I read this story on Fox News a couple of days ago:
A couple married for nearly 50 years had just enjoyed a cocktail on their deck, where they talked about their inevitable deaths.
As they walked back inside their Vermont home, a piece of ice fell off the roof and fatally struck 73-year-old Linda Freedman Scharrenberg in the back of the head, according to the couple’s daughter, Jodine Meyers.
In the porch conversation, Meyers said her father told his wife he didn’t know how he could live without her.
Sometimes coincidence borders on creepy. And if you think about it for more than a moment it can make you question your disbelief in fate.
Another news story I recall telling on the radio many years ago was about a man fishing at a lake while his family was preparing a picnic table nearby. He hooked a very small perch and it made him laugh. Lifting the tiny fish still on his line above his head he called to his wife and kids, “Hey, look at this whopper!” As she grabbed for her camera the guy looked up at the sunfish dangling on the line over his head, throwing back his head in laughter.
The fish wiggled off the hook, fell into the man’s open mouth and lodged in his throat suffocating him.
Sometimes even God can make clumsy work of things left until the last minute.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you want your final words to be? Neither have I but I’m thinking about it now.
I was surprised to learn this morning that Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York currently running for president, was apparently the final thought that crossed Kirk Douglas’ mind before he died last week at the age of 103.
According to this morning’s New York Post, Kirk’s son, actor Michael Douglas, told Bloomberg supporters, “I don’t know if he was pulling my leg or not but one of the last (things) that he said in the hospital when he saw me, he asked me to lean over close to him and I leaned over close to him and he said, ‘Mike can get it done’.
The Bloomberg volunteers went wild.
Excuse my skepticism but really? The man’s final thought was about presidential politics? He’s 103, on his death bed, and his lasting legacy statement was a campaign endorsement?
If I was his son, and let’s be frank here, Michael Douglas is 75 and he could follow his father into the Hollywood Forever Cemetery any minute now, I would be devastated.
Why didn’t he tell me how wonderful I am in movies?
Why didn’t he say he just say he loved me?
I’m thinking it was a misunderstanding. It’s more likely that Kirk Douglas, in his weakened condition, thought someone had asked him who should deliver his eulogy and he gave the obvious answer, his famous son, Michael.
“Mike can get it done.”
Or maybe that’s not at all what he said. I interviewed Kirk Douglas a few years after his stroke. He was very kind and gracious but his speech was severely affected and he was hard to understand.
He may have just said, “I’d like a cookie, please.”
Anyway, this got me thinking about my final words. If I could plan ahead to say something memorable, something adorable, pithy, brief and quotable on my death bed, what would it be?
You know me. I’d want to do something funny like bolt upright in wide-eyed amazement and say something that seemed to come to me in a blinding flash of revelation: “Death! Yes but no! There is no death! I get it now, the true meaning of life is…………..!”
And then I’d plop back into my pillow, eyes closed, never to open again.
The reality is I’d probably just tell whoever was near me how much I love my family, how I’ve lived a life filled with love and laughter. I’d just say I’m happy.
That would be nice.
You know what would really be a pisser, though?
What if you thought of exactly the right words and practiced until you were able to express them with the skill of a classical Shakespearean actor, the perfect words uttered in perfect understated sincerity (I’d try to channel Peter O’Toole). Then you smile wistfully, a blessed child about to return home; a small tear would trickle down one cheek.
Your family would sigh and sniff; a muffled sob, hugs all around.
They’d take turns squeezing your hand and kissing your forehead.
Then twenty minutes later you wake up and realize, “Shit. Now I have to think of something else to say.”
A few years ago I lost my dearest friend in the world to lung cancer. Her name was Sharmayne. I went to visit with her before she died and what struck me wasn’t so much the terrible suffering she endured as the realization that dying is an unimaginably lonely thing to do.
This was Sharmayne’s last journey and she told me it was one she had to take by herself.
Sharmayne and I loved each other though we didn’t share political views.
