When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone

Philip Gould's “When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone” was published yesterday; “When I Die”, a short film documenting his final days, has also been released.

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Philip Gould’s “When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone” was published yesterday. Lord Gould, the Labour peer and strategist, passed away last November, aged just 61.


To coincide with the launch, “When I Die”, a short film documenting Philip’s final days as he battled with oesophageal cancer, has also been released. Filmed during the last two weeks of his life, the eight-minute intimate portrait reveals his quest to find purpose and meaning in what he called “The Death Zone”.

Here it is:

And here are Philip’s heartbreaking, but also inspirational, words:

“In six weeks’ time I will be dead, I will be cremated, I will face huge fear but it is an extraordinary experience.”

“This is the most exciting, the most extraordinary journey of my life. My only regret is, it ends. I would like to be on this journey with you, alomst forever and a day.”

“It’s only when they say, you know, “Philip Gould, you’re going to die, get used to it, and this is going to happen in weeks, or months”, it’s only when that happens you’re aware of death. And only when that happens, also, that suddenly life screams at you in its intensity.”

“I saw my children born, I saw them born, and I saw the incredible, massive potential of that moment, and when my father died, the air left his body, it was as powerful as the air entering the body of my, my daughters.”

“And I knew that the purpose here now was to give as much love as I could to people who mattered to me, even though I was dying, and, my life became death, it gained a kind of quality and a power it had never had before, it entered a new zone, which was, the death zone.”

“Only when you accept death can you free yourself from it, can you deal with it, can you move forward from it, so acceptance is the absolute key, at that moment, you gain freedom, and you gain power, and you gain courage.”

“You sort of think, God, I’m a scared, I’m a coward, I thought I was a coward, I was the kind of guy who was too frightened to kind of go too fast, on a bike, in the evening time, you think “I can’t do this, I can’t do chemotherapy, it’s too painful, it’s too horrible”, but you do it, and they say, “by the way mate, you’re not gonna have a stomach, and you’ll never eat normally again, ever again”, and you kind of get used to it, and, then you sort of think, actually, every single thing they throw at you, is handleable, you can do it.”

“I had my wife and my children there for me, at this moment, because I am defining myself now, through death, I’m giving meaning to myself, through death, without that, I do not know what I would do, I rely upon them enormously, almost completely, I try and lead them, I try and inspire them, I try and show strength.”

“I had a couple of really tough nights, my breathing was bad, my coughing was bad, everything was bad, and Gail was in a bad state too, and then I just lay there and thought, OK, this is bad, but this is death, and as long as I look death in the eye, and as long as I accept that I can choose the death that I seek and the death that I choose, I have some freedom, I have some power, I have some possibilty to shape for myself my own death, and at that moment, I have a kind of freedom.”

“I feel very calm, I feel very at rest, I have found the experience of the last few weeks to be as good as it’s possible to have an experience to be, since I have entered this so-called death zone.”

“I have had more moments of happiness in the last five months than in perhaps the last few years, more moments of a kind of private ecstasy, than really for many years, when I just feel at one with the world.”

“The thing I’d like to say to my daughters is, I love them, and the thing I’d say to, I’d like to say to my wife is, “I’m sorry I let you down, but my God you’re fantastic, and I’m not letting you down now, and you will have the best life afterwards, I believe.” I love the them all, that’s what I wanna say to them.”


See also:

Philip Gould: 1950–2011 7 Nov 2011


All proceeds from “When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone” will go to the National Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Fund, and donations can be made at justgiving.com/nogcf. Donations to the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity can be made at royalmarsden.org/philipgould.


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