‘Learning How To Die’ when you're not terminally ill
I am Luca Rutherford. This is me and my big forehead:
I am a writer and performer, based in Newcastle, and am currently touring my solo theatre show, Learning How To Die.
This blog is made up of:
1. An invite to come and see Learning How To Die.
2. My ponderings on death, and Death!
So firstly: the show. I am coming to the end of my tour of Learning How To Die, and would like to invite you to come to performances at Camden People’s Theatre, London, from 3 - 5 May at 7:30pm. I am performing there as part of A Nation’s Theatre, alongside the brilliant Daniel Bye with his show Going Viral. After my run, I am followed by the fascinating company ivo with their show In The Vice Like Grip Of It. For those of you near Halifax, I have my last performance of the tour at Square Chapel Centre for the Arts on 12 May at 8pm.
A bit about the show:
It’s a ‘show about death. It’s not a show about being sad. Or about grief. Or pity. This is a show about the actuality of dying and how an acceptance of mortality can drive a passion for life’.
The description above is some writing I nicked from the show’s blurb. It gives you a generic idea of the show but I thought - and am hoping - it would be more interesting to write about death instead of sharing my marketing materials for a show about death.
To start off, here is a poem what I wrote:
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Happiness is yellow.
Before I’m dead, I won’t be;
Just like you.
When I say I have made a show called Learning How To Die, lots of people respond with: ‘What do you know about it?’ I think this happens because I am 25 and don’t look like I am dying. To be clear: I am not dying. Feels funny saying I am not dying because aren’t we all really? One day we will be dead; surely before we are dead we are dying? I would argue that you do living and dying at the same time!
I feel at this point I need to tell you that my Dad is dying. He has terminal prostate cancer. Strangely, I feel like I have to tell you this bit to stop you from getting irritated at a 25-year-old yabbering on about what she thinks dying is. I don’t like that I feel the need to justify my reflections on death with the ‘trophy’ of experiencing someone dying. But I think that’s how things work or, at least, it’s how I have experienced things to work; we talk about death only in the presence of death, at funerals, in hospitals, at the anniversary of someone’s death. I think we are a bit snobby about death, like it’s some exclusive club that only happens on certain days, invite only. It’s weird; death is the one thing we all have in common but we refuse to make it a common topic of conversation.
What Death looks like:
The thing I find weirdest about death is the fact that we make death, Death, as if Death is a person even though it’s a thing that happens.
I got fed up of Death being the Grim Reaper and I would say, generally, more masculine than androgynous or feminine. So I’ve revamped Death in my head and made her my own. Death is a feminist; there’s no gender inequality when it comes to human mortality. So for me: Death is a punk. Death is a woman with perky tits and no bra, black messy hair, and red lipstick when she feels like it. Basically this babe:
When I think of Death I see the character of Death in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, Preludes & Nocturnes Vol 1.
This is my death, she’ll be different from yours, maybe!
So, Death is a weird pronoun and noun all at the same time. My relationship with death is strange and I feel even stranger. There’s moments when I think I’ve cracked it, when I understand what’s it all about -the living bit and the dying bit, and the being dead bit - and usually just as I think I have figured it out I have a massive wobbly and go back to understanding none of it!
‘Just get on with it’:
Last week I performed Learning How To Die at Derby Theatre. At the end of the performance an older man (I’d say 65ish) came up to me and assertively proclaimed: ‘You think too much, just get on with it’ and walked off. I see his point, but thinking about death helps me ‘get on with it’ better.
I started making Learning How To Die because my Dad started dying. Half-way through making the show my gorgeous, gorgeous friend died on the Germanwings plane crash in March last year. So with dying, death and Death slapping me in the face somewhat, I have become so focused on making my life count. But, of late, this has wound me up like a tight string until I looked like this:
It was only last week that I suddenly realised: I had forgotten about silliness!! To this extent I get what the man was saying in Derby.
I want to think about death and talk about death. I think it’s helpful to be open in talking about death and not leaving it until someone dies, or you start dying. I don’t think talking about death makes it any less painful when it happens but I’ve found it makes my life feel richer, remembering that it won’t last forever.
Death Cafes are beautiful things. People talk and listen, no agenda, no margins for profit, no trying to lead or sway anyone; people simply come together, as equals who will one day die, and share their thoughts about death. It is not a grieving/bereavement or counselling session. I feel at times debate overwhelms discussion. It’s this or that. You are this or that. Them or Us. Him or Her. We define ourselves in opposition. We are against each other, as opposed to defining ourselves with each other. The one thing we all havein common ‘with’ each other, every single one of us, out of the 7.4 billion of us on the planet, is death.
I am facilitating two more Death Cafes: one in London on 4 May, at Camden People’s theatre 3pm-5pm, and in Halifax, at Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, 12 May, 1pm-3pm.
It would be lovely if you wanted to come along and discuss death and what Death is to you.