It is always a shock to hear about the death or illness of celebrities around our own age. While I don’t believe that their lives are more special than mine, it can be hard not to secretly suspect that their barbeque areas aren’t paved with gold.
Which was why the passing of Emma Chambers at 53 and Stephen Fry’s cancer diagnosis were all the more shocking this week. Without meaning to give them god-like status, it’s easy to assume that these people are untouchable, for no other reason than they have the money to pay their way out of death.
Not true, sadly.
I don’t know Emma and Stephen personally, but the gifts of the arts and culture are their reach and the poignant way they touch our souls. The works of these two, in particular, have resonated with me on different levels: I have followed Fry’s struggles with depression and tested my stress incontinence several times watching Emma in Notting Hill and The Vicar of Dibley.
Emma was 53, Stephen is 60 – similar in age to myself – a make or break period where the poor decisions of youth and bad genes can start to catch up. I’m not afraid to admit that I get a bit scared when I look back at all the cigarettes I rolled in my twenties.
Worse, I know from experience that death is forgotten, quicker than any of us would like. Not because of our shallowness or callousness, but because of its inevitability, because of the prolonged pain from dwelling upon it, the busy-ness of life and the salient reminder to squeeze every last drop out of it.
So I’ve decided that I want to die from a long illness – words I imagine I will eat should my fate work out that way – and in spite of the inevitable pain and suffering that decision will cause to my others and myself. I want the luxury of being able to say my goodbyes, and in a perverse way, I want to feel spoiled during my last moments. I want everyone to focus on me for once, and the role I played in their lives. I don’t care if there’s a wake or a party – I’ll be dead anyway.
Thanks for the laughs, Emma. Good luck, Stephen.
Family and friends: FYI, I don’t like grapes, but weirdly I am quite partial to wine.