Just beginning, the slight crispness to the leaves, the sense of drying out, in spite of torrential rain. Autumn is a season of mixed blessings – beautiful, of course, so many colours and the architectural shapes of seed heads everywhere you look, the whole world a gallery. But the light leaving is always a bit scary, and we all know why that is: the Grim Reaper lurking in the trees, his skeletal form gradually uncovered as winter approaches. At what point will the bony finger be pointing at me is of course the question uppermost in my mind, and according to a recent memoir by Robert McCrum, uppermost in the minds of pretty much everyone over 60.
A new National Album has certainly added lustre to my September, and as usual it’s brilliant (check out the Pitchfork review). And also as usual, the lyrics provide much food for thought. I was struck by this little verse:
The day I die, the day I die
Where will we be?
The day I die, the day I die,
Where will we be?
(From Day I Die, Sleep Well Beast)
But it’s not like anyone can ever predict this. Probably, the clean between the sheets death is the likeliest scenario for most of us, especially as we get beyond the risky years. You know, the ones where you decide to relive your motorbiking days, take up hang gliding, or start an affair with someone young and inappropriate. In fact, according to this survey nearly 80% of us currently die in a hospital, care home or hospice, even though most of us would prefer to die at home.
"Will there eventually be specially designed terminal bots?"
I can’t make my mind up about this one. On the one hand, you assume that hospitals etc have all the pain management and other terminal gizmos that make the passing a little less arduous. It might also be easier on your family to be constantly monitored by health professionals. On the other hand, where would I get access to endless tea and coffee and cheese on toast on request? Will there eventually be specially designed terminal bots, who will not only provide those things, but also sing to me, read me poetry in a variety of voices, make me laugh, give me a foot massage?
Three out of four of my grandparents died at home. Both my parents died in an institution, my father in hospital, unexpectedly, the day before he was due to be discharged following a minor stroke. My mother died in a care home, although she was only there for the last six months of her life, having been diagnosed with breast cancer aged 90. Family visited as often as possible, but it was not ideal. Both in-laws also ended their very long lives in care, so perhaps this is the trend. The longer you live, the more needs you have which can’t be catered for at home. Although the same survey seems to indicate that with better organised community services, it would indeed be possible (and preferable) for people to check out in their own beds.
People have died in many strange places, as Prof Google reveals; in their parked cars, up trees, in office cubicles, in lifts, in public conveniences, in hotel rooms. Elvis, at 42, on the toilet in his Graceland home. Jim Morrison in his bath. Brian Jones in his swimming pool. Tupac Shakur shot on the streets of Las Vegas, Lennon in New York.
The saddest are the undiscovered ones, such as Joyce Carol Vincent , a young woman whose body lay in a London flat for three years. The brilliant Carol Morley made a film about this, which uncovers more questions than it answers. It would be nice to know you would be sufficiently missed for this not to happen. Or to be safe in the knowledge that the bot will let everyone know when the end is nigh.