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How the loss of these famous faces has got me raging against dying of the light

By Paul Hopkins

Published 06/02/2016

So sad: the passing on of (from left) Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Sir Terry Wogan gives pause for thought about our mortality
So sad: the passing on of (from left) Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Sir Terry Wogan gives pause for thought about our mortality

Something strange, unnerving even, has happened to me of late, and there is little comfort in knowing I am far from being alone in being struck down by a malaise of sorts.

It has crept up on me in the last 12 months or so, during which time 19 - yes, 19 - former colleagues in this relentless and remorseless trade we ply that is newspapers have died, ranging in age from early 40s to mostly late 50s and early 60s. Gone, just like that. Their final deadline met.

No more with them the co-authoring of epic tales and daring scoops, or the exchange of idle banter over pints and small ones when the working day was done.

In the same period I lost three old friends from the days of my youth and though our paths had seldom crossed in latter years their going was nonetheless a huge blow to me.

Then came the departure of David Bowie, then Alan Rickman, Glen Frey and now too, the larger-than life Terry Wogan.

And with the front pages writ large with news of the celebrity deaths, there it is again once more: this melancholic and salutary reminder of my own mortality. That one day, I too shall cease to be.

Am I, as Terry Wogan said of himself, to ignore the admonishment of Dylan Thomas, and to not "rage, rage against the dying of the light ... "?

I suppose it all began for me 15 years ago when I was in my late 40s, what some might call middle age, and my parents died within 10 weeks of each other, my mother of a broken heart, not wishing to go on without my dad.

Where always, until then, I had viewed them as on the precipice of mortality - in short, that I was unlikely to go before them - now I had moved one step closer to the abyss. And, of course, this became more pronounced as I watched my three children grow and blossom.

Time may well be the healer but in truth you never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone.

Just when you think it's reconciled, accepted, it hits you all over again, that shocking sense of annihilation. The sun will come up tomorrow, but never again the lighting up of an old familiar face.

And of course, having now - whisper it, please - reached the other side of 60, I am only too acutely aware that, while much has been written about the midlife crisis, there is very much less about the late midlife crisis - or perhaps it should be called early old age. Yes, yes, I know I'm not "old" yet, 60 is the new 40 and all that, but still the thoughts persist.

When you are young, life seems like it's forever, the days endless, the dark of the night strangely reassuring.

When my father was 50, and I just 20, he said to me one day for no particular reason: "Life goes in so quickly."

I thought him full of self-pity and loathing. Now I know what he meant. That is the cruel trick of ageing, of growing old. Rich or poor, celebrity or no, Bowie and Wogan and those 19 colleagues and three old friends have turned out to be merely mortal.

While, as humans we are capable of discussing everything under the sun, we seldom, if ever, discuss in any meaningful way death, specifically our own deaths. Don't mention it and the Grim Reaper might just not notice you are still hanging on to your mortal coil. If only it were that easy.

I do not wish to sound morbid, for I am not and I embrace and enjoy each day and every moment and have the kindest regard for old age and its (hopefully) accompanying wisdom, for old age is something denied so many. Nonetheless, the dawning realisation of my own mortality, that some day I too shall cease to be, has been elongated, painful, traumatic even - that sometimes on the verge of sleep at night I am suddenly jolted back to reality by the terrifying thought of it.

I may of late find some sort of solace in what the science of stem cell pioneer Robert Lanza and biocentrism, or my limited knowledge of quantum physics, tells me - that matter does not come out of nothing and neither can it be destroyed - but, in truth, it is of little consolation or consequence. At best I can think of this time in my life and the going down of friends and musical heroes as looking at life from the other side. Once, all such life had been with potential, still to be fulfilled.

Now, in many ways, for better or for worse, much has been fulfilled and I am grateful for that. That I've made thus far.

There remains only to be accountable...

Belfast Telegraph

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