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Byron Shire
October 16, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soap Box: The funny thing about dying

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No-one likes talking about dying. Once you start talking about dying you think, shit, I’m going to die now. It’s not just superstition. You will die. Not because you tempted fate by scandalously talking of death. Because everyone dies. It’s the only guarantee we have in life.

We delude ourselves that we are immortal. We try to stay young. We inject Botox and use words such as longevity and age-defying. We use creams to ‘fight the effects of ageing’ but while you might fight superficial effects such as wrinkling, dimpling and saggy arse, you can’t apply creams that stop you dying. No pharmaceutical company has yet mastered a topical cream that can claim to be ‘death-defying’.

We get old and die. We stay young and die. I could die right now. I could have a heart attack and never finish this article. I’m having a panic attack just thinking about it. It’s terrifying. So I don’t think about it. I don’t think about it so much I actually forget. So every time someone dies I get a shock. But if I think about it rationally, someone’s dying is the most natural thing on Earth. It’s like being in a raffle where everyone’s number is eventually up.

I imagine the grim reaper less like a hooded guy with a scythe and more a top-hatted bloke in candy stripe at a carnival on a loudspeaker spruiking ‘Everybody wins a prize’. The prize is death.

So why are we surprised? Or traumatised? I guess because it’s random. Unfair. Painful. But not entirely unexpected. In comparison, our life-entry point ‘birth’ has mundane uniformity; death is like lucky dip. So how will you die? Car accident? Cancer? Snake bite? Stroke? Choke on your tongue? Will you fall off a mountain? Get lost on a bushwalk and never return? Plane crash? Shark attack? It’s so random that when you think about it too hard you freak yourself out with the numerous options.

My father died in a car accident when I was six. As a midget spectator on this drama of grief and loss I concluded that only stupid people died. My father was drunk and drove into an oncoming car. I figured that as long as I didn’t take risks I would live. It wasn’t until I was eight that I learnt everyone died. I call this period of my life The Woody Allen years. I was the only kid in year two who wrote an essay after summer holiday called ‘Whats the point?’. I became obsessed with death. Mainly because no-one spoke to me about it. In fact we weren’t allowed to speak of death. It made my grandmother nervous (possibly because she felt the dark shadow of her own demise was nigh).

I often imagine how one would live one’s life if one knew one’s exact departure date and method of departure. I think perhaps it’s our primitive fear of dying that has held us back from properly living life. I wonder if one embraces death one also embraces life? It would be a revolutionary mindset, because right now our approach is pretty well the opposite.

I am thinking of creating a ‘death plan’. It will be in a folder on my desktop and it will host the usual things such as a will, when to turn off the machines… but most importantly it will house the photos I want shown in my Powerpoint – the ones where I look good, not you. I mean, don’t trust the living with your Powerpoint! And there will be a playlist banning Hallelujah, all Jeff Buckley songs, and definitely no Eva Cassidy. I’m going for KHIA’s All You Ladies Pop Your Pussy Like This. It’s inappropriate and it’s shocking. That way I’ll still be there.

If you want to get engaged with talking about dying go to the Byron Hospice Service (formerly Amitayus) for an evening of music, poetry and storytelling. Death doesn’t have to be all dark and gloomy. They are going to have cake. Drill Hall Mullum on Wednesday 19 April at 7pm. Please RSVP to [email protected] or 02 6684 3808 for catering purposes. Thanks.

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