I have enjoyed the comfort and thrills of experiencing life with a loving partner for more years than I have without him. I have lived a life of love and fulfilment, of academic and career successes, with many joys and challenges, including raising a beautiful daughter. There’s still more to come, I hope – a new business venture, my daughter’s successes and even retirement in India (maybe). But I wouldn’t want to live forever. The certainty of death is my friend. A friend who helps me lead a good life, helps me to laugh and cry, to love, to take a risk, motivates me to be brave and say yes to experiences whilst I can.

As a child, I was reflective, gentle, and artistic. I was a dreamer and at one with nature – rational and unafraid of dying. I couldn’t remember being unborn, so I convinced myself I wouldn’t remember being dead. I reasoned that when the time comes, it will be okay to go back to the earth and allow other organisms to live through me. These thoughts from a young child may have been naïve, and admittedly they have become more challenging to maintain as an adult. It is painful to think of my loved ones in grief and I worry about the challenges they will face as they inherit this messy planet. I hope I will live through them as they inherit my behaviours and traits – hopefully the good ones! I am certain my legacy will be remembered through them, so I’m trying to make good memories and to tread lightly on this earth for the fleeting time I am lucky enough to be here.


As a confirmed humanist, I understand that when my body finally decides that enough is enough there will be no pearly gates; no paradise; no reunion with my loved ones long gone. That said, I must admit to a degree of envy of those who do believe that their end is not the end. How comforting that must be. However, for those of us who live in the real world, we must plan for the inevitable.

I have tried to live my life according to my humanist principles and so was thrilled when I found a way to extend those principles beyond the grave. When I die, my body will be whisked off to a designated medical school to be used for anatomical examination. How great to be able to contribute to medical knowledge for the benefit of mankind even in death. For me, death is about legacy – what we leave behind.

Life is about love, and death is about legacy. But how to combine the two?

Many years ago I took my lunch on a park bench that had carved into the backrest some words that have since provided me with the courage to face my inevitable death:

‘To live on in the hearts of those that love you is not to die.’

I am blessed with a loving, supportive family who, I know, will always remember me with a deep love and affection. Moreover, I have no doubt that our daughters and grandchildren will continue long after our deaths to adopt the humanist values that my wife and I hold dear.

If that is my legacy, I will die a contented man.

I have not found peace with the idea of dying that some other people have. I am ‘raging against the dying of the light’.

Perhaps more than anything I want to see what happens next, to humanity and the natural world. Will humankind pull back from the brink and stop terrible loss of human and animal life due to climate change, the destruction of most forests and ocean wildlife, all caused by humans? Will all humanity slowly and painfully migrate towards democracy and welfare states and human-rights, such as we have had in the West, or will hierarchies always dominate most of our societies, with all the wealth and power at the top, and most people in poverty and treated cruelly? They are stories I want to know the end to.

I want to see what happens to my children and my nephews and nieces, but maybe if the endings are going to be sad it is better if I don’t know.

I still want to do lots of things. One of the things I would most like to do is to make my painting and other artwork as good as it can be, to fulfil my potential. It is said that to fully achieve one’s full ability in any creative activity one needs 10,000 hours – that is 3 hours a day, 7 days per week, for 10 years. I know that I will probably never reach that, but I won’t die happy until I have gone a long way down that road.

I know in my head that my little bit of consciousness will one day be snuffed out, but I’m not ready yet. I want to grow into my eighties or nineties, and do more of the things that I have for so long wanted to do.

My Mortality is like the mirage-image ship above the horizon: it is not approaching, but it won’t vanish. One day, I may sense that it is nearing, but until then I won’t give it much thought.

Today, the weather-doll Life is out in the open, while Mortality has gone indoors. I’ve been enjoying a blackbird on the chimney, seeds sprouting in the cold-frame, the sounds of Bach and gutsy gusts. Seizing the day means that I’ll work, walk, write.

