Tonight is a special terrible night.
A woman sits at her father’s bedside, watching the clock tick away the last hours of his life. Her brothers and sisters – all broken, their bonds fragile – have been there for the past week, but now she is alone.
And that’s when it always comes.
The clock ticks, the darkness beckons.
If it comes at all.
Death has become something of a taboo subject in modern day, western culture. With improved health care and a better scientific understanding of the body and how it works, we see ourselves as immortal, as indestructible. We see death and ourselves existing as two separate entities.
So when death does pass by, brushing its icy fingers against our cheeks, reminding us of its presence, our minds are stormed by a range of different emotions.
Fear. Anger. Despair. Confusion. We just cannot handle it. We don’t know how to handle it.
…death doesn’t define us and The Language of Dying reminds us of this. To quote this brutally honest yet beautiful novella, death isn’t our “everything”… it’s simply the end of our everything.
What I liked about The Language of Dying is that the disturbing, heart wrenching scenes in which the unnamed narrator’s father is dying are interchanged with happier memories of him. Although the narrator is honest about the fact he wasn’t a perfect father, we still see moments shared between them, moments in which his wit, humor and intelligence shine through, demonstrating to us that he’s so much more than just his dying. He’s a person just like anyone else and his dying doesn’t diminish that fact. There are scenes where the narrator looks into his eyes and can still see him, his essence, beneath everything he’s become in recent weeks.
The fact that the narrator is unnamed is significant. Death affects everyone and the protagonist’s lack of name shows that she is everyone She is me. She is you. She is our neighbors. She is our coworkers.
She is all of us.
The Language of Dying serves as poignant reminder that death comes to us all and while it’s normal to fear it, we can’t let it tear us apart from everything we have been and everything we have achieved.
There are three instances throughout the book where the narrator, in the midst of a life-changing event, looks out of her window and sees a creature “like a horse but more solid”, with “red eyes” and a black horn that “grows twisted from between its eyes, a thick, deformed, calloused thing”. The significance of this “beast” is open to interpretation, particularly when it appears in the final scene. For me, its death incarnate. It first appears upon the death of the narrator’s childhood. In her early twenties, it appears in the wake of the death of her naivety. However, it’s only when it appears moments before her father’s death that she chooses to follow it.
Like I said, its symbolism is open to interpretation. Her pursuit of the creature following her father’s death, for me, signified her resignation to death and a realization of the freedom it has given her. Death comes to us all and we can either deny its existence, or we can embrace the reality of it and live our lives as freely and happily as we can until our time comes.
Death isn’t our everything. It’s simply the end of our everything. Make that everything worthwhile.
Song: The Beatles’ Let it be
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.