I am not frightened of dying. Not a statement of fact, but the first line from a Pink Floyd track called “The Great Gig in the Sky“.
When I had my surgery in January 2014 the anaesthetist asked me if there was any music I’d like to listen to while I was in my pleasant pre-med stoned feeling state in the room where we were all waiting before going into the theatre. Actually, it wasn’t so much a room as a cupboard, but a very nice cupboard. All I could think of as I lay on the trolley, with very little to conceal my embarrassment, was Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of The Moon, which I had listened to a thousand times when in a similarly stoned state in my late teens. “I’ve got that on my phone”, she said, and the last thing I remember before passing out were the strains of track 2 entitled “Breathe in the air“. Like I needed telling.
About three weeks later I found myself back in the same nice pre-theatre cupboard with the same anaesthetist, not alone you understand, but with a crowd of theatre staff. This time was not for major surgery, just for a rummage around after I’d had my 3rd lot of sepsis. The anaesthetist again asked me what I’d like to listen to and I thought: why not a bit more Dark Side of The Moon? As I drifted off into oblivion the track that started to play was “The Great Gig in the Sky” with its opening line “I am not frightened of dying”. The significance quickly dawned on the anaesthetist – my laughing might have alerted her, and she exclaimed apologetically “it’s on shuffle“. I saw the other people in the room starting to laugh and that was it, I was gone.
That track has come to mind a few times over the last couple of years, the last time was two nights ago when I was watching a drama called “The C word” on BBC1, based on Lisa Lynch’s journey through breast cancer.
There was a scene where the Counsellor asks Lisa Lynch (played by Sheridan Smith) about her fear of dying. I had a similar conversation with a complementary therapist a couple of weeks ago. I surprised myself by using the phrase “my fear of death“. It was the closest I’ve got to acknowledging it. I couldn’t elaborate on my fear then, and I can’t now – can’t, not won’t – because I find it too difficult to think about or to dwell on, let alone verbalise. If I find myself starting to think of “it”, of death, I push it out of my mind. I can’t yet deal with it. It’s too raw, too close. Does it ever become easy? I promised I’d try to write down what I thought and felt but, for someone who is as capable of as much verbal and written diarrhoea as I am, I find I’m strangely unable to.
There were a couple of times when watching “The C word” that I felt myself welling up (blame the hormones I’m on) but there were lots more times when I laughed. I could see myself in a lot of it, and my long suffering partner, too.
Lisa Lynch said she started writing her blog “Alright tit” for her and to tell it like it is. That’s what I did with my blog, too, but I also started it for another reason. I’d gone searching for information about how prostate cancer affected people like me, those who didn’t fit snugly into the standard box that all the information was made for and found there was none, so I started writing.
I’m still no closer to expanding upon my fear of death but I’m skirting around it more, so that’s a start. I keep on remembering what a close friend of mine said not long before he died of AIDS in 1999, ” It’s not death I’m scared of, it’s the dying”. I’m not sure I’m even that far yet.