I Guess We’re Mortal After All

I’m feeling emotionally volatile this week. It is probably a combination of a few things, but I’ve been trying to come up with candidates in my mind. My third cycle of chemotherapy has been feeling harder than the others mentally. There is always a lull period after a positive build up to Christmas, where the excitement dips again as another year draws to a close. I also wonder if I am experiencing a down period after finally releasing the blog, after thinking about the concept over a matter of weeks and feeling so excited by it; it doesn’t diminish my sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with the blog, but I think it is worth mentioning as a potential factor.

I’m finding myself gravitating to a metal band called Architects’ 2018 album titled ‘Holy Hell’ at the minute. It was their first album release after their guitarist and one of their founding members, Tom Searle, died of cancer in 2016 after a 3-year battle with cancer. Tom Searle’s twin brother Dan Searle is also a founding member of the band playing drums. He was aged 28 when he died, the same age I am now and the age I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Together, they were the sole founders of the original band.

The band are undeniably “heavy” and will not be to everyone’s taste, but the album is littered with poignant and heart-wrenching lyrics of loss and grief. In a different sort of post, I am going to pull out some of the lyrics which speak to me in my current headspace and talk about them.

Dan Searle is credited for these lyrics as far as I can see, so you know that they are coming from a place of real pain and loss. Despite being very close with my entire family, I cannot imagine what Dan Searle went through writing these lyrics and processing the situation. These twins were founding members in their band who went on to become one of the most successful in the genre, in the UK and beyond. They achieved so much together, yet Tom’s life was drawn to a tragic, premature close. Unfortunately, that is the reality of cancer sometimes.


Mortal After All

Have you forgotten the deal we made?
I've seen the end and the pain we trade
All these walls will fall
I guess we're mortal after all

I can only speak to my experience here but accepting my own mortality has never been easy for me. The cancer diagnosis certainly forced me to address this somewhat dark reality: that life is fragile, age is not a guarantee of health and that one day, we all must address the fact that we are mortal after all. The thing I have always wrestled with more is the mortality of the ones around me that I love. When I was young, I would spend a lot of time worrying about my parents and how they may die. Would they suffer? Are they scared of death? I’d torture myself over those questions more than I would ever torture myself over the question of whether I fear death or if I would suffer at its hands. It didn’t seem relevant to me yet; I was too young to think about it. Something I have learnt about myself in this process is that I genuinely don’t think I fear death or suffering. For the first 2 weeks after my diagnosis, I did not get any reassurance from any medical professionals that I had a good chance of survival. It felt like it was time for me to accept that this will likely kill me, something which I thought would be daunting. In reality, I could only think of all the incredible people I know in my life, the friends I’ve met, the things I’ve done and the times I’ve shared. I felt no fear of death, only appreciation of what I had in my life. To be able to die feeling that way felt like an honour, and I was proud of it. The ultra-marathons I revelled in entering took a lot of suffering, both to train for and to complete. My suffering at the hands of the cancer isn’t so different, and I’m sure if I manage to beat it, the end will feel comparable to other fitness events I have completed, but with a much higher degree of emotional intensity and reward. It is a reminder that we are all mortal though, a fact which isn’t worth dwelling over constantly, but worth remembering.


Doomsday

They say "the good die young"
No use in saying "what is done is done" 'cause it's not enough
And when the night gives way
It's like a brand new doomsday
What will be will be
Every river flows into the sea, but it's never enough
And when the night gives way
It's like a brand new doomsday

