do you want to die? It’s not a cheerful or a very welcome question,
but it’s the one we’ll all have to ask one day. How would you want
it to happen – quietly, violently, quickly, slowly? Should
it be philosophical or action-packed; unashamedly secular or swathed
in religious observance; done by your own hand or with the help
of another? Should it be in private or in public?
death to find me planting my cabbages," wrote the French savant
Michel de Montaigne, and there’s much to be said for the pottering-in-the-garden
option, the fate that extinguishes Don Corleone in The
Godfather as he sprays his tomato plants and tries to frighten
his grandson with vampire teeth made from orange peel. I think we
can agree that his was a better death than those suffered by his
many victims, shot, stabbed or garrotted in cold blood. But would
we really want the Don Vito heart-attack and the nasty moment of
consciousness telling you, inarguably, that it’s all over? Wouldn’t
it be better to die in your sleep, never knowing your spirit had
packed up and fled while you were suspended in dreamland?
if you knew nothing about it at all, would you miss an important
life-experience: the final stocktaking, the profit-and-loss account
of how you lived, the counting of blessings, the regrets (you’ll
have a few) for transgressions you can’t now undo?
Death is preying
on our minds because of the Jade Goody total-surveillance project.
Other cancer victims (mostly journalists who treated death as a
subject like any other — John Diamond, Ruth Picardie) have minutely
notated their path to the grave for the edification of newspaper
readers. But Goody’s decision to let a film crew follow her around
during her last few weeks, recording her gradual decline in return
for money, is unprecedented. So is the concept of a magazine buying
the rights to someone’s death, after already bidding for the rights
to the wedding and first-baby pictures.