by Angela Clerkin
One of the most precious things for me about being in the cast of Every One was the interesting conversations I had about death. Some of these were among the company, and others happened after the shows with members of the audience. I also took the opportunity of interviewing visitors who attended the Open House event during our first week of rehearsals. Inspired by the journey of my character Mary, who dies during the play, I asked each person what they thought would happen to them when they died. The interviews lasted three minutes, were recorded on my iPhone and were timed with an egg timer (always visible to the volunteers). Below are snippets from these interviews with the 15 generous humans who agreed to talk to me: (in no particular order) Tina, Emma, Craig, Terek, James, Mufrida, Mike, Helen, Nabil, Chris, Emmanuela, Nick, Katherine, Lucy, Maria.
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENS TO YOU WHEN YOU DIE?
I have no fucking idea what will happen to me when I die, I really don’t. I’m… I don’t care.
I think it’s dust.
I hope I will be a presence. My fear is I will be nothing.
I’m pretty sure we are not here only once.
I think you maybe go into an abyss.
I think I will see nothing. I hate how blanket I am.
I think death is death. Death is the end. A stopping of the body. I think spirit is your life force and that stops with the beating of your heart and brain activity.
I would love to see some people again who have died already, but I don’t think that will happen.
My body will disintegrate but then my spirit will just fire up, and will just kind of become all light, and expanded, part of just one thing and so be free of all the earth-bound things.
I have a quite strong spiritual belief. My sense is it will be very light. And um, that I will, me, the real I, me, I will somehow leave my body which will just be a thing. Light and released from difficulties. And somehow beautiful. That feeling of beauty around and people below, below, there you are I’m going up (laughs).
The idea of reincarnation I find such a nice idea in some ways. My practical head says that can’t happen.
Obviously you stop breathing. I do believe in an afterlife. And I know I’m going to see Elvis. And my mum and dad. Other than that I just don’t know what’s going to happen – I just hope I’m dead. That’s why I’m being cremated. Because they’re not burying me. I’m claustrophobic. So I’m definitely being burnt.
I don’t have religious beliefs and so er, er, it throws open the possibilities of what might happen when I die.
It’s an alternative, not a heaven because I don’t think I’m going to get there. But, um, yeah. Somewhere else that’s like this.
I like to think we go up in the air and gather somewhere else as matter.
Energy returning and going around.
The souls are something I am not clear. I used to think they were totally separate from the body. But you have got me in a moment where I am questioning that myself.
I think people are still connected to you and are watching you. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were spirits trying to connect with people.
I grew up in a religious family, so I think when I was growing up I really believed we would all go to heaven, there would be a great spiritual awakening, and all have to be tested and questioned to see if our lives were suitable or not. As I’ve gotten older and feel my body decay and slow down for sure, I now no longer feel that’s how things go. I think we probably just disintegrate into a whole set of molecules and disappear into the ether.
I think you, when you die, I think, I think you see what you expect to see.
I was reading about the drug that gets released in your brain when you die, and that you can take it as, as a trip. I haven’t done it, my friend did it. And that you like, you go somewhere and see something, and I think that’s it. You see whatever it is in your head or whatever you want to see, which is why people can have different religions and different beliefs, because you see what you expect to see and um, you have a minute, and then that’s it. I think I’d try and see my gran and granddad just coz I haven’t seen them in a while. I think that’s what I’d try and see.
I was dragged to, like literally dragged to, it was a time in my life about 6 years ago when I was so not interested in going to a talk about death and what happens when you die. And it turns out there was this fascinating man, and he’d done lots of scientific studies with palliative care nurses and people who worked with people who were dying. So it turns out that the vast majority of us, like 90% or something like that, that as we die, we have a really lovely time. We might meet Angels. Angels are really big for people to meet. Deceased family members coming back to get you, is quite big for people to meet. I can’t remember all the other stuff and I don’t want to misrepresent it. Essentially it’s all good stuff. And most people experience that. What do I think is going to happen when I die? I’m so up for a bit of that. I remember at the very end of his talk the guy was saying, um, that’s what he would want, he would want the whole lot, you know, Archangels and Angels, and heavenly choirs singing, and your deceased relatives, and your pets, you know, all of it. I’m totally up for that. That’s what I would like.
