A Perspective on Death
April 20, 2012 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Here's a thought-provoking interview with Philip Gould in which he describes his reaction to his impending death from oesophogeal cancer.

Gould, an advertiser and political consultant, was primarily known as one of the architects of the New Labour movement in the UK. Before his death in November of 2011, he penned a book on dying, as well, titled When I Die, which was released yesterday.
posted by richyoung (13 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Very moving. I hope I'm 5% as composed and eloquent when my time comes.
posted by erebora at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2012

Oh, my.

I definitely should not have watched that at work. But I'm glad I watched it. The image of that man standing strong and tall in the face of death is one I'll carry for awhile.

This is a very powerful reminder to embrace every single moment. Because there are no guarantees.

Thanks for posting this.
posted by kinnakeet at 10:18 AM on April 20, 2012

Thank you. I will approach mine in a different way for having seen this.
posted by falcon at 10:20 AM on April 20, 2012

A life and passing lived with poise, grace and dignity. Thanks for posting.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:33 AM on April 20, 2012

Fascinating interview with Philip Gould about New Labour and his illness.

"I love them all. That's what I want to say to them."

posted by mrgrimm at 12:15 PM on April 20, 2012

Beautiful, thank you.
posted by vytae at 1:23 PM on April 20, 2012

Excellent post. Thanks. Really really lovely.
posted by puddinghead at 6:55 PM on April 20, 2012

Very effecting. How noble, courageous. It's difficult to remember such sentiments without standing the shadow of mortality one way or another, and the keen account-taking it provides.
posted by smoke at 7:50 PM on April 20, 2012

This was fantastic.

I most definitely do not want to die, but I do not feel at all afraid of it, personally. What I've realized lately, though, is that really accepting that as my sense of self expands with the embrace of a lifetime partnership with my S/O, I have started to worry about this in terms of how it would affect her. I can't even imagine having to envision that impact on children.
posted by rollbiz at 8:18 PM on April 20, 2012

Thank you for linking this.
posted by mistersquid at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2012

I found this extremely intriguing, so I bought the book, and now I've read it.

The main part of the book is about his cancer treatment, and is very interesting. I would read a whole series of similar books on 'what it's like to die from x'. The main value Gould conveys here is that even though he was neurotic about pain and suffering to begin with, he discovered that one can endure it and still often enjoy life. The implication is that we should believe it of ourselves as well.

The part about the 'death zone' was the part I most wanted to read about however. The main intent of the book is ostensibly to 'change the narrative about dying'. Dying need not be about gradual decline and irrelevance. It is a time where everything is much more intense, and genuine joy and reconciliation can occur at the same time as fear and sadness. Certainly it convinced me that when I die, I want to see it coming with as much advance notice as possible. Here is a typically nice passage:

"Life becomes completely precious, not just because there is so little of it left but because the actual nature of experience is more fulfilling, more protean than it was before. I feel there are somehow more molecules moving around the room now."

Gould then says that the most important thing is to be honest and accept that you are dying. He doesn't say much about how one manages to accept death exactly. And it is clear that he feels fear, and is constantly battling against death right to the end. I think what he means is to accept death in the sense of genuinely believing that you are dying, and never ignoring it. Personally speaking, while I don't always think about death, I think I do genuinely believe that I am going to die. I'd rather know how to overcome the fear. Still, he is constantly focused on the value of life, and I think this is the right attitude. Life is a good thing and should be maximised, though I was concerned that towards the end he was too desperately battling for extra days.

The main disappointment of the book is that it turns out Gould is religious, but he hardly ever mentions it. Most particularly, he never once specifies (and neither do any of his relatives) whether he believes in an afterlife or not. The last words in his narrative (not his actual last words) are:

"I am approaching the door marked Death. What lies beyond it may be the worst of things. But I believe it will be the best of things."

Given that he doesn't make an issue of it, I think he was probably agnostic. But overall, this is all extremely disingenuous. And frankly I don't agree that one is being honest about death if one thinks one might survive it.

Another qualm is that Gould was part of the political elite in the UK. Most people dying don't get two prime ministers visiting them in support. Death is the great equaliser, but Philip Gould gets to craft his own narrative of having a meaningful death partly because his connections ensure that his thoughts about dying, and all the details of his experience are publicized to the wider world. This kind of meaning is not available to most people. So I'm not sure how much we can really learn from his experience. Nevertheless, this is really just a qualm. His loving and joyful attitude and desire to embrace the fact of his death are inspiring and moving regardless of his social status.

My final qualm is that we don't get his words in the last few days of life. He was apparently dictating right up until the end. And I think if it is really supposed to be an honest portrayal of death, we should get this as well, even if a lot of it might have been repetitive and occasionally nonsensical.

Anyway, I'm glad I read the book and I'm glad for him that he was apparently lucid right up the end. And where before I was concerned that after completing life projects, the rest of one's life may be meaningless, the convinces that one's dying can be meaningful if one takes the chance to be open and loving to the people close to you and also in simply showing them what it is to die.
posted by leibniz at 9:38 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for that, Leibniz. How, may I ask, did you get the book? Amazon and BN still don't seem to know it exists. I wanted to include a link, but the publisher's announcement was the best I could do.
posted by richyoung at 9:07 PM on April 22, 2012

I got the kindle edition from amazon.co.uk. I don't know if it can be downloaded outside uk though.
posted by leibniz at 1:21 AM on April 23, 2012

« Older A Sticky Situation   |   The British Les Paul is no more. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments