The Dash In-Between

There is a dash which represents our lives between birth and death.

This is the dash.

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My dash has one date before it because I’m still alive, or at least I think I am?

*checks pulse*

Yep, still here.

One day there will be two dates because there is no doubt, whatsoever, that I’m going to die.

I try not to worry about that too much.

OK, I’m lying through my teeth. I torture myself DAILY with thoughts of death. But then I suffer from health anxiety, innit?

I don’t fear death itself. Truth be told, living is hard graft when you are autistic and I’ll probably be glad of some eternal rest after a few more decades of life in the shit-lane. NOT that being autistic is shit. It isn’t. It’s the anxiety, that’s shit.

The thing is that death is still a bit taboo. Brits don’t like to think about death until they absolutely have to despite TV adverts encouraging us to ‘plan for the inevitable’. Life Insurance companies give away bribes gifts, like clocks, so you can watch the seconds tick away. Nice touch, Guys.

However, some of us don’t get the opportunity to plan for the inevitable because we get wiped out under the wheels of a Number 48 bus during a spontaneous sprint across the road to buy a pie or the shock of the £250 supermarket bill stops our hearts, literally. Or we succumb to some disease or other. We like to think we’re in control of our own lives but we’re not.

I’m 47 now. How did that happen? It only seems like yesterday I was snogging Nick Rhodes’ face off on my bedroom wall but thanks to an early menopause I feel like I’m in the re-make of Cocoon..

Having a biological age of 103 means I’m already down on the deal and at this rate I’ll be giving The Boy a lift to high-school on the back of a mobility scooter – which he’d probably love. Most women amble gracefully into menopause whereas I’ve been catapulted into it to find the hormone police waiting for me, truncheons at the ready.

‘ELLO ELLO ELLO! WHAT ‘AVE WE ‘ERE THEN? ‘OESTROGEN AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING PELVIC -FLOOR? WE’LL BE ‘AVIN THOSE! AND YOUR SANITY. HAND EM OVER, THERE’S A GOOD MRS. WE DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE NOW DO WE?’

Bastards.

So I’m swallowing all manner of pills and potions in an attempt to claw back a few years or at least slow the process down. It could be a lot worse. Of course it could because as annoying as my symptoms are, they are transitory and by the time I’m 50 (ish) I should be slightly less deranged. So my GP says, anyway..

With the menopause (and bits dropping off me at an alarming rate) I’m more aware of my ‘dash’ than ever. My parents are dead and mortality is slapping me in the face and, yes, it unnerves me. Someone told me that when you hit 40, it’s downhill from then on. They lied. It’s 35.

I grew up thinking that you got old and then you died. Grandma was in her 70s, as was Nan, and Grandad was a respectable 81 when he wheezed through the pearly gates…

That’s how I expected it to be.

Then the unimaginable happened…

A girl in my school died. She was fifteen years old.

Her dash was too brief.

Years later, my nephew died. His dash represented just four years. How sad is that?

My dad died aged 58 and by now I’d realised that ‘three score years and ten’ wasn’t a cert. To be fair, Dad’s dash was a happy dash apart from the last 12 months, which were shit.

I’m not afraid of death itself because I’m one of those lunatics who believe that consciousness survives death. It’s the before bit that worries me because I have the pain threshold of a testicle. I can’t even stand a deep clean at the dentist without having to be anesthetized so what chance do I have with something major?

I want to reach a grand old age (marbles intacto, obvs) where I can gracefully say, ‘Rightio, Death, I’m ready. You may take me now’. Then I want to slip into a Werthers induced coma having watched an entire box set of Ground Force and, seeing as this is my fantasy, Alan Titchmarsh can be the one to take me to heaven wearing nothing but his wellies and a smile.

That’s another thing about the menopause. One day you’re into Duran Duran and sling-backs, the next you’re craving middle-aged gardeners and comfy slippers. Or maybe that’s just me?

Death is going to happen sooner or later because none of us are immortal except for Bruce Forsyth who’s 302. We can always pay to have ourselves cryogenically frozen but it’s out of most people’s price ranges. Not to mention, creepy.

We worry about death but forget that before we were born, we didn’t exist. Get your brain cells around THAT one! We are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we’re all connected right down to the microscopic stuff that we can’t see. There is too much intricacy and beauty for it all to be random or meaningless, so says me. Our bodies become diseased or frail and eventually stop working but the essence which is us cannot die because it’s energy and energy doesn’t die – it just re-groups.

The dash represents our entire lives. We don’t get to choose when we we’re born and the majority of us don’t get to choose when we die. What happens in-between isn’t necessarily our choice but our attitude to any given situation, regardless of how difficult, most certainly is our choice. This is what our eulogies will be about. Not how long we lived, but how we lived.

