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When I Die : Lessons from the Death Zone

October 4, 2019


(Music) Philip: In six weeks time I will be
dead. I will be cremated. I will face huge fear. But it is an extraordinary experience.
This is the most exciting and the most extraordinary journey of my life. My only regret is it ends.
I’d like to be on this journey with you almost forever and a day. Adrian: I was asked to
shoot an intimate portrait of a man that I didn’t know. I knew that he was ill but I
really wasn’t sure what to expect. Philip: It’s only when they say, you know, “Philip
Gould, you’re going to die, get used to it – in weeks or months”. It’s only when that
happens that you’re aware of death. And only when that happens that also life screams at
you in its intensity. I saw my children born. I saw them born, and
I saw the incredible, massive potential of that moment. And when my father died and the
air left his body, it was as powerful as the air entering the bodies of my daughters. And I knew the purpose here now was to give
as much love as I could to people who mattered to me, even though I was dying. And my life
became death. It gained a kind of quality and power that it never had before. It entered
a new zone which was the death zone. Just a second, it’s my wife. Hi darling. Yeah, are you okay with all this, darling?
It’s lovely. I feel good. It’s going to be beautiful there and I’m going to love it. Adrian: After an intense, intimate discussion,
Philip and I decided to shoot his portrait at Highgate Cemetery on his own grave. Philip: Only when you accept death can you
free yourself from it, can you deal with it, can you move forward from it. So acceptance
is the absolute key. At that moment, you gain freedom and you gain power and you gain courage.
This is it. This is going to be, you know, my home for an eternity. I do really feel
in my mind I’ve reframed it. I’ve changed it. It’s not some gloomy, ghastly thing. I
just think this is such a wonderful, wonderful idea, this community of the living and the
dead. And I have no fear at all that I go to this. I’m happy about it. I feel a sense
almost of optimism about it, almost looking forward to it as the next stage, and certainly
very, very comfortable. You sort of think “God, I’m scared, I’m a coward.” I thought
I was a coward. I was the kind of guy who was kind of too frightened to go too fast
on a bike in the evening time. You think “I can’t do this. I can’t do chemotherapy. It’s
too painful. It’s too horrible.” But you do it. And then they say “By the way, mate, you’re
not going to have a stomach. And you’ll never eat normally, ever again.” And you kind of
get used to it. And then you sort of think “Actually, every single thing they throw at
you, you can do it.” I had my wife and my children there for me
at this moment because I am defining myself now, through death. I’m giving meaning to
myself, through death. Without that, I do not know what I would do. I rely upon them
enormously, almost completely. I try and lead then. I try and inspire them. I try and show
strength. Adrian: Philip asked me to help convey his
message. To help him share with other people what he was going through. Philip: I had a couple of really tough nights.
My breathing was bad. My coughing was bad. Everything was bad. And Gail was in a bad
state too. And then I just lay there and thought “Okay, this is bad but this is death. And
as long as I look death in the eye, and as long as I accept that I can choose the death
that I seek and the death that I choose, I have some freedom here. I have some power
here. I have some possibility to shape for myself my own death.” And at that moment,
I have a kind of freedom. I feel very calm. I feel rare rest. I have
found the experience of the last few weeks to be as good as it’s possible to have an
experience to be since I have entered this so-called death zone. I’ve had more moments of happiness in the
last five months than perhaps the last few years. More moments of a kind of private ecstasy
than really for many years. I just feel at one with the world. The thing I’d like to say to my daughters
is I love them. And the thing I’d lie to say to my wife is I’m sorry I let you down, but
my God, you are fantastic. And I’m not letting you down now. And you will have the best life
afterwards, I believe. I love them all. That’s what I want to say to them.

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