“My body is my journey, the truest record of all I have done and seen, the site of all my joys and heartbreaks, of all my misapprehensions and blinding insights. If I feel the need to relive the journey it is all there written in the runes on my body. Even my cells remember it, all that sunshine I bathed in as a child, too much as it turned out. In my beginning is my end.”
I wobbled at the beginning of Cory Taylor’s memoir, Dying. She writes of her stage IV melanoma. I had my own meeting with melanoma last year – obviously not as far progressed as Taylor’s but nonetheless, the scar is still very large and very fresh (literally and figuratively) and I wondered whether reading this book was a good idea. It was. Because Taylor doesn’t dwell on her illness, her decline or her imminent death in the way that the title suggests. Instead, she reflects on her life, her family, and the largely dysfunctional relationship western society has with death.
“Despite the ubiquity of death, it seems strange that there are so few opportunities to publicly discuss dying.”
For Taylor, whose cancer was well progressed when she began writing this book, assisted dying was an option she was contemplating. Rather than delving into the ethics (and politics) of that possibility, she compared her situation to that of her mother’s, who, with no control over her death, experienced a long, slow deterioration with dementia.
“If I’m afraid of anything, it’s of dying badly, of getting caught up in some process that prolongs my life unnecessarily.”
Taylor’s lack of fear is the most striking part of her story. Nothing suggests she is scared of what’s ahead. Instead, there is a reoccurring theme of loneliness. Is being lonely more frightening than dying? Perhaps. In particular, she notes the lack of language around death and mortality – for her, as someone without any religious beliefs, this emphasised the feeling of loneliness.
There were parts of this book that shone – I particularly loved the descriptions of her time in Fiji. But there were other parts where I felt Taylor was still sorting her feelings, that she knew she was running out of time to resolve her thoughts on some major family stuff – predominantly in relation to her father and brother – and that, for better or worse, the forum was this memoir. I hope it was cathartic for her.
“A sudden death cuts out all of the ghastly preliminaries, but I imagine it leaves behind a terrible regret for all the things left permanently unspoken. A slow death, like mine, has that one advantage. You have a lot of time to talk, to tell people how you feel, to try to make sense of the whole thing, of the life that is coming to a close, both for yourself and for those who remain.”
Taylor passed away just weeks after the publication of Dying.
3.5/5 It seems to me that the 2017 Stella longlist is The Year of #ALLTHEGRIEF – this is less confronting than you’d expect.
Taylor spent some of her childhood in Fiji – these memories are the fondest in the book.
“Her specialty was a fish stew made with coconut milk and cassava… I would come home to the sweet smell of the stew filling the house.”