Death is never something that has worried me or scared me. I don’t have a problem with it even when I have encountered it in my life. It is incredibly upsetting, incredibly shocking and sad. It’s something that’s very natural and that’s going to happen… My wife, I worry about my wife’s thing with death. She has a massive problem with it, the more we talk about it, she can’t, she won’t go to funerals.
My mother died with no brain activity, they said there’s, there is nothing in her brain. So as far as I was concerned, although her heart was beating, I think it was beating because they had her on a machine that made it beat. She was dead. So I remember saying goodbye to my mother but as far as I was concerned, she was dead. They said she’s not dead, you know, she may be able to hear you. I didn’t believe that, I believed she was not there, that she was gone. And, and, also wasn’t, you weren’t able to get her back, it’s not like she’d floated off somewhere and you, maybe you could get the thing to come back into her body and come back again. No, she’d gone.
I’m not afraid of the process of dying, maybe that’s because I’m a very long way off from it. I do worry I will go binky-bonkers. I struggle with that. Not knowing who I was, not getting across my message would be the most disturbing thing.
At a point around transition I remember feeling if I died then it would be incredibly awkward for other people to have to decide how they would talk to me, or about me and things. And would there be arguments about names on headstones? And shit like that. I’m over that now. It’s clearer for people.
I don’t address death.
I don’t think about it that much, I think that’s partly to do with my age. I got quite a bit of living to do first. There are so many drugs out there to try first and places I haven’t been. It’s low on my agenda of what floats into my consciousness.
At my age it could be at any day. 68. And it could happen any day. But I don’t dwell on it. I mean I live on my own. My fear is I’m going to die and my dog eats me. I have, I’ve got that terrible fear, that I, I’m gonna die and my dog eats me (laughs). That’s my fear.
I used to think I would die when I was 38 because my dad died at that age.
There is a high suicide rate among trans people.
I feel very lucky to be who I am in this world and when this ends it can’t get much better, it can only get worse.
I grew up in Kuwait and when the Gulf war happened I had some friends who were killed in that war. I think, I think, I think, you get a sense, I think we all thought we were going to die anyway, it was an interesting period of life where you thought death was inevitable and in some ways you get a sense that was quite liberating, in a strange sort of way, quite exciting. Sounds like an awful thing to say about war but sometimes you live better than at any other time.
My whole life is about guilt.
I used to be a smoker and was convinced I was going to die of lung cancer but now I don’t smoke I don’t worry any more.
I don’t want to go yet, not for a long time, and I do come from a long line of Jewish women who do go on til their 99s.
Fuck. It’s all going to go at some point.
After the three-minute interviews I asked people one last (playful) question: How did you feel about me holding the egg timer as you were being interviewed? Asking this was an afterthought, but the replies delighted me. I often feel time is running out 🙂
I kinda felt this urgency and pressure to say my bit before the time ran out. Coz like, fuck, the sand is going to go through to the next compartment and it’s all going to be over.
It felt like you were looking out for me.
I liked the constriction.
I was sort of unaware of it until it came near the end. Then I decided to summarise. Cut to the end. (laughs) That’s it!
When the timer goes you will either cut me off or allow me to finish. I’d already made my choice to continue.
I felt like I had to say something significant in that time.
Keep talking. Keep talking.
I’ve only got a certain amount of time to say what I want to say so I’ve got to like, do it now. Crack on.
Once it became a conversation, as soon as that happened, the time became less important. It became less about filling the time.
I didn’t even think about it. It was there. But I didn’t think about it.
The sense of time never occurred to me.
I felt I was coming coming to the end. There’s a pressure. And a relief.
I’m not worried about time.
I ignored it. I was very much looking at your feet.
I wasn’t aware. Then I was. Sad. Sad.
Angela Clerkin is an associate artist with Chris Goode & Company. March 2016 (C)