We suddenly see it.
The daily announcement of deaths in hospitals and care homes; the stuffed toys staring mutely from their windows.
I am even struck by a certain morbid quality about the chalked instructions to 'KEEP SMILING'.
While the impact of COVID-19 will probably mean many thousands of extra deaths in the UK this year, every year we would expect something over half a million.
Each year we grieve in families and friendship groups, but we do very little collectively to recognise or value death, to acknowledge that it is a part of life, individual, social and ecological.
I saw from the example set by my own mother that dying well – facing death with equanimity and contentment and inviting love – has an immensely deep and lasting impact on the lives of others.
Rather than sensationalising death, remarking publicly on it only in its extreme manifestations like murders or accidents, maybe we should keep it far more closely in view. We may need to acknowledge that a life worth living, for all the institutions’ fears of insurance claims, is riskier than we imagined.
Part of the deep, and perhaps creative, shock of the pandemic is how it throws into question a secular version of immortality that has quietly permeated so many dominant social assumptions.
That we can, and should, go on extending life expectancy by surgical, genetic, dietary, social and chemical interventions; and if all else fails ‘upload’ ourselves to surrogate organisms or machines.