American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island Ga.
TH-TH-TH-THAT'S ALL, FOLKS!
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- No, no, Art Buchwald, you don't get to keep on keepin' on after you've taken your last bow, basking in the glow of your reputation. Kudos may continue but you don't get to deliver a prepared speech of gratitude. We know you knew we loved you. You know that you deserved the Pulitzer Prize and you know the answer to your own question: "What are we doing here?" You finally decided what you were doing here when you told a New York Times reporter, "...to make people laugh." And, yes, people did laugh.
But to open that interview with "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I
just died" - leading further into an obituary for "the late Mr.
Buchwald" - still alive and laughing while the audience is grieving the
loss of our beloved humorist no longer among us, is as unseemly as
getting a laughing fit in church.
There is only one instance I can recall that a dying man spoke another line. It was when a doctor himself lay on his death bed holding a stethoscope to his chest. He heard his last heartbeat and murmured, "I am finished." And he was.
I can only hope a trend is not beginning but the possibility exists that emails will be written and placed on a Website designed with exactly that in mind.
It has been the practice for a video-taped last will and testament to be the definitive word on the deceased's wishes. It's also a technique used for good theater. "And to my daughter ,who was also going into my wallet, I leave my wallet - the one with the $2.00 bill inside - for luck."
Public service announcements from the soon-to-die with a message, for those who still have time, began to appear in the late '60s. "Before I die I want to do what I can to leave a world free of cancer for my six children... . " said William Talman, who payed Hamilton Burger on the "Perry Mason" series in the '60s. That was 40 years ago when the anti-smoking campaign was still a joke and the public service announcement ran for a year before he died of lung cancer. He spoke from his wheelchair and looked frail compared to the vibrant district attorney he portrayed on television.
That was the first mention I recall in what would become a national clarion call to stop smoking. Of course, 40 years later, anti-smoking campaigns have brought results in just about every corner of the world. But, too late for William Talman; and, as well, Yul Brynner, who spoke on film before he died, intending his message to become all the more chilling afterward.
Sometimes every utterance on a deathbed is recorded for posterity. I like the coincidence of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, founders of our Republic, both dying on Independence Day, within hours of each other in 1826.) Adams' final toast to the Fourth of July was "Independence forever!" Late in the afternoon of the Fourth of July, just hours after Jefferson died at Monticello, Adams, unaware of that fact, is reported to alson have said, "Thomas Jefferson survives." So what did he mean "survives," when Jefferson was already dead? We could (and do) ponder that notion all the time.
If I were to entertain the idea of recording something to be played after I died - and for just that reason alone - what would I say? "My life is going to change. I can feel it." But, I would have to be alive to feel it. That's what I tell little children about what happens when a person dies - or a bird, or a pet - "death means you can't feel anymore. Death is the absence of feeling."
The child usually ponders that notion and they may even pinch their thigh or forearm to "feel" the pinch. The difference between "my life is going to change, I can feel it," is that death will mean I won't feel it anymore. All this makes a moot point. I am not going to have anything to say beforehand for afterward.
Sometimes there are deathbed proclamations or perhaps soft, tender glances at those around. Sometimes people age, drift off, and settle their claims on their own, so to speak. Is there any way that I would consider a better way? Always leave them laughing, or, die with dignity?
You can die as you lived or you can take a final chance to do it your way. Either way, we have preconceived notions of what is the "right way" to die. In general - and I have asked around - we visualize those final moments as speaking in a whisper through parched lips while sunken eyes stare out of a pale face. Not one person I asked wants it that way, they just assume it might come to that.
There is definitely a finality to death. That aspect I do believe; however, although I will not "feel" anymore, I like to think my mind will still be alert enough to say: "I died. Now what?" and not to have prepared a song and dance number for shuffling off. I know that death is when we are no longer aware of what's going on around us - whether that moment comes before or after the final curtain. I know that when the applause is over and the curtain drops, the lights will dim and the theater will grow dark. Anything else is an anti-climax.
And, most assuredly, it is not the time to dress as Bugs Bunny, pop out of a drum, and wave cheerfully "Th-th-th-that's all folks."