As a child, death meant Jesus coming down from Heaven and taking someone away with him on a cloud. It also meant lying flat on your back, arms spread into a T shape, eyes crossed and tongue lolling, a child’s cartoon interpretation.
Occasionally I would perform this pantomime, every time disappointed by my lack of success. Perhaps, I thought, I moved. I breathed. I did something to give myself away. I just didn’t understand.
As a teenager, it meant the mysterious disappearance of a sad but much loved relative and a complete reordering of the family to adapt to new circumstances. I didn’t understand.
In my twenties death meant drug overdoses, car crashes and gunshots: Life lived so close to the edge that one simply fell off. Death was just around the corner and I was never afraid. I suppose I just didn’t understand.
Now, in my thirties, death means getting some news from a doctor and, after going under a knife, you get drugs that, after a while, make you wish you were dead. Sometimes the universe obliges, other times it does not.
This time it’s not me. This time it’s a friend, not a friend of a friend, or the relative of a friend. Suddenly I understand a terrible disease, understand what ‘The Big C’ really means and suddenly this disease is a part of my cosy, comfortable little world and finally, at last, I think I’m starting to really understand what mortality really means. Perhaps, in ten years, I’ll see that I did not.
It seems late in life to be learning these lessons. Life, it seems, isn’t just what you make of it.