Living a Life with Death

Living a life with death – it seems that this is the place I’ve come to in my life, or rather been brought to, quite unwillingly. 

Without nuance or subtly, I would describe it as a place where death is as prominent a feature in my life as is life itself.

Michael Cunningham helped me name it. I’ve been reading his novel A Home at the End of the World. I finished the book last night. Cunningham wrote it in 1990 but I hadn’t read it before. What prompted me to pick it up was that I watched the 2004 film earlier in the week for which he had written the screenplay. I have been intrigued lately by the process of transforming a novel into a screenplay and had thought that Cunningham would be a good example to study since he had written both novel and screenplay in the case of A Home at the End of the World.

But I got ambushed.

My somewhat academic interest in the literary process of transforming a novel into a screenplay was assaulted halfway through watching the film when I suddenly realized that I had seen it before. The previous occasion was just after it came out in 2004 when I had seen it with my now-deceased partner Bill. This week, six years later in 2011, I was watching the movie again, this time alone. And, as happens in a myriad of ways virtually every day since Bill’s death, I was thrust into that increasingly familiar place where my life is infused with the reality of his death.

But then Michael Cunningham tossed me an unanticipated insight. As I was finishing the last few pages of the novel last evening, Bobby, one of the main characters, realizes how profoundly his life has been impacted by the tragic death of his brother years earlier. “I followed my brother into this world and I’ve never left it, not really.”

This “other world, a quieter place”, is the world of Bobby’s brother’s death. Bobby’s life is pervaded by a constant reality of death.

As it seems is mine. Bill died a sudden death from pancreatic cancer in August 2009. We had been together for thirty-three years as a gay couple. Six months earlier in January 2009, my younger brother died. In the previous few years to that, my mother and father died as did Bill’s mother who lived with us. Five deaths within a few years. The final two, my younger brother and my lover, were the closest people in my life.

I am a writer. I used to write academic books on environmental ethics. Now, I write very personal books, apparently about death. August Farewell is a memoir about Bill’s two weeks of dying interspersed with vignettes from our thirty-three years together. My novel, Searching for Gilead, is fiction and not autobiographical, in storyline at least. In substance, it is pretty dark.

So thank you, Michael Cunningham. And thank you, Bobby. You’ve helped me name the place in which I find myself.

I am living a life with death. And that’s okay. I can be in no other place. For now.

* * *

For information on the memoir, August Farewell, and the novel, Searching for Gilead, visit my website at:

Both the memoir and the novel are available for order on-line through,,,,   

 A YouTube video in which I describe why I wrote August Farewell can be viewed at

The picture below is self-explanatory.



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2 responses to “Living a Life with Death

  1. Isn’t it interesting how people read books differently, and differently as life progresses. I loved Michael Cunningham’s book–A Home at The End of the World–and the movie by the same name–and found it changed me profoundly in my understanding and acceptance of the varieties of "love" that can be found in the world.

  2. A wonderfully written blog, David, as I would certainly expect from you with your talent. I hadn’t heard of Cunningham’s book, but it truly sounds like a must-read for anyone who has lost someone they loved and then had to move forward in life. We never move in quite the same way again, do we? But we do "move on."My heart is with you and I will definitely be checking out this book. Thanks for sharing!

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