Humans, like a coral reef, are composed of infinitesimal cellular bodies of different shapes and sizes, beautiful and multi-coloured when alive, but white when dead. I’ll opt for the colour version while I can.

Still, I shall look forward to my final examination. Will I do? When I have no blood left to give, they can take away my body. The medical students who probe and explore will marvel, not at my wasted shape, but at the intricacies of the human body and its thirty-seven or so trillion cells. Until that day, I’ll carry on marvelling at Life.

As a young child in a family of practising Roman Catholics I remember lying in bed at night worrying about dying. Death was something to be feared. I can still feel the echo of that in the pit of my stomach as I write this piece.

Since then I have encountered death in many ways but now it no longer has that grip on my heart. I understand that we are part of a changing and evolving universe where, for me, the gift of life is a random event, so I feel beholden to make the most of my existence while I am still a living, breathing being in our world.

This was most reinforced for me when my previous partner was killed in 2013. Suddenly losing her with no forewarning was an extremely painful event. It led me, however, to understand that I could die at any moment. Because of this, and also to commemorate my partner’s passing, I resolved, wherever possible, to do good in the world for as long as I am able.

Knowing one day that I, as a conscious, living entity, will no longer be part of our human existence, also makes me more determined to make the most of every day I am gifted life by our universe. To take time to encounter the world; to acknowledge the troubles, worries, needs and desires of my human companions on this planet. To allow the natural world to impact me; whether it be insects in the ground I am digging; birds flying above me when I am outside; or the rich variety of trees, plants and all life forms sharing our existence.

Accepting my mortality means that I am committed to living my life to the full and to helping others do the same. It is as simple as that.

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.

I believe that after death we just stop; there is nothing else. So, I don’t have the comfort and luxury of hoping to meet people again. This only adds to the brutal finality of death, and means that every moment of life is precious.

I am in awe of life, of nature, the cosmos, science, literature, music and art. I’m lucky; though I have arthritis with a lowered immune system due to medications, I’m otherwise reasonably healthy. I love my job as a humanist celebrant (when I’m not shielding, as now). My family consists of my husband and grown-up daughter, my sister and nephew and niece, all of whom I love very much. I have a lot of interests and crave as much time as possible to continue them. I do not need to feel that my genes will go on; they won’t – my daughter is adopted. But I believe love goes on, for a while, and when it stops because no one is left to remember you, then in a way it doesn’t matter. ‘All things must pass.’ So, something of me will go on, for a while, in my daughter.

Of course, what I want is to live a full life for as long as possible and die peacefully in my sleep at a ripe old age. But, I’m a realist, and I know that might not happen, so I don’t dwell on it. Shielding has made me think more about my own death. I don’t want it to be because of Covid. Hopefully, it won’t be. In the meantime, I intend to make the most of life, which, as always, means embracing the lows as well as the highs, the sorrow as well as the joy, the dark as well as the light. It is now that matters.

I dyed my hair shocking pink mid-pandemic as a cheer-up measure. Friends wanted to see photos of it. One noted, ‘Enjoy yourself. Keep smiling in your pink hair and cherish your time with your grandchildren – you’re making memories for them that could be around the next 90+ years’.

My death is getting closer. If I live to 90 I have 20 years left. Cherishing those years holds my legacy to the future and my part in it. I am not dead until all memories of me have been sequestered by those who hold them.

Memories are vested liveable moments when you can conjure up the presence of those physically gone. My mother died 3 years ago but she often seems to be at my side and more frequently in cold, windy weather which she hated. It’s been windy recently. I hear her telling me, ‘I’m not going out in this scarifying wind’, and I smile to myself.

Chris, my dead husband, visits me in my dreams, giving me words of his confidence that I can handle whatever situation is bothering me.

Mortality is one-sided. I will be dead, but for others I will be in a different form of life. Memory life. I won’t be ‘here’ except in what others experience as my ‘hereness’. I won’t be able to interact from myself, only from what they create as my responses.

