On and On How Fragile We Are...
Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises
As many people, wiser than me have noted, our lives and the world in which we all live, are so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we're not ... Life, it can bring you so much joy and yet at the same time cause so much pain.
'A Short History of Falling – like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and When Breath Becomes Air – is a searingly beautiful, profound and unforgettable memoir that finds light and even humour in the darkest of places.'
In this world, as it is today, it is humbling, a source of joy and hope, to have learnt about Joe Hammond, his life, journey and values.
'We keep an old shoebox, Gill and I, nestled in a drawer in our room. It’s filled with thirty-three birthday cards for our two young sons: one for every year I’ll miss until they’re twenty-one. I wrote them because, since the end of 2017, I’ve been living with – and dying from – motor neurone disease.
This book is about the process of saying goodbye. To my body, as I journey from unexpected clumsiness to a wheelchair that resembles a spacecraft, with rods and pads and dials and bleeps. To this world, as I play less of a part in it and find myself floating off into unlighted territory. To Gill, my wife. To Tom and Jimmy.'
A Book All About Celebration of Love, What is Important, What is Meaningful.
It is a book about human resilience in the face of great adversity. This is a truly beautiful book; Hammond never writes with a trace of self-pity or despair. He says that he wrote the book for his sons but, along the way, he appears to have laid to rest a few ghosts of his own.
A Short History of Falling: Everything I Observed About Love Whilst Dying
‘A Short History of Falling is about the sadness (and the anger, and the fear), but it’s about what’s beautiful too. It’s about love and fatherhood, about the precious experience of observing my last moments with this body, surrounded by the people who matter most. It’s about what it feels like to confront the fact that my family will persist through time with only a memory of me. In many ways, it has been the most amazing time of my life.’
Joe Hammond’s memoir A Short History of Falling: Everything I Observed About Love Whilst Dying is a poignant glimpse into a life with motor neurone disease.
Celebrating the courageous and loving life of Joe Hammond who passed away, aged 50, on 30 November 2019. He is survived by his wife Gill, and their two sons, seven-year-old Tom and three-year-old Jimmy.
Joe Hammond (right) pictured in 2018 with his wife Gill, and sons Tom and Jimmy. Photo: Harry Borden/The Guardian
Joe Hammond's unexpectedly uplifting book about life with a terminal illness
Joe’s raw and honest depiction of his condition will leave you with a new-found wonder for the human body, for life, love, living and dying
In the book, we follow Joe from that fateful day in a hospital in Portugal, when he first learned of his diagnosis, through to his family’s move back to the UK, the installation of medical equipment in his home and undignified situations on the hospital commode.
His memoir is brimming with contemplative musings on the nature of life and our relationship with our bodies.
‘As I get weaker, less a part of this world, or less a part of what I love, less a part of my family’s life, I can perceive its edges with fantastic clarity. I can lie against it, lolling my arms over the edge, running my fingers around the rim.’
Helen Garnons-Williams, his editor, described Hammond as a remarkable person. “It is our great honour – and pleasure – to have been his publisher,” she added. “His memoir is a lasting legacy: a book of consolation, wisdom, and – most astonishingly – wonder. Above all, it’s a celebration of love. Joe was hugely loved, and will be hugely missed.”*
Will Francis, Hammond’s literary agent, said: “Joe’s mind only seemed to become sharper as his disease progressed ... I hope Gill, Tom and Jimmy will draw comfort from the book he left, which is full of both his wit and his love for them. He was a deeply original writer who used his own mortality as a lens, to see familiar things anew.”*
‘It feels like a frustration with the idea that things happen: the idea that we all might grow old or that any of us might contract an illness or disease and not be able to do anything about it, or the idea that none of us really possess control over our lives.’
However, the book remains uplifting, even at its most tragic moments.
‘I have all these losses, and feel a kind of freedom in that. With each awkward, spasmodic movement, or the difficulty I have wiping my own bottom, or with the slur developing in my voice, the narcissist recedes. There’s nothing for him here. Not any more.’
The memoir closes with Joe, sat in his wheelchair, watching his two sons playing in the distance.
Tom, Jimmy and Gill are lovingly observed throughout the book. Joe writes of the isolation he experiences, the distance his disease creates between him and his family.
Although, with his trademark levity, he finds a way to rise above those feelings and instead look hopefully to their future.
Joe playing with his two sons Tom and Jimmy (left) in the garden. Photo:mariecurie.org.uk
‘I know that one day there may be other important men in Tom and Jimmy’s life and it’s hard not knowing if these relationships will be OK. I just have to trust that they will be, which is another way of letting go and knowing that it’s never possible to have control; not really.’- Read more
A Short History of Falling – like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and When Breath Becomes Air – is a searingly beautiful, profound and unforgettable memoir that finds light and even humour in the darkest of places.
