Getting better at Death

February 27, 2024

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” (Shakespeare’s Caesar)

If that’s the case, I have already died many times myself. And the events that I have been most cowardly I think, have been the times I had to care for close friends and family who were dying right beside me. I think I’m getting ‘better at death’ though, going through from the time Michael, one of my best childhood friends, died, to Miklos, my sisters long term partner, to my Dad, then my Mum, then my good friend Jamie.

Ironically, It all started well enough when I like to think I helped a stranger who tried to take their own life in Sides Night club in the very early 90’s in Dublin City centre. I was going for a piss in the grubby toilets and heard groaning behind me from the cubicle on the left. I asked, “Are you ok?”, and there was no answer. I noticed a small river of blood emerging under the cubicle door. I stood on the toilet in the next cubicle and lifted myself up like a chin up to see a young man who had cut their wrist deeply and was slumped in the corner and bleeding badly. I got the only other person there to help bunt me up so I could undo the latch and open the door. We lifted him up and I raised his arm above his head and pressed on his arm in an area before the cut (closer to the heart) to try to stop the blood flow. I shouted to the other person to get security and they called the ambulance, and the poor guy was white in the face and rambling to himself, barely conscious. It looked like he was going to be ok. I most likely went back then to my flat pint of Smithwicks and danced double time to Wu-Tang Clan and the likes.


But these personal experiences started in earnest with my great friend Michael. He was a beautiful man. I have fond memories of rehearsing in his garage on Silchester Road, Glenageary, with our first band Between Us. He would bring in the black and white portable tv with the ‘rabbits ears’ to watch the likes of ‘Bosco’ with the sound off while rehearsing with us on his electric keyboard! But he was a brilliant piano player and could pick up music by ear like the prog rock favourite Firth Of Fifth (piano solo) by Genesis, one of the tracks that I’m now thinking of making my drums students suffer through in BIMM University, in memory of him.

But Michael got a brain tumour in his mid-late 20’s and was getting very sick. His sister, a nurse, was trying to tell me at a Christmas party in their house that he was dying. No. I couldn’t accept that. I didn’t know death. I was in denial. Later, during his last days in the hospice he was somehow brought Padre Pio’s glove. Padre Pio was attributed to miracles of healing, and it was an incredible example of devotion to Michael from his family to be able to get this legendary fabric of a Saint. There was a little private prayer and ceremony held there for him that evening. But when it was time for everyone to leave and the lights were off in his room, Michael told me how frightened he was of dying, as we all would be, and I didn’t know how to reply.

Michael had been mostly serene and in good form in these times; courageous, kooky, and funny as always, hiding from the nurses so he could smoke spliffs and joking about all the funny things he saw while there. But I felt emotionally inept when I left him that night and forever regret not being able to give him words of comfort. It was the last time I was to see him. He died when I was on a shoestring tour in East Germany with the band Illywhacker a small time later. I felt stranded, being nowhere near an airport, and couldn’t (or subconsciously didn’t want to), get back for his funeral. I felt terrible guilt for this. Michael came to me in a dream the night he died though. It was a sunny garden with tall trees, low hedgerow, beautiful flowers, and dazzling light. He walked towards me and smiled to let me know “I’m fine, don’t worry about me”.

A Matter Of Life And Death. Don’t make any assumptions…

A Matter Of Life And Death. Don’t make any assumptions…


My sister’s partner Miklos was an inspiring man. He and his Hungarian father, who was shot down in his army parachute behind enemy lines during World War 2 and escaped, would make perfect children’s storybook action heroes. My sister and Miklos owned Theatre Of Fire, a brilliant pyrotechnical/theatre group of mavericks who travelled the world and illuminated everyone’s lives for many years. I owe my sister and him so much for the colourful, musical, daring adventures we set off on back in the mid-late 90’s.

Mik was fatally injured in an explosion in their fireworks warehouse but lived on for a week in St James Burns Unit in Dublin. He was so well cared for and the staff were so committed to his comfort. I walked closer from the end of the bed to his side when it came to the end of this journey and wanted to wish him well for the next journey and ask him to continue to illuminate the stars for us from the other side. But I said nothing. I was frozen to the spot. I’ve had that dream since. Unable to speak. Muted. Useless.

“It’s so silly. All you do is get the heck out of your body when you die. My gosh, everybody’s done it thousands of times. Just because they don’t remember, it doesn’t mean they haven’t done it.” JD Salinger


My Dad had a spectacular life for one so socially and emotionally reserved.

He was ‘fierce quiet’. A University professor with a sports car and a beautiful wife, a fearless rugby international with imaginitive flair and wavy hair, a world traveller and an Irish ambassador for world conferences in Biochemistry, Scientific research and Unicef fundraisers. But most importantly to us, he was a great loving dad. I’ve no idea why now, but I found it hard to say ‘I love you” to him when he was alive. And I loved him to bits. And he was similar in that way. It was communicated between us but not with words. He died with us, his family, beside him in a hospital ward. I did tell him I loved him, but he was already gone.

