Dialogue of the Death?

                                                     DIALOGUE OF THE DEATH?

SP and MH have known each other on and off since the early ‘70s, when both were researchers in C. Their relationship has many aspects – professional, personal and familial. They get on well and badly by turns. They don’t agree about much. Currently, they exchange Xmas cards and letters, detailing family news. Rather than remaining in memory-lane mode, which seemed to offer no more than diminishing returns, MH thought the relationship might be re-vamped a bit by sharing reflections on ageing and death – what we might best do between now and then and how to have a good death then. The reflections might even be interesting and mutually supportive. Never know your luck! They decided to give it a go and here is the initial exchange.


You mentioned in your email, that you were thinking about the matter of death. 

Yes it has to be thought about. I have just about got through a rather mournful period which visited me prompted by my realisation that I was on a plateau and really had to make better use of the fit times left.

I think that I am still working through the loss of my sister in law last year and this breaks the links back to my own immediate family and my brother .

One strange experience I have been having in recent years arises from my membership of an elderly performing music group.  The age of the group extends up into the eighties.   During the time I have been part of the group we have lost three of them to cancer, two further members have had to withdraw due to ongoing cancer coupled in one case with heart problems, one has had a second disabling stroke, another has neuromuscular problems which affect his instrument playing, and another had lost the short-term memory to long-term memory transfer ability, so that new material seems to not have lasting effects on his performance with scores.  Practice just does not result in enduring improvement. Others have hearing and vision problems, and balance problems. 

Despite this, they turn up and have a go.  The ones who have not yet expired I mean – of course.  I am fortunate in not being too disabled and can move relatively swiftly, when required.  The whole situation doth make you think.  

Meanwhile in the German group I manage, we have acquired a 91 year old member – V.  She learnt her German and lived in parts of Germany in her adolescent years.  She has just completed a 300 page novel and is – apart from great difficulty with walking – crackling on.  

Mentally I mean.  Maybe the term to use there is `cracking’  on – my crackling term  suggest a coal or wood fire image. Perhaps.


I found this very interesting and well in line with my own concerns. For example, ‘my realisation that I was on a plateau and really had to make better use of the fit times left’ echoes my own sentiments exactly. I would also ask , how might I prolong the fit times left? But we will come to that later.

Sorry bout the ‘broken links’, so to speak; but it’s also a regular part and parcel of the ageing evolution and has to be accommodated in one way or another. I am not much help there, I am afraid.

I warmed to your two concepts – ‘cracking on’ and ‘crackling on’. I have similar stories to tell.

The ‘cracking on’ story involves badminton, which I play every Tuesday for an hour and a half with a local authority-organised over 50s (but more like over 70s) group. We only play doubles, partly for health and partly for social reasons. Two weeks ago, we had a foursome, including: a woman with an articulated prosthetic, without which she cannot walk, never mind about run; a woman with a heart condition and a pace-maker and who often stops, because she feels a bit ‘whoosey’; a woman with an arthritic lumbar 4/5 region; and a man (me) with a heart condition (atrial fibrillation, for which he needs to wear a heart monitor, to be sure he does not exceed hearmax (140bpm in his case)). But they all turned up, giving of their best and cracking on, playing competitively, managing rallies of more than 15 shots and laughing like drains at every opportunity. This is cracking on at its best.

The ‘crackling on’ story involves a tennis group of about eight people, who play three mornings a week. Of the eight, three players cannot walk more than three steps. They were all good players in their time, so if the ball comes within the three steps, they return it well – drive, volley. lob – you name it. To make even games, the three players are divided among the remaining ‘runners’ (including my atrial fibrillating self) and with a little judicious placing of the ball a good game is had by all. The three ‘crackling on-ers’, however, are often in serious pain, are unsteady on their feet and constitute a danger to themselves.

I am happy to be a cracker on-er; but not to be a crackling on-er. The reasoning is simple. At some point, load-bearing sports, like badminton, tennis and running, which are hard on the joints, make less sense and are less sustainable, than non load-bearing ones, like swimming and cycling. Of course, that might involve re-learning sporting skills and re-forming social relations. That is my intent, however, in the interests of exercise/sport sustainability. I have explained this carefully to all the crackling on-ers; but they show no interest at all in changing from tennis.

What do you reckon? How are you going to better spend your fit time? We must be told!


My activities in the Music Making and German language areas are in lockdown at the moment. My role in the German group is as Mr Admin man and the finder of resources which offer entertaining and informative material to enhance our ability with ` Everyday day’.  Both written and spoken. We have Rebranded the group focus. But we have not continued with the classes by Virtual means, since Lockdown happened, because everyone agreed that Zooming was a bit of a hassle for us oldens.
The same is true for the Music Making group – you cannot really rehearse effectively with 2 metre spacing. However me  and the Conductor/ arranger are finding music which is suitable for our resources and skills level and circulating these as Home Work in preparation for coming together  in mid-September. If we all last that long. The group’s mean age is up in the vulnerable category and as I may have mentioned before individual members show deficits of various kinds – cognitive and neuro muscular and sensory.  But not usually all in the same person.  But over time we have lost members due to illness and I am afraid death. It `appens.