We keep an old shoebox, Gill and I, nestled in a drawer in our room. It’s filled with thirty-three birthday cards for our two young sons: one for every year I’ll miss until they’re twenty-one. I wrote them because, since the end of 2017, I’ve been living with – and dying from – motor neurone disease.
This book is about the process of saying goodbye. To my body, as I journey from unexpected clumsiness to a wheelchair that resembles a spacecraft, with rods and pads and dials and bleeps. To this world, as I play less of a part in it and find myself floating off into unlighted territory. To Gill, my wife. To Tom and Jimmy.
A Short History of Falling is about the sadness (and the anger, and the fear), but it’s about what’s beautiful too. It’s about love and fatherhood, about the precious experience of observing my last moments with this body, surrounded by the people who matter most. It’s about what it feels like to confront the fact that my family will persist through time with only a memory of me. In many ways, it has been the most amazing time of my life.
‘it is Hammond’s curiosity about death and his desire to report from the front line that makes this such a strangely invigorating read…his testimony deserves a place on the shelf beside When Breath Becomes Air and Late Fragments’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love,The Times
‘A brave, stirring memoir of a man staring down the barrel of his own mortality’ Irish Times
‘At the end, what one feels is that this is a book to extend empathy, to ensure one understands what it is to have MND and to witness one man facing it with exceptional courage. It is also a moving reiteration that a “short” history is our human lot’ Observer
‘His voice is captivating, his observations are searing, and his book is a blessing. This book will inspire you even as it breaks your heart’ Kathryn Mannix, author of With the End in Mind
‘I loved this book, and read it in a day. It's surprising and uncommon and I don't think I'll ever forget it’ Sunjeev Sahota, author of The Year of the Runaways
'A Short History of Falling is a beautifully written reminder that life can be tragic as well as full of joy' Christie Watson, bestselling author of The Language of Kindness
‘Touching and tragic. It is very hard to imagine how anyone could write so lyrically,dispassionately and persuasively of their imminent demise and its effect on those around them’ James Le Fanu, author of Too Many Pills
'An inspirational, ultimately heartbreaking account of experiencing life as the nervous system fails, shared with courage and humour' Professor Stephen Westaby, author of Fragile Lives
‘You will cherish everyone and everything you love, not to mention the capabilities of your own body, all the more dearly after reading this beautiful, devastating and stunningly written memoir’ Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller Book of the Month
About the Author
Joe Hammond was a critically acclaimed writer and playwright. He took part in the Royal Court Studio Writers' Group in 2012, having previously been mentored by the theatre and BBC. His debut London production 'Where the Mangrove Grows' played at Theatre503 in 2012 and was later published by Bloomsbury. His memoir, A Short History of Falling, chronicling the last days of his life, was published by 4th Estate in 2019 shortly before his death. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Joe Hammond's final article: ‘I’ve been saying goodbye to my family for two years’
Last year the author wrote about parenting with motor neurone disease. Here, he reflects on the end of life, before his death two weeks ago
'In the beginning I was just a dad who fell over a bit and then couldn’t drive the car. Then we had a name for what was happening to me: motor neurone disease. The rest of my physical decline has taken two years and I now write with a camera attached to a computer, which tracks reflections from my pupils. I can use the same device to talk with my synthetic voice. It’s obviously slower to use, and has trained me to get to the point, in much the same way that dying has.
In the room next door, as I write, I can hear Jimmy, my two-year-old son, offering to take passengers on a bus ride to various destinations. It’s half-term and Tom, my seven-year-old, has wandered out into the garden. He’s smiling, looking back at the house, as he points out a squirrel to someone standing inside. There’s adult laughter, too. I can hear Gill, my wife, talking with one of my carers.'...Continue to read
...And now we will be most grateful if you would kindly consider supporting the GCGI Christmas Appeal 2019
Having a member of the family diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) is absolutely devastating for anyone, the patients, themselves, their families, but it can be particularly tough for children who are still developing emotionally.
This Christmas, many families will be struggling to make sense of this and other traumatic/terminal illnesses. The journey is painful and at times must be unbearable.
This is why the GCGI has chosen the following two charities for its Christmas appeal 2019. The right care means everything to people living with a terminal illness and their families. Please be an instrument of hope to all sufferers by giving to:
Our Christmas Message: A time to open our hearts
May you find joy in the simple pleasures of life and may the light of the holiday season fill your heart with the hope for a better world