D is for Death


When someone significant in my life dies, I like to mention him or her in this blog. They don’t have to be people I actually met, but are usually people who inspired me in one way or another. The late Roger Ebert’s birthday was June 18, and I had a passing recollection of how well he wrote about issues other than movies in the latter stages of his life.

Paul McCartney, who shared a birthday with Ebert – both were born in 1942 – put out an album in 2007 called Memory Almost Full. The penultimate song was The End of the End [LISTEN], which had these lyrics:
“On the day that I die, I’d like jokes to be told And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets That children have played on and laid on While listening to stories of old.” He said on the audio commentary disc to the album that the song was inspired by someone who said, “I wish you a good death.” This initially startled him, but then he started to think of the tradition of the Irish wake, and he gained a greater understanding of the sentiment.

Death is such an uncomfortable subject, even though most of us will experience it eventually. I’ve been to LOTS of funerals in my time, quite a few fellow church members from my last two churches. I’ve come to the conclusion that being there trumps almost anything one can say, because almost anything said can be taken wrong:
“Well, she lived a long life.” True, she was 92, but they wanted her to be there at 93, and 95.
“He’s in heaven now.” Even if all the parties believe this – some don’t – I’ve seen it used as an attempt to shortcut the grieving process, some theological variation of “Get over it.”
“It’s for the best,” usually said of someone who passed after a lengthy and/or painful illness. While this may be true, it’s not for YOU to say. On the other hand, you can say, “If you want to talk…” And let THEM talk.

This article about former BeeGees singer Barry Gibb losing all of his “brothers without being friends with them” is very sad because it is not unusual. Someone dies and issues remain permanently unresolved.

Whereas I enjoyed the story about National Public Radio’s Scott Simon chronicling his mother’s last days on Twitter. I mean, I wouldn’t have done it, but given his mom’s show biz past, it was appropriate for them.

I really liked the poem included in this blog post, which also includes this narrative: “For a time, it feels like the whole world should stop, when a loved one dies. I remember experiencing that feeling so strongly… Perhaps the nicest thing you can do for someone who has lost a part of their world, is let your own world stop, if only for a moment.”
***
It occurred to me I never gave props to Helen Thomas, pioneering White House correspondent, mostly because I had nothing to add to what others said.

I’ll also mention John Palmer, NBC’s White House correspondent, and later, news reader for the TODAY show, back when it was still doing news.

Michael Ansara, was an actor who “specialized in playing American Indians and aliens”; he was actually born in Syria and was married for a time to Barbara Eden.


ABC Wednesday – Round 13

29 thoughts on “D is for Death”

  1. Oh Roger, this is too close for comfort for me right now. And yet, comforting in a way. I listened to Paul’s song and have bookmarked it – just in case it’s needed. And that quote about living a long life to 92 etc….so true that we would have wanted to have that person here with us for so much longer. That all I can write about this today.

    Leslie
    abcw team

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  2. Great post Roger about an item that is certainly not popular, although sooner or later we all have to deal with it.
    Have a great week. May the living people around you inspire you.
    Wil ABCW Team

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  3. Having, unfortunately experienced the pains of a loved-one’s death, both being present (silently) – at a church, temple, ceremony, wake, shiva, etc. AND finding something personal to say about the lost love one are empowering for the speaker and the receiver. That said, I hope I my extended community, will not have to experience the pain of any other loved one’s demise for a very long time.

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  4. In our almost 50 years of ministry, my dearest has had so many funerals. You advice to not give “cliché” but to just listen. That is what we found was the most helpful to grieving families.

    That was a good post.

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  5. Roger, as a pastor’s wife and a music minister, and even before when I played piano bar, I have heard many comments about death. Also, my mom’s own death is chronicled on my blog. Everyone has those phrases you mentioned, all hackneyed and always bugging me. I want a celebration, like Paul, open bar (no hard booze; don’t want anyone confessing to affairs with me. There would be a few, and Lex would freak, even though they were long before I met him!!)

    Roger Ebert was THE MAN Lex and I turned to for any new movie. No critic before or since has had a bead on our taste like “The Roger” (we speak of him as we would a family member). His battles with cancer… what a scrapper. He’s finally healed and he has left a legacy of fun, sharp critiques, and a huge fan base who adored him. Still do.

    And I don’t like him just because his name is Roger, ha ha. Amy

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  6. This is a wonderful post, Roger! You mirror so many of my own thoughts on this subject. Very pithy advice, too. When I was a child attending a funeral for a young relative, I heard someone say “only the good die young”. This terrified me. It took some time to unravel that particular muddle in my mind! I also really like your ‘aspire to inspire’ at the top of your post. Who could desire more than that?

    Thank you for the heads up. I’m glad my words were an inspiration.

    (I plan on joining ABC posts again soon … been away on holidays plus have had a lot of company this summer, which while wonderful, considerably cuts into my writing time!)

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  7. What a special post. We don’t like to talk or dwell on death, but we will all face it. Thank you for all the links.
    I can’t believe I hadn’t heard McCartney’s song – very powerful.
    The Barry Gibb article hit too close to home – I am distant to all my brothers and sister.

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  8. As a pastor I’ve also done many funerals and sat at the side of someone who was dying. It is the most wonderful gift to give to be able to walk with someone on the last part of their life’s journey.

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  9. Death is definitely a difficult thing to fathom…I wonder what comes next…I’m one of those who is not sure. I lost one of my brothers unexpectedly 19 months ago, he was only 45. He had a massive heart attack in his sleep, decidedly a good way to go, he pretty much just eventually stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating…it wasn’t a dreadful situation, his wife didn’t even realize what was happening…a good death all things considered. I miss him though, and if I had my choice, his death would have been deterred for a long time.

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  10. Just a quick note to let you know that while I don’t always comment, I do keep tabs on you when I can. 🙂 Thanks for being such a kind and compassionate man, Roger. *handclasp* My thoughts are with you. I know that even years after the event, it’s different, but it can still be hard. Oddly enough, I wrote about this 13 years after my dad died: http://melanie.boudwin.net/love-is-stronger/

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  11. I wish you a good death is a good wish to have. Death is a tough topic and hard to watch a loved one die. I think often it becomes harder for them to pass over because we hold onto them.

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  12. You are right, death is really such an uncomfortable subject but we it’s inevitable. We might as well say our Iloveyou’s to our dear loved ones while we still have time to express it. 🙂

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