Death in any form is a shocker. In fact there are few things left that really grab your attention like dying does in endless degrees.
You can’t read the news or turn on your television without getting the latest about the Tucson tragedy. It takes time to work through the shock of yet another madman purchasing ammunition like it’s candy and unloading it because he ran out of patience with himself.
Who isn’t mourning the whole stupid affair? A nine year old victim? You don’t have to be a parent to have your heart ache for hers. We feel sad for them, we feel sorry as a nation.
Occasionally death gets tricked, which may have happened with the amazing Representative Gifford. And what better nah-nah in the face of lunatics everywhere to have her kind of generosity in spirit be triumphant?
But as one can tell by the lack of gun laws and the streets overflowing with nut-jobs, the nation will move on from this, having learned what?
Not that you can do too much about it, but death seems to pop up everywhere once you reach a certain age. Reality becomes mortality, usually when it’s close to you. Every year there’s a week or so where magazines and news rags feature celebrities that died during the year.
2010 saw Peter Graves and Leslie Nielson go, defying anyone to not think about Airplane!, and Lloyd Bridges sniffing glue with his hair standing on end (he died in 1998!).
We lost George Steinbrenner and Dennis Hopper this year; icons that live on, alive or not. We lost Tony Curtis and J.D. Salinger -the latter some thought went years before. Sunday, we lost the immortal Jack LaLanne.
But what do we know about it? Most of us didn’t know these people. We’re sorry they won’t be around to entertain us. After awhile, when these people died is only remembered because of something we were doing at the time, not something they were doing like snacking on prescription drugs.
I remember that Elvis died in 1977 because my high school boyfriend called my mother to tell her, as though she were a next of kin. I’ll never forget seeing the shock on her face as she sat on her bed with her head in one hand and the phone in the other. I thought it was something about me, but instead it was just that Elvis had died; what a relief when she finally told me. Did I want to see Elvis slim down and make a come-back? Who didn’t? Some say he has.
But for those with a relationship, fictional or not with the Stars, you can go to the website, Hollywood Memoir.com. There you will find the Top 10 Deaths of the Year, with main interests like “Death of Minor Celebrities” and the “Cause of Death” list. You can even contribute to the site by writing your own eulogy for celebrities past their prime and share your stories, regardless of whether they are fabricated-who is going to check? Having a relationship to someone who was once important can make people feel special. Having that relationship be real would probably preclude you from going to the Hollywood website.
I for one have had enough death close to home to not need to reach out to the Hollywood stars.
In our little town, we lost the school crossing guard Sal, from in front of Daniel Warren School; one day it was someone else in a neon vest.
The community felt sad losing Sal so they named the road after him with a commemorative sign near his crossing station. To show respect and to honor him, some parents felt it necessary to bring their children to his open casket wake. I’m sure it took these children longer than usual to stop thinking of poor Sal.
In December 2009 I wrote about visiting with Charlie at Sound Shore Liquor Pantry, discussing the weighty subject of popular holiday drinks. The last couple of times I was in there I noticed Charlie wasn’t around and assumed he was on a much deserved vacation. The girl at the counter told me he had died of cancer.
“It had gone undetected” she said, “Charlie didn’t much like doctors.” Was I supposed to go in there now and expect the same lewd jokes and faux passes from her? The ultimate “Good Time Charlie” was suddenly gone and so was my need to buy so much wine on such a regular basis.
You get used to seeing people. The good ones tell bad jokes. The good guys are a reminder of where you are, for better or worse.
Last month my ‘Midwest’ sister came to visit and we spent the night in the city, demonstrating our youthful selves. With another pal who frequents the place, we went to Elaine’s on the Upper East Side, fully expecting to see Elaine sitting at the front table, giving the hairy eyeball to those she didn’t think worthy of hanging out.
We didn’t see her, but Mr. Big came in. We knew we had become middle-aged because we didn’t storm his table, nor jump him as he left, passing up the opportunity to talk to us. Turns out Elaine was in the hospital and died the next week. There’s an endless list of Names that just lost their special place to go. Because aside from the drag of missing the person, there is an even bigger hole when people who we know know us, up and disappear.
And the worst is losing someone who thinks the world of you. Replacing them can take a lifetime, or longer. I should know. We’ve planned the funeral for my favorite aunt in Chicago. A real live beauty queen and comic foil, out of nowhere she got the same brain tumor that brought Ted Kennedy down. She asked that I speak at the Mass that will be chock full of her fans. She’ll be there counting my uhms, commenting on my dress, telling you like it is, good or bad. One of her daughters is having the party afterward. I’ll be looking over my shoulder for her, waiting for the party to start. I’ll be waiting for her big comeback.
Kim Berns is a writer and interior designer living in Rye.