Wednesday 17 July 2019

George Hook on death: 'I have decided not to deed my body to science... I want all the trimmings and my coffin shouldered into the church by my son'

George Hook: Where I die is very important to me
George Hook: Where I die is very important to me

George Hook

I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying; worried about the where, the when and the how. At my age, bookmaker Paddy Power would probably not offer much better than even money on me waking up in the morning.

Opening my eyes to the dawn chorus is the start of a bonus day in my life, and I treat it as if it is my last. It has changed the way I live. No longer do I care what people say about me - I do what I want to do, rather than what convention demands, and I value family more than anything else in the world. It makes for a very happy existence.

However, where I die is very important to me. Above all, I do not want to end my days in a retirement home, unable to recognise my family, with some well-meaning nurse stuffing cold rice pudding down my throat.

Like the gunslingers of the old West, I want to die with my boots on. Doug Sanders, the American professional golfer, said he would like to die on the same day his money ran out. My philosophy would mirror that, not so much about the money, but I want to shuffle off this mortal coil before I am crippled with arthritis, cannot appreciate good restaurants and, above all, before the world subsides, not from global warming but from the idea that nation states are no longer important.

I have target dates for survival. I have to live to 80 to see my first grandson hopefully make the Senior Cup Team and play in the schools' cup final in Lansdowne Road. Just around then George IV could be walking, for the first time, through the gates of my beloved Presentation College Cork. If I get to 90, I could see my oldest granddaughter graduate college and go on to live and work in a world where gender equality is a given.

Ideally, I want to go with some notice to say goodbye. Given that cancer will get most of us, I would like the invasive kind that does the job in about four weeks. Either way, I am not going through the horrors of chemotherapy - just give me some painkillers and wave me on my way. To be honest, it is more likely to be in my car; not because of drink or speed, but because I am a bad driver, having all the failings of a generation that never had a worthwhile driving lesson or passed a test.

Increasingly, I am coming to the view that the vision of an afterlife and a God is at least as believable as the sterile nonsense spouted by Richard Dawkins, eg "the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction".

One cannot separate the funeral from the dying. Unlike my parents, I have decided not to deed my body to science. I want all the trimmings, but especially I want my coffin shouldered in and out of the church by my son, and hopefully at least one grandson.

Mervyn Hayes was a scrum-half for Palmerston rugby club, who died tragically early. It was over 50 years ago, but his funeral made a profound impact on me. He said his death should be a time for rejoicing, not sadness, and that the service should reflect that. I promised myself that I'd do the same.

My parents are buried in Glasnevin, in the mass grave reserved for people who donated their bodies to science. There is no headstone with their names and no recognition of their lives. I would like a grave and a marker, and to be the first to inhabit the Hook plot, not for maudlin reasons, but to have a place where future generations might rest and remember the guy that started it all.

Above all, I do not wish to be a burden on my children. My mother, who made me what I am, saved her sleeping pills until she had enough to end it all before illness, pain or dementia took hold. On two separate occasions she asked me and my eldest daughter to be with her as did it. We both persuaded her to live. I now believe we were wrong, because the manner of her dying was exactly as she'd feared.

I intend to go as she had hoped to do, if I become burdensome. A bottle of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand to wash down the pills, and The Glenn Miller Story on the video as I slip away on the journey to meet my mother in HeavenThis time there will be no guilt for my family, as I will do it alone, with The Glenn Miller Story on the video as I slip away on the journey to meet my mother in Heaven.

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