In my reading this morning I encountered eight deaths–because by coincidence I finished two books: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver and The Immortal Dinner Party by Lucy Hughes Hallett.
- Glynis Knacker died well of peritoneal mesothelioma in Egyptian cotton sheets in a luxury hotel on Pemba, an island of the East coast of Africa, with her husband and friends around her drinking Bourbon, beer, and champagne. Previously in New York she had fought a bankrupting and probably misguided battle against her cancer.
- Glen Knacker, a preacher, died from falling out of a tree on Pemba after having been kidnapped from a nursing home in New Hampshire where he was infected with Clostridium difficile. His experience in the home had destroyed his lifelong belief in God.
- Flicka, a 17-year-old with familial dysautonomia, died in her sleep on Pemba. A girl with a gift for a wicked and witty saying, she’d often said she’d rather be dead. After she died they discovered that they had stored up lethal drugs, perhaps as a talisman.
- Joseph Ritchie, who was at the Immortal Dinner Party, died in 1819 in Africa of fever and starvation while leading a failed and underfunded expedition to find the source of the Niger.
- John Keats, another guest, died of tuberculosis in a flat on the Spanish Steps in Rome aged 25. It took three weeks for news of his death to reach London. His grave in the Protestant cemetery in Rome is surrounded by wild strawberry plants, and his gravestone says “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
- Charles Lamb, another guest, died of aged 60 died of a fall (not from a tree).
- Bernard Haydon, the host, shot but failed to kill himself and so staggered across the room and cut his throat with a razor. There was blood everywhere, but on his desk were neatly placed letters to his wife and all of his children and his will. He was a profound Christian.
- William Wordsworth, the final guest, died aged 80 in 1850 “full of vigour until the last few days…tranquil and full of honours. Eight years previously Haydon had painted him on the top of Helvellyn.
Death has many doors. A marvellous way to start the day.