Friday Reflection: 'Life is a one-innings game'

With the fifth and final Test against England getting underway in Hobart today, cricket legend Ian Chappell shares his views on the other ‘ashes’.

Describing himself as “just a pretty simple guy” and a front bar drinker originally from Glenelg, South Australia, the fit and healthy 78-year-old wants to help normalise discussions around ‘calling stumps’. To that end, he has partnered with Bare Cremation.

The former Australian captain says he holds a “fatalistic view of life”, likely influenced by his mother, Jeanne, who always encouraged open discussions around the dinner table.

“From a fairly young age, I realised … I was going to die. Once you come to that conclusion, things start to play out in a more normal way.”

But when his father suffered a fatal heart attack in 1984, not all the family shared this perspective.

Read: Podcast: Is there such a thing as a good death?

“Martin, my father, died pretty young, 64 years of age. And that was pretty sudden. There wasn’t much talk about his possible death. Martin was a pretty strong character. I guess he probably felt invincible.”

Mr Chappell described sitting around and drinking with his brothers, telling stories and having a laugh. He said celebrating his father’s life with drink and humour eased the grief, but unfortunately some other family members didn’t share his view.

“The Irish wake is how it should be: drinking, stories, jokes, laughing and remembering.”

Why don’t people talk about death?
“Sporting people are traditionally quite suspicious. A lot of [cricketers] I played with wouldn’t order duck [at] a Chinese restaurant, because they didn’t want to have anything to do with duck. I think in part that explains it …. We don’t want to talk about death because it might happen to us. So I think the superstition side of it is part of it.

“People from my vintage, there’s a lot of things you didn’t talk about. You don’t talk about sex, you just discovered things about sex. You just discovered things about life and death as you’re growing up as a kid. And I think that mentality plays into it.”

Read: What is body composting? Is it the future of funerals?

But Mr Chappell says discussions about death and dying should be encouraged.

“The analogy that I use when the subject comes up, I quite often say, is, ‘Look mate, I think this is a one-innings game’, using a cricket analogy. And I say, ‘I’m trying like hell not to run myself out.'”

But he says his daughters, aged in their early 50s, aren’t so open about talking about his mortality as he is. “Pretty much when I bring it up, Amanda says, ‘Oh Dad, you’re invincible, you’ll be here forever’.”

The sports journalist and commentator admits he has some more work to do to encourage that conversation with his daughter, so that she might be comfortable talking about death with her own kids. He says it’s important that they understand that grandpa’s not going to be here forever.

“Perhaps we have to do it together.”

An Irish wake for me
Mr Chappell’s openness about death stems from wanting to have control over his life. And his end of life.

Read: Moving on after a spouse passes

“We didn’t really get the chance [to discuss end-of-life wishes] with Martin, our father, because he went quickly. Jeanne, we had discussions about Jeanne. And I made it pretty clear to the younger members of the family that Jeanne was comfortable. She was ready when it happened.

“I’ve been to a few funerals in recent times. And I’ve got really annoyed that the person I’ve gone there to celebrate isn’t the one where the focus is on him. And that’s really annoyed me. I came to the conclusion that, in my own case, I wanted people to come to my funeral and enjoy it the way I would like them to enjoy it, and the way I would like the end of my life to be celebrated.”

When the time comes, Mr Chappell wishes for a send-off more befitting of a traditional Irish wake, reflecting what he loved in life.

“Life’s not so much fun without humour and without music, so that’s how I’d like to go,” he said.

“I’d like my mates to get around. Obviously, alcohol will play a part in it because when we’ve met we’re always having a few drinks. Obviously, storytelling will play a big part, music – choosing the music that is played. And a bit of humour. That, to me, is important.”

Ian Chappell spoke with Bare Cremation, ‘the new way to funeral’.

How do you want to ‘go out’? Have you made any plans or told family about your wishes? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Brad Lockyer