Wednesday, 29 September 2010


“We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.” - Madame de Stael

I was chatting with a friend today and the talk turned to the topic of death. We questioned whether we would prefer to die quietly and imperceptibly, as in one’s sleep for example, or whether it would be preferable to die in a way that one was aware of the moment of death. The former was his preference, the latter mine. I guess as far as I was concerned I would want to die and have that experience as the last experience of life.

I wonder if one is aware of one’s death as it approaches? Is it perhaps like that no-man’s-land between wakefulness and sleep or is it a case of an on-off switch – awareness to non-awareness? Surely it would depend on the cause of death and the circumstances of the death. One may die peacefully in one’s bed or die a violent and painful death. One may slip away or fight for each breath, trying to hang on to dear life. It is a fascinating topic and perhaps we cannot not answer that question of “how does it feel to die?” as we do not know what happens after death.

A poem by Christina Rossetti today that touches upon approaching Winter (and death), but also the promise of Spring and rebirth…


Fade tender lily,
Fade O crimson rose,
Fade every flower,
Sweetest flower that blows.

Go, chilly autumn,
Come, O winter cold;
Let the green stalks die away
Into common mould.

Birth follows hard on death,
Life on withering:
Hasten, we will come the sooner
Back to pleasant spring.
            Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)


  1. I think I would just ask for it to be peaceful, like my mother's.

  2. I have been thinking about this topic a lot, during the last couple of years. And I realise that most people don't want to die at all!! But there are hideous ways of going and less hideous ways.

    The worst way to die has to be a long miserable cancer where the person stops eating and has no quality of life for 3 years. Trauma is not wonderful either - being shot, being in a car accident, having one's plane fall out of the sky.

    By the way, do we know the circumstances of Christina Rossetti's own death?

  3. In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves Disease, suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s. In 1893, she developed breast cancer and though the tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in September 1894. She died the following year on 29 December 1894.

    This indicates that her death was marked by suffering and the effects of two chronic and serious diseases.

  4. I was a passenger in a private Leer Jet when we encountered severe turbulence approaching the Sun Valley airport. The wing tips looked very close to the mountain sides and the plane jumped around. I closed my eyes and then almost immediately reopened them.

    The thought that went through my mind was, "It these are the last moments of my life I want to be fully aware of them."

    So I guess that is my answer. I don't think I fear death but I often find myself getting rather picky about dying. I don't like pain. And I haven't much patience.