“To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death

The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet (One of dad’s favourites), seems to be wondering here why we are so scared of Death.


My mum, surely the most colourful, courageous, big hearted, funny, dramatic (and operatic) person I have known my whole privileged life, was in a nursing home for her last days and I managed to visit her, but not enough. I just didn’t go often enough. She minded Dad diligently and lovingly when he was sick. But she was developing Vascular Dementia at that time herself. We minded her as best we could with a visiting schedule to her nursing home and I brought the kids with me as often as I could. But not enough. We were called early on a sunny Valentine’s Day morning to say goodbye for one last time. I sat down beside her and held her beautiful feminine sallow hand and told her that I loved her as she was slipping away, and finally I was starting to feel that a little bit of life experience had now helped me to be able to get past my emotional inhibition. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake that I did with Dad.

But I didn’t cry at her funeral. And I felt guilty about that. About a year later I visited her grave in Greystones and burst into floods of tears. A sea of relief. I thanked my mum for this, who always seems at my side and always in my heart. Tough and emotional and kind was Mum. And she liked to see those characteristics in others. ‘Getting there Dave’, I could hear her say, smiling her huge smile down on my blubbing tear streaked face….

“There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” Woody Allen in Love and Death

“There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” Woody Allen in Love and Death


Jamie was a friend from my childhood. Myself and Dec, Jamie, Cogie, Peadar, John, Derm, Hodgie, Charlie, Liam, Rory, Eibhear, Totsie, Gar, Vinny, Doyler, Logie, Shea, Dave Kelly, and many more like us grew up in Springhill Park, Killiney as great friends. Endless days hanging around spitting, belching and farting as much as we could, kicking cans and detonating bangers, casting late evening shadows with tall tales and well spun yarns, all with the smell of drifting bonfire smoke. Through the winter, the Kellys and the Lambs, and later the local parish, gave us dens sometimes with pool tables, and shelter from the wind and rain. Some of us passionately collected and swopped long-playing records and bootlegs. Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and Pink Floyd. Derm also liked Neil Diamond but eventually we came to terms with it. In better weather, we cut fresh grass and made homemade goalposts for the summer league, played tennis and courted giddy girls to no avail, smoking Oxo cubes to try to be cool. As we got hairier and bolder, we hurled mudballs and stones menacingly, let air out of tyres, stole clothes from clotheslines, and teased the old local red-faced Garda Superintendent til he was literally blue in the face.

In those days, Jamie always parted his hair in the middle immaculately and his jeans were always ironed and starchy clean. They had Spanish students staying in their house and he had a fucking cool Chopper bike, and therefore was cool. Like yer man from Chips. We called to his house a lot but he never let us in. You can’t blame him really. His older brother, Rob, who himself tragically died about 15 years later, was the fastest human I’d ever seen. The Irish Bionic Man. He was like a lightning bolt across the field. Local heroes were important to us and he was one, with his thumbs in his jean pockets, middle parting, smoking cigarettes and presumably knew about adult things we wanted to know about.

You never can see the future in those days, or even care to wonder what might become of us, or how we might meet our fate? It was but a dream. A happy warm muddy dream.

Patrick, Dec, unknown, Jamie, Myself, Logie with Man United players, late 70's

Patrick, Dec, unknown, Jamie, Myself, Logie with Man United players, late 70's

We often had all-night poker sessions in Jamie’s house later in life. We would haul in a big bag of cans, and smoked things called cigarettes. An upgrade on the Oxo cubes you might say! He was first up the next morning, 6am, in his dressing gown and slippers, cleaning and bleaching the house, bashing the hoover off the skirting boards of our sore heads. Still immaculate, it would appear.

Jamie was an alcoholic, and was warned about abusing his liver by one more doctor. Almost in defiance I think he ignored the advice. Crippled already by anxiety and a case of vertigo severe enough to force him to give up his job, and with his dear doted-upon mother finally passing away, Jamie finally threw in the towel. His liver could not cope any longer and he knew it.

But I managed to say goodbye to Jamie thankfully. He was sitting up in his hospital bed in his weird tin foil suit, seemingly unconscious. I held his hand, held his head, kissed his head, and told him I was there to mind him. There were others there talking about him in front of him as if he wasn’t there, which I felt very uncomfortable with. But I talked to him and recalled all the hazy lazy days together in Springhill Park when time went so slow. It was like a parallel universe then. A time when we thought we were going to live forever. We seemed cocooned. Protected. Like somebody was watching over us.

'The Springhill Gang'. Photo courtesy of Declan Kelly.

'The Springhill Gang'. Photo courtesy of Declan Kelly.

A poem that might help you.

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and startsfor the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,hull and spar as she was when she left my side.And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

Henry Jackson Van Dyke

© Dave Hingerty 2024