19. Death

The first death I can remember was also perhaps the purest. A kid at school was running on the athletics track and collapsed. In the second or two it took a teacher to reach him he had died. A brain haemmorhage, they told us the next day at Assembly: massive and instant.

Tragic, yes. Fearsome, no. There had been no foreknowledge of death, no pain – or a second of pain at most – it was as close as a death comes to being simply a human being ‘switching off’. Most of the time when I ‘fear death’ it’s the foreknowledge that’s frightening, or the pain, or the futile attempts at survival. The fact of death, the oblivion – that’s not scary, because it won’t be ‘happening’ to me, there won’t be a ‘me’ for things to happen to. The main emotion that comes to my mind when I think – infrequently – of my death (and this entry is solely about one’s own death) is regret for the things I won’t see happen.

But death deserves its place on this list. For one thing it’s so bound up with so many other fears – it’s the terminal fact behind fear of fairground rides or crocodiles or heights. For another this is a youngish man writing, with few responsibilities. The ‘fear of death’ has always been the fear of what happens next. Just as I’m worried that some crime report or social outrage will one day turn me Tory, I’m worried that one creeping day nearer to death will find me waking up religious, and then (I’d guess) the fear might really start biting. But even for the unbeliever there’s a fear born out of responsibility – that all the stories you’ve weaved yourself into (or helped start!) will go on without you, and might go wrong.