When we put down our pens for the last time ... Jo Carroll

Last week I spent a few days looking after someone who is terminally ill so her partner could have a break. 

It was a quiet, reflective few days - for both of us. She spent a lot of time talking about her working life, the friends she has made and the legacy she leaves behind in her field. (I'll not tell you more than that as it would make her identifiable and I don't have her permission). She is - rightly - hugely proud of everything she has achieved and has been able to live long enough to see that systems are in place for her to be remembered, and celebrated, for all she has done.

She has no children. I have no idea if there were decisions behind that or if it is happenstance - though it did make me wonder if her need to talk about her working life would have been as urgent if she had children and maybe grandchildren to pass her baton to.

Which set me wondering. As writers, we will - inevitably in this digital age - leave our words behind. But, when stripped away, how do we want to be remembered? As writers? As mothers? Fathers? Sisters? Brothers? Bloody good friends? A bit of a laugh? Could be prickly but fine when you got to know her? Grumpy old sod? Maybe some people are more than happy to slip of this mortal coil and be forgotten?

I suspect there are as many answers to this as there are people. And maybe our answers change at different stages of our lives.

But as writers I wonder if it has a different significance. By publishing our efforts we are, maybe without meaning to, saying something about ourselves and our view of the world that will linger while we're busy pushing up daisies. And some of our readers might come to believe that our writing is all there is to say about us.

Which, I suppose, all comes back to why we write in the first place. Me - I write because I love it. I travel because I love it. As I spend time with friends and family because I love them, too - and that feels more important to me. But that's just my story. Yours may be very different.


Susan Price said…
A thoughtful and interesting piece, Jo, though I'm sorry to read about your friend.

I don't have any children but I'm perfectly happy to think that I will be immediately and completely forgotten as soon as I'm dead, my writing included. In fact I've told my family that they aren't to spent anything on disposing of the beef apart from what is legally required - I told them because I don't want them to feel pressured to spend money on hiring cars and chapels and all the rest of the gallimauferry. Better they keep the money: they'll need it. If they really feel they must mark the occasion, they can get together in the pub - and then forget me.

I see myself as yet another insignificant microbe among the billions that infest this universe. If there's one more or less, who's counting and who cares?

I know that's not everyone's view.
Anonymous said…
Yes, really interesting - and Sue's comment is really interesting too. I don't write in order to be remembered either, but just because it's my natural way of engaging with my inner and outer worlds. But I don't think anyone is forgotten insofar that our personal consciousness is part of global consciousness, and in that context, death is a bit of an irrelevance. I'm sorry you are losing your friend, Jo. That's such a hard experience to go through.
Bill Kirton said…
Fascinating and obviously thought-provoking, Jo. It allows me to drone on about all my usual things - 'L'enfer, c'est les autres', etc. We have little enough control over what people (family and strangers) think of us in life and none at all afterwards. While we're around we can be, or try to be, whoever we like. It sounds pious, I know, but my only rule is to try to make sure my choices don't harm other people (and I haven't always managed to follow it).
What Sue (delightfully) calls 'the meat' is best given to an anatomy department. I suspect that my offspring (and theirs) will remember me but, if that makes them sad, I'd rather they didn't.
As for the writing, when a reviewer says that she 'fears for my psyche' because I write nasty stuff in crime novels, and another says she's 'creeped out' by the fact that I also write children's books, they'll probably think it's better if I'm not around to spread any more of my evil contagion.
Susan Price said…
Bill, my word for the remainders comes from that charming Scots rhyme about Burke and Hare, the body-snatchers:

Up the close and doon the stair,
Butt and ben with Burke and Hare.
Burke's the butcher, Hare's the thief,
And Knox the boy who buys the beef.

And yes, I'm fine with my beef being handed over to Knox's heirs (though Knox himself was a s**t.) If they had any use for it.
Bill Kirton said…
Sorry to misquote you, Sue. Maybe it's because I have a pig's valve in my chest that I prefer the generic term.
Fran B said…
Spending time with a dying friend can be a very special experience. I had that privilege nine years ago and felt very honoured to be the one she talked to honestly about her feelings, wishes, regrets and expectations (she had an unshakeable Christian faith in the hereafter). I kept a journal of all our discussions and communications (lots of texts, some in the middle of the night when she was in the hospice). I read it over occasionally and feel close to her again. It gave me a real insight into the psyche of a terminally ill person - which has helped me sometimes in my writing.
julia jones said…
Well that's all deeply fascinating. I'm going t5o sound incredibly hubristic now because I'm going to say that I want The World to be infinitesimally, microscopically better -- or at least no worse -- because I've been in it. Now the more you think about it, the harder it is, especially for we greedy, consumer guzzler, far more that our fair share of everything Westerners.
In fact it's probably impossible and I'm already wishing I'd never begin this comment. Was going to say that I don't care at all how this is to be managed -- whether through my children, my friends, my books, people who I don't know but who know people I knew (rings on a pond).
But now I think about the resources I'm using simply sitting typing this, I think I'd better shut up.
JO said…
Thank you all for such thoughtful comments. As I suspected, we all see it differently. And there is no right and wrong - which feels fine to me. We all make sense of the big stuff in our own way.
Enid Richemont said…
Oh this is such an interesting topic. I've been planning to write my obit for years, if only to focus the mind. All my best books - the ones I'm most proud of - are out of print,so what's current are small stuff plus, of course, the film, if it does well and survives, which is not guaranteed.I'd just like people to know that yes, I did something, although I'll be totally unaware of their thoughts as I'll be dead, and have no belief in an afterlife,but if there is one, I know who I want to share it with.
Enid Richemont said…
PS. I do have two children and three grandchildren, and I love them to bits.

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