on 29 March 2010
At the age of 42, Bob Flanagan began to keep a journal. He had cystic fibrosis and the journal was kept during the last full year of his life.
This book is a powerful one mostly, I think, because Flanagan is so thoroughly down-to-earth. I don't think the word 'journey' is used, but if it is it's certainly not used metaphorically. There is no mention of dealing with stages of acceptance, no attempt to find a bright side of dying, no waffling about 'spirituality', no suggestion that death is ennobling or in some way uplifting. Instead, Flanagan complains of his wife's snoring and makes mention of what he's been watching on telly. He wonders if his friends are abandoning him and worries over ordinary misunderstandings in his family. And perhaps this is a disquieting aspect of the book: Death may be just as near when one's watching daytime telly or taking out the rubbish as it is when one's doing the good deeds or thinking the great thoughts that are the stuff of stock tributes to the dead.
The descriptions of his decline, especially those of pain, are striking and nearly harrowing. Imagine putting a plastic bag over your head, he writes at one point, and every now and again violently banging your head on a table and then gouging your thumbs into your eyeballs. But here too, there's no pretense of somehow finding a meaning or a purpose in the suffering; here too, the descriptive is at least as effective as the introspective would have been.
A short book, a worthwhile one, and a book richer for Flanagan's acute sense of humour.