I remember first hearing this song and finding the lyrics in the chorus utterly devastating. The injustice and pain of the situation cut through the song, with the added depth of the shouted vocals and driving guitar riffs. You can feel the anguish just reading the words. In my current situation, I really relate to the concept of a brand-new doomsday being felt over and over again. Some mornings I wake up and cannot control my negativity over the situation. The morning brings a new doomsday which I must work through. It is not the same doomsday as Dan is likely writing about, as his is one of grieving, but I like to think they are coming from a similar place. The imagery of the line ‘Every river flows into the sea, but it’s never enough’ always strikes me. Us humans are quite self-centred generally, and we get very caught up in our own reality. But the fact is that the world continues whether we live or not, and we are the only ones really trying to seek meaning in any of the things taking place. Everything else just is. It may feel like it isn’t enough for us because we attach so much emotion and meaning to things that occur in the world, but in the grand scheme of things, everything that happens just happens. Although it sounds nihilistic in a way, I take a lot of positivity from this fact. If my life is due to end at the hands of pancreatic cancer, then that is Ok. I am not naïve enough to think that I am making it out of life alive, I just hoped I would not be dealing with this situation at such an early age. But there are plenty of people who have died younger than me, who have suffered more than me, and who are battling far more difficult situations with less support than me. I was born into a love-rich family, in a wealthy country and with a stable life around me. The world will carry on whether I live or die, and I like to think I will have left an impression on the ones I love that will keep my memory alive longer than my body was ever capable of.


A Wasted Hymn

Is this penance for my sins?
I gave everything for this phantom limb
Holy Ghost, nothing lasts forever
Now it's time to sink or swim
I've got nothing except this wasted hymn
Holy Ghost, nothing lasts forever

I got into A Wasted Hymn a few years after the album came out, only a few months before being diagnosed. It came on random on my Spotify I think, and the chorus spoke to me more than it had any other time that I had listened to it. The feeling of hopelessness is so well portrayed in the chorus, with the attempt to excuse it in the words ‘Holy Ghost, nothing lasts forever’. The fact that the hymn is described as wasted emphasises that the feeling is that the subject, Dan, feels as though the words mean nothing if they cannot change the reality of the situation. Or that is how I read it anyway. For me, the song strikes a lot of emotion in me as it makes me think about my loved ones trying to process what is happening and may happen to me. Will the same feeling of hopelessness and nihilism be prominent in their thoughts? Will they try to blame themselves in some way (‘Is this penance for my sins?’)?

All these lyrics are a grave reminder that your death doesn’t end all the pain for everyone else, it is the beginning of a new pain for the people who love you. All I can say to reassure them from my perspective is that I truly believe that death is the end of the pain for the person dying, and that you must hold onto that fact. Sometimes, it is the only positive that can be drawn from a person’s death. The world existed for an inconceivable time before we were born, and it will continue to do so after we die. Although our lives are full of meaning and beauty, we are all bound to fade back into nothingness eventually, and that is what makes life so special, as well as painful… nothing lasts forever.

4 thoughts on “I Guess We’re Mortal After All

  1. Orlagh says:

    I wanted to say something profound and grand ,and say how horrible it all is but I can’t . I think your blog deserves to be followed and be a little beacon for those who struggle in life.
    You see people and you never really know what’s going on in their lives and this does drive that home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would argue that you did say something profound and it’s extremely touching of you! You really don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives too. Most people are fighting something! Take care and thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

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  2. Hey mate, I wrote a comment on one of your other posts but it randomly vanished so I thought i’d post here again. You are a very talented writer, and a brave man for sharing your story. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts! The peeing in a bottle story was particularly funny – have no shame bud, we have all done it 😬😅. I just wanted to say, keep fighting. My nephew was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer age six and had a tumour the size of a small book removed from his chest. He is now 14 and lives life with no boundaries. Tap into that grit and resilience. But like you say, also become friends with the sadness when it inevitably arrives. Make space for it all. Wish you all the best mate. Look forward to reading more of your writing. Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Paul. I’m so sorry your comment disappeared. This one is so incredibly heartfelt and lovely to read – I hate the thought of you taking time to write it and then it disappearing! Thank you so so much for this; it’s really lifted my spirit as I’ve woken up feeling quite nauseous at 2am! That’s amazing about your nephew too – what a fighter he must be. And I bet he appreciates life more than most adults do now, and always will! Thank you again for your kind words and I’m so happy you’ve enjoyed the writing. The cancer gave me a bit of confidence to try it out, I’ve always enjoyed writing though. In a way I’m grateful to the situation as it’s forced me to do it and have some confidence in my abilities. It means so much when someone like yourself has such good things to say about it. All the best, Dan

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