Saturday, October 30, 2010

She took it out only on bowling nights

October 29, 1618 -- Sir Walter Raleigh was executed by beheading.

Before his execution, Raleigh refused to be blindfolded, touched the ax and said words to the effect: "This is that that will cure all sorrows." He then placed his head on the block and told the headsman: "What dost thou fear? Strike, man, strike!" It took two blows to sever his head, which his wife embalmed and kept in a red leather bag until her death 29 years later.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My two bits on obits

For years I’ve read the obituaries in local newspapers all over the country. Having made my living for some time as a writer specializing in the personal profile, I’ve often wondered:
Why aren’t obituaries more interesting? Why are they generally preoccupied with details concerning those left behind? Often, an obituary is the only time the name of the deceased has ever appeared in the paper. Why, then, should the departed one not be given his or her due?
As I’ve learned in writing about the living: Everyone’s life is a story.
The dead should be honored, just for having lived. Creating a compelling obituary – telling one’s story concisely but elegantly – is an act of justice.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obituary writer for hire

Went by a funeral home the other day to audition my idea of presenting myself as an Obituary Writer and a composer of funereal tributes. Two guys listened to me respectfully but a little bemusedly, I think. They agreed that obits are generally run-of-the-mill and woefully unjust but they cited the cost as the mitigating factor. The local Gannett rag commands $300 for a pathetic little standard obituary. At those prices even the most bereaved party can't be expected to indulge in the catharsis of publicly unburdening their heart.

As for my proposition to provide funereal tributes, they told me that people normally leave it to their preacher to handle that if they can't come up with something on their own.

The major obstacle they saw, however, was that hardly anyone wants to linger over death or make any sort of big deal about it. Many, they told me, will come in of a morning, on the heels of a loved one's demise, and ask that services be conducted that day.

Death is just another inconvenience, in other words, to be got past as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Going and coming

October 23, 1950 -- Singer Al Jolson died. His last words:

"This is it! I'm going. I'm going."

October 23, 1852 -- American statesman and lawyer Daniel Webster died. His last words:

"I still live."

In Hell, nothing works

October 20, 1820 -- Explorer and author Sir Richard Burton died. He wrote:

"There is ho Heaven, there is no Hell; these be the dreams of baby minds."

October 18, 1831 -- Inventor Thomas Alva Edison (pictured) died. His last words:

"Results! Why man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work."

Sweet music

October 16, 1795 -- French queen Marie Antoinette died. Her last words:

"I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long."

Also on October 16, in 1849, composer Frederic Chopin died. His last words:

"The earth is suffocating . . . Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won't be buried alive."

He crooned

October 14, 1977 -- Singer and actor Bing Crosby died. His last words:

"That was a great game of golf, fellers."

Also on this day, in 1959, actor Errol Flynn died. His last words:

"I've had a hell of a lot of fun and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

But leave the fire going

Civil War General Robert E. Lee died on this day in 1870. His last words:

"Strike the tent."

Shoot, we know that

October 9, 1967 -- Revolutionary leader Che Guevara was executed. His last words"

"I know you've come to kill me. Shoot, you are only going to kill a man."

October 11, 1809 -- Explorer Meriwether Lewis died, either by suicide or as the victim of a robbery. His last words:

"I am not coward, but I am so strong. It is hard to die."

Read about Lewis's mysterious death:

Assisi, for one, had relations with animals

October 4, 1226 -- Saint Francis of Assisi died.

"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent." -- George Orwell.

October 5, 2004 -- Comedian Rodney Dangerfield didn't get any respect -- he died. His epitaph:

"There Goes the Neighborhood."

October 7, 1849 -- Edgar Allan Poe died.

"Quoth the Raven nevermore." -- Poe's epitaph.

It would have been elegant for Poe's last word to have been "Nevermore," in answer to the question he was asked on his deathbed ("Would you like to see your friends?"), but his dying utterance was probably the much more somber, "Lord help my poor soul."