In a recent BBC4 radio documentary on dying a good death, Dr. Kate Granger, a 31-year-old with terminal cancer, remarked that she would be tweeting from her deathbed.
Jenny McCartney, a Telegraph columnist, responded with suitably British, and suitably graceful, analysis:
- The two things have such very different weights. Twitter, right down to its name, feels feather-light, ephemeral and frivolous. Death has an undeniable gravity: it’s the heaviest thought or experience we can have. The combination sounded a little like preparing to put cupcake frosting on a bomb, or tie party streamers to a bullet.
McCartney then goes on to say that death has become our new taboo: While sex was once crowded out of the popular conversation, the subject of dying is now deferred until we happen upon a particularly poignant Brain Pickings post or until the light of a luminary like Steve Jobs goes out and we are left to reckon the meaning of the ensuing darkness.
Why are we enamored by the death of Jobs and made uncomfortable by the thoughts of Dr. Granger’s deathbed tweets? McCartney, in her wisdom, observes that when we read about others’ deaths, we are “moved partly because we start imagining our own: the pain of leaving the people we love, and their confusion at our departure.” The very idea of death, she says, is so “mysterious and enormous” that it is easier to “lock it away,” though that inevitability has a way of coming back into vision.
Which is why someone like Dr. Granger is so beneficial to us: She has an awesome Twitter stream, she’s written books about living with cancer, and her blog is a wealth of deeply felt knowledge. She muses on what it means to die a good death; the patronizing, presumptive way the media covers cancer; and thorough design thinking about how to practice patient-centered medicine. But perhaps most powerful is her post on planning her funeral.
“I’ve planned my funeral,” she writes. “I sat and wrote down my ideas the day after I discovered the metastatic nature of my cancer. I have added to and edited this rough outline as the months have gone by inspired by my life experiences since.”
On the list: music, as it is, to her, the most important aspect; readings, which he has agonized over; her coffin, which will be weaved willow; her dress, a Monsoon maxi; and the after party, which she would like to be joyful–she’s already booked the DJ.
“I envisage it as a real celebration of my life,” she writes of her funeral, “lived to the full and with a sense of purpose.”