Tag Archives: Broughton-in-Furniss

Eternal non-existence

I was on holiday last week in the Lake District.  The weather was beautiful all week and we spent every day walking the hills around the Duddon Valley before sampling a different real ale each evening in the Manor Arms in Broughton-in-Furness.  I also found time to read a small pile of books in which a recurring theme seemed to be death, perhaps because I was sensitised to it by the most substantial book on the pile: ‘All that remains: a life in death‘ by Sue Black, who is a leading professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology. In her brilliant memoir, she identifies three stages: dying, death and being dead.  She worries most about the first stage, dying, which in common with most people, she would like to skip through as quickly as possible.  However, she is intrigued by the threshold that separates dying from being dead and would like to experience it when the time comes; although that sounds like professional curiosity to me and I would be happy to skip through that too.  As she points out, those fears that we might have about the third stage, being dead, depend on our belief in what happens to us after death.  Not many people write books at the age 99, so I was curious to read a collection of essays by Diana Athill who was born in 1917 and published ‘Alive, Alive Oh!‘ in 2016.  The final essay is entitled ‘Dead right’ and is about her recollection of a contribution to a discussion on a television programme about death made by the photographer, Rankin.  The contributor said ‘that not existing for thousands and thousands of years before his birth had never worried him for a moment, so why should going back into non-existence at his death cause him dismay?’.