Nick Johnstone's Blog

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Death

I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. Shortly after I turned one, my grandfather on my father’s side died while taking a boating exam, a sudden heart attack.

I recall feeling sad about that when I was much younger, but the truth is I barely knew him. I have a memory, or the memory of a memory, of my first birthday. We were in a McDonalds, and I can still see his face looking into mine.

When I was five my father had a brain aneurysm, and while the surgeons were stopping the huge flood of blood into his brain he suffered a stroke. You’re supposed to die after that happens, really.

I recall seeing my grandparents waiting for me after school that Thursday, and knowing straight away that something was wrong. I remember riding a toy car up and down their driveway for what must have been an hour, demanding to see my father.

Thankfully, my father is far too determined and stubborn to let a little thing like severe brain damage slow him down too much. You wouldn’t guess today if he didn’t tell you.

I must have been around eleven when Graham Condon, a City Councillor in Christchurch who worked alongside my mother, died in a cycling accident. I remember shaking his hand for the first time the week before, and being struck by how nice he was.

I was sixteen when in February 2011, Christchurch was struck by a devastating earthquake. I was sitting with my friends in a Subway (food, not transport) in the center of the city. We ran out into Cashel Mall to see shock-waves of force buckling the cobblestone. At the time, I was attending Unlimited Paenga Tawihi, an excellent alternative school situated right smack bang in the center of town.

I don’t remember seeing anyone die. I do remember walking past collapsed buildings, burning and shrouded in dust. I was soon reunited with my mum and my brother and we found our way home. Nobody I knew personally died, but for the city’s soul. It’s slowly growing a new one.

I had hoped that I had escaped the fear, but a minor quake in Wellington last year revealed the terror lying inside me. The fear is the worst part, and I wish I could move past it.

I’ve been downhill skateboarding for 4 years now, since I was sixteen (funny that). I’m not sure if that’s so true anymore, as I’ve only skated downhill a handful of times in the last year.

It’s the fear that gets me. The fear that my luck will run out and I’ll lose traction and hit a car. I’ve skated Brooklyn Hill in Wellington maybe thirty times and the only time I came close to falling off was when a friend tried to overtake me and failed.

I love skateboarding, and it kills me that I’m afraid of it. Everything I know tells me that it’s not about if you fall off, it’s about getting back up again. But I can’t shake the fear of death on these roads.

Just after a year of being into skating, a guy named James died skating a hill named Sugar in Auckland. It was a freak accident, he hit the back of his head while wearing a full face helmet and died instantly. The paramedics that were already on site for the race couldn’t do anything.

Most people still won’t skate that hill out of respect. A lot of people quit that day, and haven’t looked back. The number of life threatening accidents I’ve first responded to because of skateboarding is too damn high.

My grandfather is dying, slowly but surely. It fucking sucks. Pop, I know that you’ll read this and I want you to know that I love you, and I always will. I’ll call you soon, and I’ll see you at Christmas.

It pains me when I hear people say “I’m going to work for n years so then I can become a musician/write a book/live my dreams and then I’ll be happy”. If you’ve got an idea of what might make you happy, I think you need to go for it, as soon as you can.

My whole life, the universe has reminded me that I could die at any moment. That fact is now a fundamental of my world view. When I have to make hard decisions, I ask myself: Would I be okay if I died in one month and I hadn’t done this?

I hope that I will live a long life, but I assume that I won’t. Every day is precious and I spend a lot of time trying to remember that. Plan for the future, but ask yourself how you can make it happen today.

I don’t really have a simple conclusion for you, but for the fact that you are alive and that’s stupendously unlikely. Enjoy.

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