You can see where this is going, right?
I used to work with Rush Limbaugh. We were social friends and never discussed politics away from the radio station. I didn’t always agree with him but it didn’t matter to either of us. We enjoyed each other’s company.
Social media being what it is the reaction to Rush’s late-stage lung cancer diagnosis was predictable. The haters are tweeting, “Good. I hope you die sooner rather than later.”
I wish one of those people would say that to my face.
Look me in the eye and tell me you hope my friend will die soon.
They never would, of course. Life in cyberspace has no rules or morals, no conscience or personal responsibility.
I know Rush and I can tell you this for sure: hate rolls off of him like water from a duck. You’re not hurting him, you’re callousing your own heart.
You can hate his politics or even the man himself but when you wish death on a person you need to explore your own soul. You really do.
PS. Sharmayne and Rush were great friends, too. They were as politically far apart as they could be but whenever they got together they were laughing like hell over who knows what. They touched each other’s hearts.
Thirty-some years ago during the Urban Cowboy craze of the 1980s, Lu Posada, a dear friend I met at the Yellow Rose, a now defunct Northern California honky tonk, told me, “Cowboy hats are like hemorrhoids. Eventually every asshole gets one.”
Blogs are like that. They were a fad a few years ago, every asshole had one. Like cowboy hats they seem to be going away. I’m sorry to see them go.
Personal blogs allow everyone in the world a chance to put on a hat, share their thoughts and make a statement for anyone who takes the time to read them. Some are whimsical, some are serious or weird, just like the people who write them. I love them all. They give me insights into the lives and perspectives of people I’ve never known.
I don’t remember when Anita Garner and I decided to start this blog. It was more than fifteen years ago but less than twenty, I think. I do know that both of us wanted to leave something of ourselves for our children and theirs. We’re sending them loving postcards from our daily lives.
Together we’ve written five or six hundred posts, snapshots of the moment that we hope will explain who we are or were, how we lived, what we felt about things and why.
I wish my parents and theirs could have done this. They’re all gone now. As I get old I realize how little I really knew them. That bothers me more every year.
We all want to feel that our lives mattered. We want to leave footprints in the sand.
You should start a blog or a journal. Leave your footprints in written words and have conversations with your kids and grandkids. It will make you feel good immediately knowing it might eventually make them happy to know more about you when you’re gone.
And, in case you’ve never seen our front page here it is, linked below; it explains how Anita and I met and how a long friendship has turned into our shared desire to inform, entertain and leave evidence of meaning to our existence.
My special friend and blogging partner, Anita Garner, just posted an insightful piece called The Way You Make Me Feel. You should read it. It will make you think.
When I was young I was quick to judge others for their attitudes, words and actions. I was young, strong, handsome, wise and cocky.
The only part of that I have left is wise and I’m less sure about that the more I learn about life and myself every day.
Many years ago my adult son asked about my relationship with his mother from whom I had been divorced since he was four.
“I can’t see what you and Mom could have ever had in common,” he said.
“You didn’t know us when we were seventeen,” I answered. “We had a lot in common. We were in love but we grew up in different directions.”
As I am dragged kicking and screaming into my golden years I find great peace in learning that we are all still growing up in directions we never would have expected.
I’m still a flawed mortal, I do pass judgments on others but these days it’s usually judgments on social media squawks from people I don’t know and will never meet. We all need to identify the idiots in the world, right?
But, I’m deeply satisfied with myself these days for having been relieved of the burden of critical introspection in realizing that I have no way nor reason to judge the paths others have chosen or the perspectives and opinions they’ve developed along the way.
I’m interested in your life but I can’t share the millions of moments that have shaped the person you are right now.
We’ll both be different the next time we meet. I can’t wait.
I don’t remember when I first realized that I was never going to be special. I don’t mean as a person. I’m a good guy and I’m proud of that but when we’re very young we imagine a world of glory and achievements just waiting for us to arrive and pick them up as fate has arranged.
