Death is not something most of us want to talk about. For many it is a five-letter swear word that should only be whispered and preferably out of earshot of anyone else.
But death is a reality and, as the saying goes, it is the only thing, apart from taxes, which is certain in life.
I’ve reached a point in my life where I attend more funerals than weddings and more 50- or 60-year-old birthday parties than those celebrating coming of age.
Every time I attend a funeral or memorial service, I think about my own life and mortality. As one gets older, one realises that one has lived most of one’s life already and one could be in the final half or quarter or even year of one’s life.
When I hear person after person extolling the virtues of the deceased, I can’t help but wonder what people will say about me and whether they would have anything nice to say. Vanity is a strange thing and, even if you would not be able to hear what others say about you after you die, you still want them to say nice things. Not that it matters at that point.
I have interviewed quite a few important people over the years, including many politicians, and when I ask them about their legacy, they often say that they don’t believe in personal legacies but rather the legacy of their political organisation.
This is a lie, of course. I believe everyone thinks about their legacy at some point, because what you leave behind could have an important influence on those who come after you. But also, we all have a legacy, whether it is negative or positive.
I have been thinking about death and dying for most of this week, since the husband of one of my wife’s friends passed away on Saturday and the sister of one of my friends passed away on Wednesday.
But I have also been faced this week with the reality of cancer sufferers who struggle on despite, in many cases, fighting a losing battle.
It is one of the strange things in life that no one has yet found a cure for cancer which is a non-discriminatory disease, in many ways. Cancer does not mind whether you are black or white, young or old, rich or poor, healthy or unfit, straight or gay.
When it strikes, it strikes decisively and a life that could have been perfect up to that point, often changes for the worst. I have been confronted too many times with cases of friends or associates who discovered that they had cancer and they were gone in a few months.
Even those who survive longer will tell you about the pain and discomfort of chemotherapy which may or may not help to cure your cancer and prolong your life.
Yet not many people, myself included, bother to do much research into cancer unless it affects us directly or indirectly.
It is like we know that, in many cases, cancer causes death and we would rather not talk about anything related to death.
We have lost some amazing people to cancer and we will still lose many more, unless somebody finds a cure which, at this point, seems very distant.
But knowing you are going to die does allow you to plan and, in some cases, it gives you time to seek forgiveness from anyone you might have hurt or offended when your health was better. It also gives people who love you the opportunity to spend time with you before your health deteriorates to such a point where you are unable to focus on what is happening around you and you are only focused on dealing with your pain.
One of the inane things that people always say when they sympathise with someone who lost a loved one is that they understand or share their pain. Pain is difficult to share. It is often very personal and even those closest to you cannot completely share or understand it.
I suppose it is easy to write about and talk about death if it is not happening in your home, to one of your closest loved ones.
It is easy when it is not you or people very close to you who are counting their last days and trying to numb the pain of cancer by using morphine.
It is easy to say that, even in death, one must look for the positives when you are not the one who has lost a loved one who might have shared your bed for most of your adult life.
Death, whether is expected or sudden, is never easy. More than 30 years after my mother passed away, I still think about her a lot and I can still see her face in my mind. I often think about how much I would have wanted her to see my children grow up and the influence that she would have had on their lives. My father passed away years after my mother so at least my children had the opportunity to interact with him.
I have no intention of dying soon, but life and death are unpredictable. So how would I like to be remembered? As someone who tried to make a difference in the world and who, despite his many flaws, tried to be the best person he could be.
Death is inevitable and that is why one must live life to its fullest and try to enjoy every minute while one can. This, of course, is easier said than done.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 13 August 2016)