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.

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.

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.