Thus, now, I still have means to shape those creations to some extent. My grandchildren may remember my pink hair. I hope they remember I love them. I wonder if they will tell their grandchildren stories about me and the times we planted acorns, confident of the generations ahead enjoying the oak trees.

My responsibility is huge and I may have 20 years to fulfil it. Mortality is one type of end. The legacies, gifts, and memories of it are possibilities that stretch beyond mortality.

‘I do not fear death’, said Mark Twain. ‘I was dead for billions of years before I was alive, and it caused me not the slightest inconvenience’. For me, the idea that my own mortality is something I have to ‘come to terms with’ is an odd one, like saying one has to come to terms with the fact that night follows day.

My consciousness and personality clearly cannot survive the death of my brain and the rest of my body. It’s obviously impossible. How could the various atoms and molecules which comprise my dead body somehow reform themselves into a version of myself and continue living in some way? And would I really want them to? Equally, the notion put forward by religions that human consciousness survives death in some ‘spiritual’ form can only ever be a matter of pure speculation and imagination. There is no evidence for it: on the contrary, all the evidence is that death is the end of the individual.

So I accept that after I am dead I will no longer exist, any more than I existed for the first 14 billion years following the Big Bang. The truly amazing thing is that I am alive right now, looking out of my conservatory window as I type this, watching the sparrows on the bird feeders, and admiring the snowdrops on the rockery as the weak February sunshine slants across them. For me to exist a certain sperm had to meet a certain egg. My parents had to be born and survive long enough to meet each other, as did their parents and their parents, and so on back (almost) ad infinitum. Being alive is so remarkably unlikely, statistically speaking, that it needs celebrating every moment of every day. So the answer to my own mortality is simple: I try to live healthily so as to postpone my death for as long as possible; and I try to live well and be happy while I am here.

Growing up, I seemed to think about everything more than my friends did. I often thought about dying, or being dead. It may be explained by the Friday night meetings I got taken to by well-meaning Plymouth Brethren Christians. They collected us in their cars (no child protection or safeguarding back then) and took us to a small hut in the local village which was owned by the highly respected Postmaster. There, we were fed sweets whilst simultaneously reciting bible verses, and gustily singing choruses that spoke of black hearts; the blood of the lamb; and hell, fire and damnation. To my 9-year-old sensitivities it was all completely horrific.

Those early experiences shaped me irreparably until, in my forties, I became aware that I had been afraid my whole life, and that what I had been taught back then about my life and my inevitable death had coloured everything I’d been told since. I found the strength eventually to begin to unravel the belief that I would be judged when I died and hopefully go to heaven. I had long since reckoned that hell was a fantastical and outdated notion. I was still however left with the highly unsatisfactory idea that I would have to eternally worship an unfathomable God-type figure.

Finally, aged 47, I stepped away and no longer believed what I had been told as a child. I lost friends, and even my identity for a while, but finally I was free and no longer afraid.

One day I was half listening to an interview on Radio 4 when the women speaking announced that she would be compost when she died. My ears pricked up, what a wonderful thought, that I would simply be compost when life’s breath left me. My mortality is no longer a concern.

I have had, and continue to have, the best of friends. In my younger days I taught P.E. and have enjoyed a physical life.

I love nature and the feel of the wind in my face and blowing through my hair. Storms are my favourite, in particular to be near the sea and see the crashing waves.

I have loved boxing and judo and aikido, and those friends I made have remained true to me. Grateful is a word I would use for my experiences in life.

As I am older now I look back and smile and continue to enjoy each new experience. Savour it all.

No one knows how the end will come and my hope is that I have not offended too many but that I have made many people smile. Being well thought of is important to me.

Some people who I thought highly of have died now and they are missed because I felt they were rich in character.

I have had one or two health scares and I know there is a fragility to life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I do not feel afraid as I know that life follows a pattern.

Living on a farm I see life and death on a regular basis.

It would be good to think in some way I have enriched the lives of others and I hope I have been kind to people.

Make the best of every opportunity and keep smiling.

Things begin and things end.