Follow Liam’s personal series with excerpts from his book.
Throughout my recovery two big questions were occasionally asked of me. They tended to only be asked by people who either knew me well enough or whose curiosity was brave enough. The first was if I had got ready to die. The second was if I believed in God. My answer in both cases was yes.
I knew that as a human being I had probably come as close as I possibly could to death without actually dying. I always considered therefore that I would have been foolish to either ignore possibility of my demise or pretend it wasn’t going to happen. I also knew that I was only going to be as strong as my weakest point. My fight had to be total. I couldn’t afford to have a flaw in it. For that to happen I needed to be not afraid to die. If I achieved that my fight would be indestructible.
Death is something that is going to happen to us all. Yet we never really seem to want to talk about it. It is rarely covered in the media. We spend most of our lives acting as if it is never going to happen. It is the dark corner that very few of us are prepared to shine a light into. But just as we live so too will we die. It is always a sad occasion of course. This is understandable. It is the end of a life. We are saddened by the loss of our relative or friend. When somebody young dies we can also be shocked. Shocked that they died at such a young age. But why is this the case? We all know, deep down, that death can come at any age. Nobody has ever been given a guarantee. Nobody has been promised a minimum of ninety years on this earth of ours. Death is always sad but it can never be unexpected. That is the essence of what it is.
These sentiments may appear harsh but if you need to address death you need to recognise it for what it is, not for what you would like it to be. You are then in a position to disarm it. You can remove all your fear of it. That is your first move. We are all going to die. That simple statement alone completely imobilizes the “it won’t happen to me” generation.
When you accept that it is going to happen, the only question remaining is timing. Now you need to examine to the possibility that it might happen sooner rather than five, ten, or twenty years time. Now you are on a level with your opponent for the first time. You are no longer denying that he exists. Your next move is to start turning the tables. You need to have the strength to see, like you have never done before, that your glass is half full and not half empty. You need to use the possibility of your imminent death as an opportunity to treasure your wonderful gift of life you have lived to experience. This line of reasoning will completely wrong foot the Grim Reaper!
I felt as if I had sat at a poker table with my death the night I cross examined myself in the hospital. I surprised my more fancied opponent that night. Every time he raised I matched the bet. Every time he bluffed I called his bluff. I faced him and told him I was not afraid. He knew he had no hold on me after that. He knew I had taken his trump card out of his hand. He knew I was no longer afraid to die.
Had I not looked at my death I would not have seen my life. And when I did I started to see things I had never seen before. I saw a young man who had lived a fine life. He had been born into a great family with a fantastic mother, father, grandmother and three great sisters. He lived in a lovely little Irish village with an unusual name where he had an old railway station and the Hill of Horseleap as the setting for his many boyhood adventures. He had lived when there were no world wars, no plague, no famine. He went to school and made good friends wherever he went. He decided he wanted to be an architect and got the chance to do so. He went to college. But he didn’t just go to college in any old city, he went to college in Liverpool. He made more great friends there. He went to London, had a great time and collected even more friends. He met a lovely girl called Pam Teese and got married with a three day wedding. He lived in a lovely little house and had great neighbours. He got a job for eight years in a great practice at the Albert Dock. He was there when his first son, Christy, was born, followed by two more, Lowell and Abe. He moved to Ireland with his family and found the idyllic setting of Ballina and Killaloe. He found a wonderful community waiting for him there. He set an architectural practice with his wife and designed the new stadium for Athlone Town football club. This man had lived a beautiful life. This man was me. After living so well I had nothing to fear in death.
The next morning I read the newspaper again. I read it to find the people who would never be me. People who had not died. The child soldier in Africa, the oppressed factory worker in Asia, the child thief in South America. All of these could live to ninety and they would still never have the life that I have had. They will never go to college and get whisked off to John O’Groats by Pete Morgan. They will never catch Neil Youngs plectrum. They will never run a marathon. They will never meet Simon Rogers. They may all live a lot longer than me but I will have had ten times the life that they will have. I have lived a great and privileged life. How can I now start to complain when I see what others must face.
Perspective is the perfect antidote to fear of death. Appreciating what we have had, compared to others, can make our death more palatable. Is it not better to live a short happy life than a long sad one. In those lives we have uncertainty every day. Death is just the greatest uncertainty of all. But it is the only uncertainty that is certain to happen. Until then our lives are an incredible gift to all of us. Until then the glass is wonderfully half full. My glass was empty and somebody half filled it again. My death has already come and incredibly left again. By not fearing death, I lived. I beat him at the greatest game of poker there could ever be.
One day he will return again And one day it will be his turn to win. When that day comes I will still not be afraid. I have already faced him at the table and now he has no hold over me. I will not forget him. When that day comes it should not be a sad day. It should give cause to celebrate the incredible life that I have had, rather then mourn the part of that life that was never to be.