When I put this year’s list of banned words and phrases together, I wanted very much to include “obituary.” It was a fool’s errand to consider that, since there is no way we can get through 2017 without seeing that word again. But it did get me to thinking about some specific obituaries from 2016 and obituaries in general.
Last year began with the death of my former significant other, Charlie Schneider. We co-owned a home for about eight years and remained close after he bought out my half. I visited him a few times back in New Jersey after I married Jagdish and moved to Rhode Island. In his last years, Charlie suffered from dementia. I kept abreast of his condition through his daughter. He was bed-ridden at the end, which would have devastated him if he’d been aware enough to fully appreciate what limitations that had put on him.
Several months later, my sister’s husband, Bob, passed away. It was one of those deaths that we call a blessing. He’d been diagnosed with a stage-three brain tumor coming up on six years earlier. High-end survival is pegged at five years, so he was on borrowed time. He was bed-ridden in a nursing home for over two years at the end, and wheelchair bound at home for a considerable time before that. So, yes, his death truly was a blessing. Of course, his obituary didn’t say that. It was filled with the many good things about his life.
I’m so tired of reading those final accounts. Tired of hearing who died this week. It seemed like 2016 had more deaths of celebrities than usual. For some reason, the loss of Gwen Ifill hit me hard, probably because I didn’t realize she was ill. I accepted PBS’s simple explanation that she was “away.” The end-of-year summaries always include the video montage of who has left us. Singers, actors, sports legends, notables in the field of science. As I watched one of these recently I realized something that made obituaries even more depressing for me.
When I was young—say in my twenties and perhaps thirties—there were always some people who had died whose names were unfamiliar to me. Those were the older ones, the actors and prominent names of my mother’s generation. Eventually, I reached an age where I seemed to know almost everyone in the montage, both young and old. I didn’t give this much thought. At least not until this year.
Once again there are faces that are unfamiliar. Oh, I’ve probably heard their names at some point. But if you asked me what type of music they sang, what was their signature song, I’d be clueless. George Michael is a good example. True, those luminaries died “before their time,” but not in their youth. They just moved on at the beginning of that phase where people start dying.
Where does that leave me? Recognizing all the older faces and names in those montages. Shedding a tear to think that no, we won’t see Debbie Reynolds in some new project in the future. Knowing that Zsa Zsa Gabor had a sister Eva and too many husbands to count on one hand. Aware of the health issues faced by the trail blazing women, Janet Reno and the much younger Pat Summitt. I’ll always remember Alan Rickman from Love Actually (I own the DVD), not the Harry Potter movies (never saw any of them). I even had a brief crush on George Kennedy when I was young.
If there’s a bell curve of obituaries, of deaths recognized, I’m now on the down slope. I may not be able to ban “obituary” for 2017, but I can certainly make a desperate plea to the powers that be, assuming there are such powers and that they’ll listen. “Please let us have Betty White for many more years, another gig or two hosting Saturday Night Live, and a few more cameo performances in a movie or TV show.” I cry enough when I watch reruns of The Golden Girls. I don’t think I could handle it if Betty were also gone.
It would be nice if we could also hold on to Robert Duvall (another of my former crushes) and Anthony Hopkins a bit longer, too. And if Jimmy Carter could build a few more houses before we lose him. Is all of that really so much to ask?