As kids we’re told we can be anything we want to be. It’s a lovely lie.
I wanted to be a major league baseball star. I daydreamed about it for years and played the game joyously. I was decent. I could hit the ball a mile but was a terrible runner and chasing down a fly ball in the outfield was always an adventure. At some point I suddenly understood that hitting World Series winning home runs would always remain in my imagination because I could never be good enough to play center field for the Giants.
The seed of doubt was planted in me early, fifteen or sixteen, maybe. Once they take root doubt seeds spread like dandelions.
I wanted to be a professional actor and as a young adult some pretty knowledgeable people told me I was good enough to study hard, get better and succeed. I’m still not sure what stopped me from trying. Fear of failure, I guess. Though, my wife, the lovely and feisty Carolann Conley-Williams, says I actually fear success. It’s an interesting possibility.
And that’s where I am now: 68 years old, most of my futures behind me and sometimes still wondering why I’ve carried self doubt with me through a lifetime.
I’ve had a very good radio career. I’ve worked morning shows in major markets and learned my craft as well as anyone in the business. I say that with expert objectivity. I’m very good but I’m not great.
I can write but I don’t. I want to but I don’t burn for it. Writers always say they write for their own satisfaction but I think that’s a nifty bit of self deception. What’s the point in writing if lots of other people don’t read your work and love it?
Writing is hard, lonely work fraught with doubt.
Contrary to what I had always assumed I began to learn that doubt can be a comforting friend. He requires nothing more of you than acceptance.
I describe myself in social media as, “Happy husband, proud dad and grandpa, unrepentant underachiever.” I wrote it to be charmingly humble but it has suddenly dawned on me that it’s true.
I am an underachiever in one sense but I love my life, every bit of it. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one instant.
Pushing 70 I’m beginning to understand that finding glory in one’s ordinariness can be a deeply satisfying thing.
My old friend, Doubt, brought me here.
Pictures courtesy of the free online photo share source, Unsplash.com.
Viettia Newcomb is the younger sister of my wife’s late mother. In the 31 years CarolAnn and I have been married Viettia (the second i is silent) has been a happy part of my life and I consider her my Auntie, too. I love her dearly.
At 84 she is a no-nonsense manager of a Northern California mobile home park. She doesn’t suffer fools and will put them in their place but she also laughs all the time and has the most pure and loving heart you will ever find.
Viettia has known great joy, tragedy and hard times in her life and taken their lessons to heart.
She’s also damned smart. She posted the following piece of advice on Facebook today, tagging and addressing specific members of her family but posted for the world to read. With her permission I am sharing it with you here.
This is the best, most down-to-earth parenting advice I have ever read and it doesn’t require a whole book filled with psycho-babble.
Children and parents of all ages, live and learn…
I proudly give you Auntie Viettia:
For all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I have advice. Remember always – advice is free, and you can take it or leave it.
Sing to your babies. Tell them stories, read them stories, and give them your love and attention.
Dry cornstarch is better than any over the counter baby powder you will ever find, and much cheaper.
You do not “spoil” a baby with love. The spoiling occurs when you allow your child to be unruly, or a bully.
Teach your baby love, concern for others, and teach him or her that while you love them, you will not allow them to be unruly. Our basic concern for our children should be that we raise them to be people others will like and admire. We should not allow our babies to be the kind of people others do not want to be around. This training must start early.
To realize the wisdom of this, look at the children of your friends and relatives, and think how you feel about them and how you would wish people to feel about your children.
This advice comes from Grandma aka Great Grandma aka Big Grandma.
I sincerely love all of you, my dears, and I care every day of the world.
The end of October has brought a chilly wind to North Texas. I’m wearing long sleeved flannel. The cold gray sky energizes me.
I love this time of year best. It’s a contemplative time, reminding me that the holidays will be here soon and of the nearly seventy holidays behind me.
