Sunday, 26 June 2011

Choosing to die.

I am told by my sister that our father lies very ill in bed, in a hospital. The seriousness of this illness is apparently terminal, but for reasons pretty much my own, I cannot feel moved to go visit him, and see him for one final time, not even out of courtesy. When the day comes that he passes from this world, I am sure I shall not regret this stance I am adopting, nor shall I shed a tear for him. Too much went wrong between us, there are distances that cannot be covered, gaps that cannot be bridged, and feelings that were never there in the first place cannot be magically brought into existence just because. And, in all honesty, I feel that it would be an hipocrisy on my part if, and bearing all this I have just written in mind, I went and visited the man, and played the part of the weeping and grieving son, because that's just not who I am. I feel nothing for him, never have felt, I don't even feel sorry for him. And, even as I write this, I can freely admit that I am not opposed, in principle, to visiting him - it's just a matter of me having the proper mindset and the free time to actually go to a fucking hospital and pay my respects. I do have to say that should I go there, I just wouldn't be moved by the situation at all - even if were I to hear all kinds of words of regret, and apologies, and whatnots... the damage was done in such a scale and so long ago that they just would not ring right to me.
It is a very cruel and difficult thing, I should imagine, to freely and openly vouchsafe the absence of feelings for someone who gave life to you. I have no problems doing that, because I never considered that a physiological accident is enough to make one some poor child's father...
I feel naught for this man, and yet... yet I found myself deeply and terribly moved by the words of someone whom I have never met personally, who never spoke so much as a word directly to me, but whose presence in my life has been so constant and strong that it broke my heart in a million tiny pieces to hear him speak of his choice to willingly terminate his own life.
I speak, of course, of Sir Terry Pratchett, creator of the Discworld, writer of some of the very best books ever written, a peerless wit, and one more victim of that ravager of minds - Alzheimer's.
In 'Choosing to die', the writer tells us with vivid descriptions of his own struggles with the disease, and how, like a carrion bird that delights itself in nibbling slowly the carcass of some dead animal, his own mind is slowly - and surely - deteriorating, to the extent that his short term memory is very limited these days, and much to his own tragedy, he can no longer write by himself - his assistant types what he dictates, or he uses a special speech recognition software.
The documentary focus not only on him, but also on a number of people who suffer from terminally deteriorating diseases, and who chose to voluntarily put an end to their suffering via the Swiss organization Dignitas. These people were of sound mind when they chose theirt ultimate fate, and as you listen to their plights, you can only feel so very sorry for how things played out for them; they genuinely seemed to be excellent people who deserved far more from life than this. Their choice to commit assited suicide, however, also serve to inform Pratchett's own ongoing quest to decide whether or not he too will make the same choice. His is a situation a bit different from all others, though. For one has to be of sound mind when one makes the final decision, one must consciously be aware of what he is about to do. Pratchett's disease will ultimately rob him of his mind, leaving him with the option to either let the disease run rampant and fall prey to the dementia that will eventually overtake him, or he makes the decision, while his mind is still clear, to end it all.
So these doubts, these questions, they are all thrown at us from the writer's perspective. Briefly though it may be, we walk side by side with Pratchett as he braves the path towards the end of his days. This documentary in incredibly powerful and moving, but it's not for the faint of heart. Things are said, stories are told, and we are shown a mighty heart-rending moment, when all we hold as true to ourselves is put into question.
I am coming to accept that very soon there will be no more new Pratchett books, I'll never read a new tale of Ankh-Morpork's fabled City Watch, never again be entertained by the raucuous Nanny Ogg or the Nac Mac Feegle, I'll never again read of Rincewind's exploits, nor surf through the eternal cold of space riding atop Great A'tuin.
What I will hold forever with me is the memories  that I have from having read so many times his books, books that I'll return to time and time again while I live. I will always remember sharing his books with the love of my life. I will always remember the thrill that is buying one of his new books.
The day may come when his voice is silenced forever, but his words will always live on inside me.

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