This is a dream I’ve cherished for a long time: how to make sense of death. How to make peace with it. How to write about it for myself and others, and in so doing, embrace it with my whole heart. Do I want to live in preparation for dying, and transmute it into something worthwhile and beautiful? Or do I want to ignore it until the day it becomes too late?
I was struck by this inspiration driving home from a funeral in 2010 – from the funeral of my older sister, Annette, who died of melanoma metastasis into her liver, lungs and brain at the age of 44. We were deeply connected; she and I – born eight years apart on the very same day. I had a melanoma diagnosis exactly one year before she died, a pointy growth like a black olive on the skin of my right ribcage. I was lucky, it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes or anywhere else. Her primary cancer had been behind her eye – and she died.
I was sitting in the car, numb and dumbstruck, with my husband and nephew, Annette’s eldest son. We began musing on Annette’s life; who she was, the complexity and multiplicity of her character. How could this person now be a mere mound of earth, a few wilting flowers, some disconnected memories that would surely fade as time passed? One of us said: ‘Thank goodness there was a good obituary.’ And we thought about that – how lucky it was that I wrote her obituary the week before she died, that she actually got to see the printed-out sheets of paper.