Until Further Notice, I Am Alive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


Until Further Notice, I Am Alive
by Tom Lubbock

Tom Lubbock is dead and this is the book he wrote as he was dying.

An art critic for the Independent, he was a gifted writer. His wife was an artist and they had a small son. In 2008 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, a glioblastoma multiforme in the left temporal lobe: he was told he had two years to live. After that, his life was punctuated by hopes and disappointments, MRI scans, two operations, occasional fits and the gradual loss of his faculties as the illness took its course. He died in January 2011.

The medical care Lubbock received seems to have been excellent, and was provided free by the National Health Service. He had a loving family and many good friends. Compared with other cancer sufferers, he did not suffer intolerable pain from the tumour or from his radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.

There were periods of time spent in hospital, but most of the time he was at home.

Deep into the illness, he was able to go on working. But he needed his wife's help when it became difficult for him to write, think of words and speak.

Talking was difficult because the tumour was located in the region of his speech functions. His greatest fear was of the loss of language. It is this loss that his narrative most poignantly documents.

These linguistic deficits were not gradual, but fitful. They consisted of inabilities to remember, pronounce, understand, spell, organise, write and read words. Some weeks were better than others but the overall trajectory was inevitable.

Where do words come from when we summon them to do things for us? Most of us do not need to bother with this question. But for Lubbock it became a profound and compelling mystery.

For the writer, over time, the words ceased to come. This short memoir is a record of how he fell into silence. It also demonstrates the best way to deal with it.

Lubbock was a good man and he made a good death. He wanted to live, but approached his end with little anger or self-pity.

He did what he could to understand it.