deeply felt in our family.
In France this is not something that we talk about any more than it is in Canada or any other country in the west. Death is something tragic, a horrible fate that befalls us all too soon. It is best forgotten until it must be dealt with.
And yet, death is as natural as birth. Why can’t we embrace the end of life with the same courage and honesty as we do its beginning? Why do all the obituaries say that people pass ‘peacefully’? I don’t know when or where or how I’ll go but it’s unlikely to be without a bitter struggle, an argument or a complaint.
If the laws stay the way they are now, let’s be honest, it’s not likely to be a happy ending. Why can’t we choose our death, and die with dignity and love and perhaps a modicum of comfort and the human joy we had in life?
There is a lot of work to be done to change this state of affairs. The Swiss are way ahead of us with the association ‘Dignitas’ that enables a dignified end of life and doctor-assisted suicide. Terry Pratchett also has a few good thoughts on this.
I don’t want a funeral, (unless perhaps a ‘fun’-eral as Nana, in the unforgettable Royles, asked for). I don’t want to be buried but cremated, my ashes sprinkled somewhere in a place I loved. The spreading of ashes being illegal in France, if it happens here I’ll go out in law-breaking style.
And by the way, Royle family creator and comic genius Caroline Aherne’s death a few months ago left me gutted.
Do you think about death? What are your wishes?