Dealing with Death
It’s no lie to say that I’ve experienced more death than I’d have liked. Of course, everyone hopes they experience as little death as possible, but it’s an inevitability that comes to us all in the end. The best we can hope for is that death is late to our personal party. At the very least, we hope to reach adulthood without too many close brushes with mortality.
For most people, if they’re lucky, any childhood experience of death is first softened with the slightly less traumatic loss of a pet rather than a person. My own son, who’s just turned five, recently helped us bury our cat, and he’s currently facing mortality in all its grim finality through that lens. (The cat was nearly 18 and died from an extended illness, by the way – we didn’t bury her alive as a learning experience for him.) Hopefully it’ll toughen him to the bigger losses of people in his life, and hopefully, those people will be old and satisfied after a long and happy life. We should all hope for such good fortune. But for many, that luxury is not enjoyed. Some people experience mortality to excess and too soon. I did.
My own experiences on that front have informed a lot of my writing and eventually led me to write a short story called “Shadows of the Lonely Dead”. While it doesn’t directly address my personal experiences, it’s a story that examines death and is set in places where I spent too much time, like palliative care homes. That story centres on a young nurse whose ability to see and control the strange shadows of death sets her on a path of vigilantism she never anticipated. But I knew during the writing of that story I’d only touched on the edges of exploring the strangeness of death. I needed to return to it. So eventually I did, in my new novel, DEVOURING DARK. In this book, we focus on the protagonist Matt McLeod, a man plagued by guilt and darkness, who has had the shadow of death hanging over him from a very young age. In the course of events, he meets Amy Cavendish, the main character from “Shadows of the Lonely Dead”, and together they complement and juxtapose each other. They get tangled in a web of crime and corruption and dark mayhem ensues.
The book is a dark, disturbing horror story of vigilantism and survival, but the course of the narrative is also guided by considerations of what death really is. What does it mean to die well? Who deserves death? What might the purpose of our death be, if anything? How might our death, as well as our life, impact and change the lives of other people, both those close to us and others, further away? I’m not suggesting that DEVOURING DARK actually provides any answers to this stuff, but it does explore the questions inside an entertaining thriller.
It’s no surprise that more opinion has arisen around our lack of knowledge regarding death than probably any other subject. Every religion ever conceived, after all, only came about as an attempt to answer the three big questions: Where did we come from, why are we here, and where do we go? The thing is, just because we can ask those questions, it doesn’t mean there have to be answers. Or the answers might well be: Random chemical aberrations, no reason, and nowhere. But that’s ultimately unsatisfying, so religions try to fill the gaps. And of course, the non-religious still consider and struggle with these concepts, these unanswerable questions.
Regardless, living the best, most productive and caring life we can, seems to be the bare minimum requirement in the face of those enquiries.
In DEVOURING DARK, I have different characters in different situations facing death from many
angles. They each deal with their lives in very different ways. And I keep asking questions because that’s something people are really good at. And often the most intriguing questions are the ones to which we might never get an answer. Or any answer we do get comes along too late to really mean anything.