I was saddened to see the headlines announcing Jack Layton’s death this morning. His health deteriorated sharply around the time of the recent Canadian election. I saw video of him at an NDP conference just after the election – he was gaunt, sunken, frail – and it was obvious that he was terminally ill. Once you’ve seen someone fade away in front of you once, you know. And I’ve seen it – my father looked like that in the weeks and months before his death from cancer. He aged decades in a few months.
Raymond Chandler captures the look of the dying in a couple of sharp sentences at the beginning of The Big Sleep. Dad had that look and so did Jack Layton.
Here, in a space of hexagonal flags, an old red Turkish rug was laid down and on the rug was a wheel chair, and in the wheel chair an old and obviously dying man watched us come with black eyes from which all fire had died long ago…The rest of his face was a leaden mask, with the bloodless lips and the sharp nose and the sunken temples and the outward-turning earlobes of approaching dissolution
I’d read the book at least twice before without paying much attention to the description of the General, but when I tried to reread the book a few weeks after my father died, the details were so wrenchingly accurate that I had to put the book down. And I’ve not been bold enough to try to read it since.