I started to think about my mortality when my children were quite small, and it was largely a negative feeling, that my children needed me to be around for them, that it would be awful for them if their mother died while they were still so young. It was some years later when I felt that I could die now and my children would manage without me. It was a huge relief to know they were independent individuals who had developed their own identities.

When I was in my early 50s my husband died very suddenly; he killed himself after leaving a note saying he couldn’t cope. Early in my bereavement I felt I had no future, but despite the grief and shock I knew also that I wanted to live my own life to the full. I made positive changes in my work (becoming freelance) and in my lifestyle (giving up smoking) to ensure I was in the best possible place to enjoy the life I had in front of me. I’ve always embraced change, enjoyed making decisions and being in control of my own life.

Now I’m in my early 70s, and I think about my own death more often. I’m amazed to have lasted this long, as my father died when he was the same age I am now. I still want to pack in as much life as I can – I want to see my grandchildren grow up, and to continue to be healthy, active, constantly learning, and politically engaged. I want to be able to choose the timing of my painless, peaceful death and I’ve written my wishes for my funeral. Then, my only wish is that I am remembered by those who love me.

My mother has had cancer twice and thankfully survived both episodes of illness, but we live with the shadow that it may return. This has brought my awareness of our relationship to a different and sometimes complex emotional place. My father/s and other relatives have equally been treated for cancer in alarming numbers. So, whilst Covid-19 has cast a shadow of fear of death globally, these realities have already played out for me and my family several times.

My brother-in-law currently has a terminal diagnosis of cancer and is living his remaining days in excruciating pain. We are only three months apart in age. As someone contemplating that I have at 45 likely lived over half my life, I can’t help but feel fortunate, whilst younger relatives and increasingly friends of my generation have since passed away. A close friend once told me aging is a privilege, having lost her own father suddenly in his forties. Years of indiscriminate loss of life around me has brought my mortality very much to the fore of my mind. Having had brushes with death, it has been survivor guilt that threatened to overwhelm me rather than fear of death itself. My hope is to have choice and dignity when it eventually comes for me.

Yet as a humanist I cherish life, love deeply, and endeavour to notice the seasons change, watch the sun set, and be here mindfully, now, without regrets. Life frequently challenges my philosophical efforts and I get distracted with stresses that in time I know will seem insignificant. I have spoken with my spouse and a few close relatives about our mortality and we have shared our wishes for the dealings of each of our deaths. In the meantime, I live each day reminding myself this life is truly spectacular.

During my life I have been very fortunate, in that I have experienced and am experiencing many wonderful things, including great love. I have visited beautiful and interesting places, but have also had difficult times due to family illness. I derive great pleasure in talking to people from different cultures. These things all give perspective to life.

Being out in nature is important to me; I experience great pleasure in just looking at a tree, a river or a flower, or in seeing birds and animals. These vary so much depending on the light, the time of year and the situation.

My own mortality has only passed through my mind occasionally, though in a few weeks’ time I shall be the same age as my mother when she died. This fact is making me pause to reflect. As with many people getting older, I do have a fear of dementia. I really enjoy puzzles and games, especially with the thought that this may help to keep my brain functioning satisfactorily.

As a humanist, I believe that we have one life so must make the most of it and appreciate it to the full. We live on in the memories of other people, especially our family and friends.

I would like to have means to end my life if it becomes intolerable. Having that ability would, I think, be reassuring. I also fear not being able to action this myself. I have experienced three elderly relatives who, near the end wished their lives to end.

Being older also gives me the opportunity to reflect and focus on what is important to me in life and to savour it.

I am not afraid of death or when I am going to die, just how I am going to die. My life is finite. I will have to die sometime, probably not of my choosing. If I had a life threatening and debilitating illness, I would like the choice of when and how. Bring on ‘Assisted Dying’!

I have thought of and accepted my death for a long time – as a teenager, in adulthood and now, my senior years. There have been difficult times when I thought I would end my life. In those dark times I dwelt on who I was and why living seemed unbearable. I knew I would not have any regrets if I did die but realised this would have a huge impact on those closest to me. Somehow, I found positive thoughts: recognising the love around me, difficulties I had overcome, and that life can be exciting.

Life is for living, through good and bad. We all have different experiences of what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times. My bad times have not been terrible, although they felt it at the time. I have been fortunate, with my upbringing and education. I learned I must take responsibility for my life as far as I can, to ask for help or accept love and support from other people, even from strangers, as little acts of kindness can make a huge impact.

I accept my death will happen as I am human. So, I want to live my one life being kind, respecting others and making the most of what I have. Experiencing each day, good or bad, offers new opportunities to learn, enjoy simple pleasures and to make a positive difference in this world. My death will be the end of a simple life.

In my late sixties, a routine blood test gave an off the scale reading. I knew I’d got a problem. The consultant confirmed the worst.

‘Is this going to kill me?’ I asked.

He didn’t mince words. ‘Most certainly it will’

Dozens of appointments and treatments followed and a lot of thinking. I decided to confront, not deny, to be happy, not miserable, and to use every minute.

For me, the issue has three parts.

One: That I’ll be dead. I really do believe it will be just like it was before I was born. So being dead holds no fears.

Two: The potential pain, indignity and distress of dying. I have always supported campaigns for assisted dying. Now I have even more reason to. I have spent time researching how I might protect myself and have taken what steps I can.

Three: The frustration of leaving the party while I’m still enjoying myself. I don’t begrudge others the fun they’ll have when I’ve gone, but I could be fed up thinking of all the happiness I’ll miss – my family and friends, especially the grandchildren growing up, the countryside, music, good beer, hot buttered toast and other pleasures of the flesh! So, I set about squeezing maximum enjoyment into what time there is – seeing more of the family, walking every day, exploring Wagner’s operas, drinking more beer, and the rest.