It’s the thinky-feely season.
I just found this online. It’s a Christmas commercial. Tens of thousands of web browsers agree that it’s the best ever made. Check it out and decide for yourself. Then scroll down for a couple of quick thoughts.
First of all, this is a commercial for a German supermarket chain. You couldn’t know that unless you recognized the very small logo at the end. (I Googled it.) Still, it’s a nice spot.
No, it’s more than nice. It’s ruthless.
Beautiful images of beautiful people, lovely music, a floppy eared dog, a sweet old man sadly chopping carrots and eating all alone at a huge, empty Christmas table.
Suddenly we’re apparently in a hospital somewhere in Asia where a Caucasian family seems to be getting terrible news from a doctor and we get a glimpse of what appears to be a card announcing a death in the family. Could it be Grandpa? How could a white doctor in Asia know about this and why are they getting their mail there?
I could be wrong about all of this but it moves pretty quickly.
The family suddenly realizes how shitty they’ve been. They feel bad about their selfishness but good old Grandpa, the wise elder, dissolves all their heartaches by magically showing up unexpectedly, arms open wide as they invade his home with what appears to be a group of mourners dressed in black arriving to celebrate his life or loot his home, who knows?
I’m just spitballing here.
Anyway, they reunite and share hugs, tears and the joys of lifetimes of love.
It really is sweet but it’s also shamelessly manipulative and cheesy. Look at it again and see what you you take from this.
It’s a German commercial filmed in Korea or Japan; the background song and the Christmas card are rendered in English.
This past week our youngest grandson, Tyler, started high school. His parents are shocked by how fast he’s grown and I find the whole thing amusing.
Been there, done that.
I was a single parent from the time Jeremy was four years old. The term “single parent” isn’t accurate, of course. Our son had two parents who adored him regardless of our inability to continue living together. Maybe more so because of that. He was the glue that secured the broken bond I had with his mother and he still is. Karen and I remain close because our little boy is 42 now with a rapidly aging son of his own.
I’m just going to say this once because I know he’ll protest and because I don’t want to come across as a nostalgic whiner:
Sometimes I think my son is a better dad than I was. I want a do-over.
Wait, hear me out.
I’m not saying he loves his kid more than I did. Not possible. It’s just that he’s more deeply involved in his son’s daily life and activities than I was when he was little and I’m sorry about that.
Aside from the obvious, that one-parent-at-a-time thing, there is a difference in us as people.
For one thing, Jeremy has a sharp mind for mechanics and can build stuff. I’m a mechanical idiot. I will offer that as an excuse for never building him the tree house I always wanted him to have. (That and the fact that we never had the requisite tree, but it still haunts me.) I didn’t have a tree house when I was a kid and I wanted one for both of us.
Jeremy and Emily are scout leaders. I actually tried that when he was little but his Tiger Cub pack of four kids broke up after two or three outings. That group was led by all dads, no moms. Go figure.
More than anything I just wish I had taken my kid to see the world when he was old enough to appreciate it and to give him cherished lifetime memories of the great times and big things we did together.
We didn’t do those things and I’m still kicking myself.
CarolAnn reminds me of all the things we did do when our boys were growing up. We took them on a cruise, we took them to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone — certainly far more in the way of adventure than either of us had when we were growing up.
Still, there are regrets and I suppose that’s true for every parent who ever watched his or her child leave the nest far too soon.
I should have taken him to New York for Broadway theater, we both love that stuff. Why didn’t I ever take him to London, for that matter? Or to Boston, the cradle of American history?
Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. -Beth Nielsen Chapman
Missed opportunities never fade completely but like everything else you get over them, you learn to appreciate what you have and reluctantly shrug off the things you just didn’t get around to doing. Sometimes I still want a do-over but these days the thought barely passes my mind before a soothing explanation follows:
Your son is a better dad because you set the bar pretty high and taught him how to clear it.
It took me a long time to spin that story and I’m sticking to it.