In this little corner of the internet I make fun of myself because it’s therapeutic. I try to be kind to my fellow human beings even if I don’t understand them very well. My life will always require effort because I’m autistic, not to mention a nervous Nora. But I brought three amazing human beings into this world and that’s what I’m proud of and when the day comes when my dash is complete, I hope their memories of me will make their tears happy ones. Happy as in I’ll be missed. Not happy as in doing the conger round the living room shouting ‘YESSSSS!! THE OLD BAG’S FINALLY CROAKED! WHERE SHE KEEP THE WILL, BRO’S?’

None of us are getting out of this thing alive, are we? All we can do is accept death and hope that when he does come for us, he’s a friend. Most importantly, we need to make our dashes count.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” ~ Terry Pratchett – Good Omens

 

Hello, It’s Me..

Everybody remembers the last conversation they had with a loved one before that person died. It doesn’t matter if the conversation was in person or via the phone. It was the words, spoken, or unspoken, that stay with you.

Princes William and Harry were holidaying in Scotland with their father when they last spoke to their mother. Diana was in Paris but as always she found time to speak to the two boys who were her life. On the 30th of August, she phoned her sons. William and Harry both remember this last conversation as being too brief because they were eager to be doing other stuff. They were 12 and 15 years old, behaving as young boys do. They were not to know that in a few hours time, the mother that they loved so much would be dead, having literally been hounded to death by the paparazzi. That last phone call haunts them and I understand it because I’m haunted by my last phone call with my own mother.

Death.

Death is tricky. Sometimes you get prior notice that he’s coming for a loved one. If death is inevitable, then surely this is the best scenario because nothing is left unsaid. The living can carry on in the comfort that they got to say goodbye and the dying can let go knowing that there was nothing left to say. That’s the kind of death I want. To leave on my terms. However, Death so often takes our loved ones without warning and there is no opportunity to tell them one last time how much you love them. They are simply, gone.

Death gave no warning about my mother. Not to us, anyway.

The last time I spoke to Mum was the night before she died. I’d been in hospital having an exploratory procedure done under general anesthetic and I’d not been home long before she phoned to see how I was. I was still woozy from the anesthetic and I just wanted to sleep, so I fobbed her off and told her I’d speak to her the following morning when I felt better. That was the last time I ever spoke to her. How could I know that her kidneys and ultimately her heart would fail on her before I woke up the next morning?

Mum hadn’t been ill, except for a “bit of a tummy bug” which she’d mentioned in passing that week. The ‘bug’ turned out to be Bronchial Pneumonia. If she was suffering, nobody knew, because she didn’t say anything. That was the kind of person she was. She didn’t ‘do’ illness. Illness was an inconvenience which interfered with her hair appointments. She couldn’t be done with it and in the end, her stubbornness was her undoing.

What happens in these circumstances is that you replay that conversation over and over in your mind. You don’t remember the other conversations you’ve had with that person. You just remember those last words. You rewrite the script or at least you try to because you feel cheated or guilty or both. You feel like you are the worst person in the world because of that last conversation and you’d give anything to be able to go back in time and do it differently. To this day, I don’t remember if I told her I loved her. Normally, I would have, as I had ended every other phone call, but I was semi-sedated. I most probably did because I ended every conversation the same way. The problem is that it was often like reciting the Lords Prayer, as in, something that you say without actually thinking about it. You know?

My mother was no longer at the end of the phone but that didn’t stop me dialing her number. I needed to hear her voice and I knew where I could find her, for a little while longer, at least..

Hi, this is Jan, I’m not here at the moment but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

I lost count of how many times I rang number to listen to this message. Even though I knew that the phone was ringing out into a house which was no longer a home, it didn’t matter because it was still her voice and it comforted me.

Given the chance, our last conversation would have been very different. Then again, there is a belief that things happen for a reason. What if I was to go back and hear something in my mother’s voice which alerted me to the fact that something was wrong? What then if I was to intervene only for the outcome to be that for the rest of her life she was frail and dependent on others? If you knew my mother you’d understand how much she’d have hated that. I do think that as hard as it is to lose someone, if we look hard enough, we will see a blessing in some form or other. Sometimes we just need to look at things from their perspective instead of our own.

It’s unrealistic to treat every conversation as if it’s the last you will ever have. Life gets in the way and with the best will in the world there are always going to be occasions where we have to cut conversations short. However, no matter how brief a conversation may be, there is always time enough to say the only thing that really matters.

“The news of life is carried via telephone. A baby’s birth, a couple engaged, a tragic car accident on a late night highway – most milestones of the human journey, good or bad, are foreshadowed by the sound of a ringing.” Mitch Albom ~ The First Phone Call From Heaven