The UK news has been full of death this weekend. The events in Norway, where more than 100 people have been grabbed out of their lives, are shocking and obscene. Chaotic, addicted Amy Winehouse’s death may seem less surprising, but for the people who loved her will be just as much of a shock.
We never think it will happen today, do we? We understand, intellectually, that at some point the people around us will die: that we can’t all just go on forever. But – not today. Today we are well. Today, things will go on as normal, because we have stuff in our diary, there is food for the next week in the fridge, and, well, why would anything bad happen today?
One of the great disservices cancer has done me is that it has made me think of death differently. Even though I am thriving – even though, as far as I’m concerned, there is no cancer in my body – I would, I think, be surprised if something other than a cancer kills me. (But not for at least another 40 years, you understand.) And, my assumption continues, if I am going to die of a cancer, I’m going to get some warning. I’m on the hospital watch list. I’m borderline-obsessively aware of my own body and could model a forensically accurate set of my own breasts from any material you care to mention, I check them so often. So, in my head, my death is clearly signposted. It comes with a lead time long enough to say goodbyes, clear out my wardrobe, and clean up the messes I’ve made. This, now, is my (flawed and assumption-based) idea of what death is.
So watching the hollowed-out eyes of people shocked and bewildered by the actions of a madman made me pause. Made me realise that, actually, today could be the day that someone I love gets in the way of drunk driver or falls badly on the stairs or has that little bit of their body that’s been quietly under strain for years and years give out.
I remember a phone call I had in January. It was from the mother of an old friend of mine. We’d lost touch, eight years or so ago, after a minor disagreement that I allowed myself to get into a sulk over. By the time I’d stopped sulking, it felt like too late to pick up the phone, so I didn’t. It was Alan who answered the phone to my friend’s mother, and when I heard him say her name, my heart went through the floor: why would my friend’s mother be calling me, out of the blue, after so long? Suddenly, I felt every pointless minute of the time I had been out of touch with someone who was at my shoulder during some of the most important events of my life.
It turned out that the phone call was a request for photographs for a 40th birthday album. It was also the catalyst for me to get back in touch with someone very special.
But if that phone call had been what I feared for a moment it might have been, well, I know what I would have thought of my eight-year-old-sulk.
We don’t have forever to put things right. I may be putting my reputation for a positive spin on the line here, but I have to tell you, today could be your last day for sorting things out with someone, because they, or you, might be gone tomorrow.
If there’s something you need to put right, if there are words you haven’t said, if there’s a phone call that’s overdue…. now would be a really, really good time.