By Eamonn Keyes
The best quote I’ve ever seen on the subject of death goes like this:
‘Does life go on after death?
Of course it does, it just doesn’t involve you any more’.
I got to that certain age some time ago, but apart from a few light discussions about the D word I don’t publicly dwell on it too much. Death comes to us all, that we know, and I shy away not because of fear as such, but because of having lived in Belfast during 30 years of sudden and violent death. I saw too much of that kind of death, and that I do fear.
I have to say that I’m prepared to go whenever. I’ve lived a full and interesting life, been privileged to do things people only dream of, and to have experienced and been involved in so much. So, whenever it’s my time, I won’t rail against the dying of the light. I’ll shrug and board the Cóiste Bodhar (Death Coach of Irish folklore) just as Darby O’Gill did in the 1959 Disney film featuring that fine singing Dublin lad, Sean Connery. Of course I do have some regrets. We all do, even Frank Sinatra, but apparently too few to mention.
In Northern Ireland during the Troubles years there was a choice- you could either hide at home permanently, or go about your day semi-normally and accept that one day it would be you and try to live a life, watching parked cars and moving cars, motorcycles and guys who looked suspicious.
Even when peace broke out the possibility remained, and it was only when I came to Scotland that the feeling eventually lifted, and I started once more to enjoy a normal life without constant fears of bombs or random murder, mistaken identity or retaliation.
When the first Coronavirus deaths occurred here in March 2020 there was an urgent fight to get plans and precautions in place, hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and the possibility of random death reappeared. I found this reawakening much harder the second time round. I was in the at-risk age group, and vaccination was way off 9 months in the future. This could be it. Separated from loved ones and family, dying alone. What an end to precious life.
I found that old stoic acceptance, depressingly, creeping in again, that old closed off route being reused.
With it came memories of Belfast, no longer held in check. I’d sometimes be triggered by something on television, or even a song. It’s probably a PTSD of sorts, and I’d guess it is endemic in Northern Irish people of a certain age who lived in a certain place.
However, at the same time I started to analyse Life- what is it, what is its purpose, why do we change, and what exactly is going on with Time these days? I decided that the closest analogy is that of a river going to a waterfall.
The river begins as a trickle, containing little of substance and depth, but as it goes on it joins with other similar streams and becomes stronger, and eventually contains life, provides food for that life and becomes bigger, wider, deeper, confident in its power and purpose. However, at the end there is the waterfall, and even when the river is some considerable distance from it the flow becomes faster and at the final stages it rushes towards the waterfall and vanishes over the edge, carrying everything with it.
That’s how life appears to me. Time is rushing past, and ten years goes by in what seemed like six months when I was younger. It gets faster as you experience more of life. My friend Ross McClelland and I wrote a song about exactly this a few years ago in ‘The Third Age’. It is now even more apt.
But what happens when you go over the waterfall? That intrigues me more than anything. Is it all over, an eternal nothingness? Do we have an ‘eternal reward’ based on our behaviour? Or do we continue to exist on another plane, visiting as spirits as some claim?
Your guess is as good as mine. Some have faith, but none have proof.
Anyway, right on cue I received another set of lyrics from Ross, and in early September we sat down together for the first time in years and wrote ‘Wishing We Were Here’, a jolly song about that aftermath of Life, from the perspective of someone who has passed but who can still see life going on, unable to participate and wishing they could do so. It has an incredibly catchy chorus about the last minute of life- I’m sure it’s a niche subject- but also mentions the possibility of eternal reward, which I hope is a slightly sardonic nod to those of a religious persuasion- which I am not, but I’ve seen enough spooky stuff to have a percentage or two of doubt remaining in my personal pie chart of belief.
Perhaps we will see everyone again, those we have lost, those we miss so much. That’s be absolutely grand. But again, perhaps the lights are going out forever, we are oblivious to it, and we will exist only in other peoples’ memories. That’d be grand too. And if that is the case, at least I’ll get a half decent rest for a change…..
The Third Age by T3A
Well, Eamonn – I’m just glad you’re writing again!
As to the subject matter – My friend’s husband used to, repeatedly, say to me “I don’t believe in life after death” and glare at me, defiantly. Note that he said it repeatedly.
I’d say – “When you die you’ll find out, either way.” He’s the man who threatened to throw me in their farm pond – dunking the witch and all that.
Here’s something of how I see it…
Re. Covid – it not dying I’m afraid of, it’s being seriously ill again. I don’t want to be seriously ill again if I can possibly avoid it, and I don’t want to put Mike through what he went through when I was ill.
Peter Pan said that dying could be an awfully big adventure – I don’t want adventures – I’ve had enough – I’d like to curl up in a ball somewhere cosy and switch off – for good. As to whether I’ll be allowed to do that, or not, isn’t up to me!
Keep on writing Eamonn – you have much to get across to the world.
Thanks again for the kind words, Bernie. I think we basically agree on this subject!