Vulture has an interview with Martin Amis, the prolific and brilliant son of novelist Kingsley Amis and the best friend of Christopher Hitchens. One small part of the interview was about Hitchens’ death and his own mourning process. It makes for an interesting read:
Do you want to talk some about Christopher Hitchens?
I’ve said before, it’s sort of paradoxical, the response to a death so close. Deaths that are a little further away you can process in the expected ways. You feel grief and shed tears. But this has been surprising and not at all all negative, either. That’s sort of disturbing as well.
I always used to bow to his love of life, and always thought it was superior to mine. But it seems that what happens when a friend that close—by which I mean that you grew up and grew along together, you got married about the same time, you got divorced about the same time, you had children, you had more children, all the crises were in parallel—when someone that’s as close as that goes, it’s as though they give you the job of loving life moment by moment. It’s your responsibility to inherit that love of life. I don’t know how long that’s going to last, but I certainly felt it for a good few months.
At the memorial service, it began with James Fenton reading the poem “For Andrew Wood.” What would our dead friends want of us, would they want us to go on being depressed about what we’d lost; the turning point of the poem says he thinks they would want us to grieve for what the dead have lost. You suddenly realize that death is going to be a multiple bereavement for you, not just for your friends and your family. They’ll lose you, but you’ll lose everyone, and it’s as if everything you loved, everyone loved is in a chartered airplane going down in flames and landing on your head. When I grieve for what he’s lost, that’s what I feel—deprived at a stroke from family, children, friends, and everything else that you value.
Has the grieving gotten easier?
It’s hard to make progress with grief. And I feel very stuck with him, in that every day I give a sort of groan or a shout of incredulity. I just can’t believe it. And I also think, it’s so radical of him to die, so contrarian, so left-wing, so extreme. And it was long in coming, too.
His long sickness, you mean?
His son asked me, has this put you off smoking? And I said, no, it’s put me off medical treatment. He was so determined and resolute about that—he tried all that there is to try. And in the last months, you’d be sitting with him in hospital, and every ten minutes someone came in and did something unspeakable do him—stuck something down his nose. And what killed him, in fact, was not the cancer, but the hospital. He had three or four bouts of hospital-borne pneumonia. It doesn’t work anymore, hospital. And they said, if you stay here, it’s not a question of if you’ll get another one, you will get another one. By that time you’re so weak and have such a deep sense of your own fragility that you don’t want to be anywhere else, because the minute you are, there’s an emergency that takes you back.
So I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly scared of death—but scared of dying, the process. It doesn’t seem to be a good way of doing it. There’s an Iris Murdoch novel where there’s a character who’s dying says, I do so want to die well, but how is it done? A good question. And Hitch certainly died well—without self-pity. And without loss of humor. Because it’s often been said that it’s very hard for a dying person not to be a villain. But he didn’t succumb to that. But, you know, getting pummeled by various treatments, unable to eat or drink—all tubes—for months before he died. I very much fear that I’ll be not a good advertisement for the process.
Not as good as he was.
Not a chance. He was very brave. Not just at the end. He was fearless. Often you’d be in—when we were younger, we’d be in ferocious pubs, for instance, and some altercation would begin, and you’d be saying, Hitch, let’s sort of slip away, and he wouldn’t back down an inch, ever. I never had that kind of physical courage. And it’s nice being brave. It’s a great resource. And he wasn’t daunted, as I’m sure I’d be. Maybe I’ll do it a little bit better, because of him, but I don’t like my chances of holding my head up.
The other great thing is that he never felt the least shame about it. I think people are much afflicted by shame when they’re dying. Especially in a culture like America, where there’s such pressure to be up and on top of things. I’m sure I’m going to feel ashamed—and sort of cower, cringe, and hide. He wasn’t a bit like that.
I can’t imagine I will handle death as well as Hitchens did either. I doubt many of us could.