Postscript: My initial prognosis was two to three years. I’ve been spectacularly lucky. Things were not quite so bad – one important diagnostic parameter was atypical and deceptive. My salary package included health insurance which paid for an expensive, unproven but promising treatment not available on the NHS. Now, four years from diagnosis, I’m almost completely without symptoms and enjoying life – perhaps more even than I did before!

I sometimes think about death, and my own death in particular. While I remain conscious it will always be ‘now’ for me, and so I will never experience that state of not being alive. What will that last moment of ‘now’ be like?

At times I almost rejoice at the idea that on my death I will merge with everything in the universe and be part of it.

And I often consider that as long as another human, any human, knows the joy that I have myself experienced, then that would be enough for me, and I will be satisfied with my life. I just regret that my own great projects will remain unfinished, and that I won’t know what happens.

I hope to leave my affairs in order and to dispose of many possessions well in advance. I also hope that if the need arises, I will be able to access assisted dying in this country.

In the meanwhile, my desire and aim is to give an unhindered flow of love and goodness for as long as is possible.

I have long felt that belief in life after death was just arrogant wishful thinking. Fortunately, early in my student days at Imperial College in 1971, I discovered The British Humanist Association where I found others who also chose to live a caring but rational, evidence-based life.

I have always been conscious of my mortality due to the premature death of my ancestors; I never met either Grandfather, one Grandmother died at 65, my Mother at 55, and Father at 73.

I have led an active and stimulating life and try to make every day count. What I most value in life are my family and friends. Simple pleasures, like dog-walking with grandchildren through woods by a river, provide much joy whatever the season.

Now, approaching 70 years, I am aware of my declining health. I do not fear death as I do not expect to be aware of anything afterwards. What I do fear is life without quality and a lingering and possibly painful death.

Some years ago, I joined EXIT, formerly known as the Scottish Euthanasia Society, where I learned how I could plan the end of my life, simply, without suffering or traumatising loved ones. This knowledge continues to empower me in the belief that I could have control over the end of my life.

I will be satisfied that after I die, I will live on in the memories of those I loved.

On mortality

To try to understand my own mortality I must look back at my life and look forward to my death. Mortality meaning the fact that I am subject to death, I am not immortal. In my mind I wish to dispute this solid truth. Although I am old, I try not to be old.

My death will be defined by my life; the life I have lived. On balance, without false modesty, I believe that I have been more positive rather than negative. I have experienced great successes and acknowledge dismal failures. Such has been my life’s pattern. I was an unwanted child but I am privileged to have known great love for forty years, from my wife who departed some years ago. In my life, I have touched people, influenced them or given cause for reflection. Those whom I have inspired or taught and, in more recent years perhaps, those whom I have married and the loved ones of those whose funerals I have conducted. I will have left behind some monuments, things that I have made or written, that will outlive me. Eventually, these also will fade away. So, what is this life of mine? I want to say that I have done my best to be a useful contributor to the kaleidoscope of events and philosophies that have surrounded me and, I suppose, none of us can ask for more than that.

I have no fear of death but great concern about the manner of my dying. I might come to the point where I am a burden on others or am stripped by disease of my dignity. If I see that coming I shall slip, quietly, away.

I am fortunate that my life has been a happy one. Now retired, my days still fill with simple pleasures, a favourite of which are walks with my wife Lek, our still-growing family, and my whippet. Lek and I treasure above all else these times spent with our family. But I am now getting close to the end of my life. This prospect does not trouble me greatly even though, as a scientist, I discounted long ago any supernatural explanation of life in favour of one based on natural forces, including evolution, genetics, and heredity. My own genetic make-up, inherited from my parents and theirs, has already been passed to our children and grandchildren in that cycle from birth to birth that bypasses death. Although I am saddened to think that my death may cause my family grief, they will surely be comforted knowing as they walk away from the grave, that they together represent more of me than lies behind. And they will know that I loved them each and that their company was my greatest pleasure. I find immense comfort also in knowing that the same ties of heredity binds us to all life on earth, in all its various forms. We must therefore be kind, and look after each other.

Looking towards my final days, I want to avoid that greatest of all indignities and distresses, of declining into mental confusion and helplessness. If that seems likely I have planned a merciful end to my own happy life.

Ideally, if we live a full life, when the end comes we should be ready to meet it, perhaps even welcome it. Endings of any kind necessarily embody sadness, and in one’s ending of endings the sadness is intensified. Yet endings can also embody satisfactions: in having stayed the course, having achieved things, having put more in than one has taken out.

I have had a disjointed, though colourful, life. I suppose those two are related. There is a danger, particularly in ‘developed’ countries, of seeing success in life as being defined by material accumulation rather than the development of enlightenment, knowledge and wisdom. It is fine to accumulate wealth provided we do so by doing something we love.

Another corrosive issue is safety culture. One aspect of this is keeping life going when there is no life left in life. I intend to plan my exit and be present at my wake, which I hope will be a hell of a party. I found the book ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris an inspiration for this.

My greatest satisfactions are in having effected positive change through doing things which I have taken delight in. I also get a kick out of confounding expectations. I think it is true that as one gets older one regrets more the things one has not done, due to lack of courage, than the mistakes one has made due to poor judgement. Another regret is not appreciating things enough, which I expect is quite common.

A peculiarity of my life is that, after experiencing poor health in childhood, my health has gradually improved as I have aged. This has led to me feeling more light-hearted. Thus, in the autumn of my years, I am enjoying the occasional spurt of late flowering immaturity.