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Friday, November 20, 2009

Sudden Death Departures

           Death is an inconvenient interruption to life, and sometimes it comes most unexpectedly.  The victim of a fatal accident, a murder, or some tragic event is going through the day without knowing that their life is going to be cut short with little or no warning. These deaths take all of us by surprise. Other people go through periods of suffering with death to be the expected outcome. They and we know that death is imminent, yet often when it comes the survivors are left with the mixed feelings of denial and grief and a sense of relief that the person will no longer have to suffer.  No matter what the case, death is an unpleasant event not only because of the ending of a life, but also because death reminds us of our own mortality.

          Most of us are not looking forward to our own death.  And we are saddened when those we love die. We like to think that our or their death will be tidy, painless, and respectful. But sometimes deaths occur in very strange or ironic ways.  Those are the deaths that might make you scratch your head and say That was weird.  In today's post I'm going to look at a few ironic death situations.

Going when you're doing what you love:

         My grandfather, Paul H. Trevillian of Morgantown, WV, was somebody I had really come to admire as I came into adulthood.  I didn't see him very often, but when I did he always made me feel special. In the summer of 1970 I went to visit my grandparents. I was nineteen and had finished my first year at the University of Tennessee. My grandfather was proud of me and took me around town to introduce me to everybody he'd meet.  He seemed to know everybody and they all seemed to like him. I could see that he had this knack of making everybody feel special. 

         Perhaps his affability made him a natural for politics. He was a proud Republican and very active in the local politcal scene. He had his enemies, but that's politics.  For the most part he had a lot of friends. At the time when I was visiting he had been on the City Council for many years and he absolutely loved it. He liked nothing better than to discuss the affairs of the city and find out what people wanted him to do for the city.  Politics and City Council was his passion. At a meeting in early 1972, Paul Trevillian was beginning his speech about installing a traffic signal at a particular intersection. Suddenly he clutched his chest and fell on the spot. He died instantly from a massive heart attack. I don't think he would have wanted his death any other way.

The Show Must Go On:

        Roberta Griffin, actress and wife of magician Ken Griffin, used to enjoy telling tales of life on the Circuit Chautauqua touring stage productions.  This form of entertainment consisted of a broad range of presentations from lectures, fine stage arts, popular theatrical productions, and vaudeville. They were tent shows that travelled to various towns where they would set up and perform a repertoire of presentations. Catering to primarily rural areas, this entertainment lingered on into the 1950's until television essentially took its place. For a working actor a show of this nature could be grueling, but it represented a season of steady paychecks.

        One of the actors who was a regular on many of the circuit tours was a man by the name of Leo Lacey. Leo was a long time fixture on the circuit with a career that went back to vaudeville. He was well-liked in the show business community and popular with audiences with whom he had a reputation as an entertaining actor and comedian. Never failing to entertain, he had superb delivery of his scripted lines, but had an extraordinary knack for ad-libbing and improvisation, which was a skill that was required of  all of the performers.

          As Roberta told the story, one evening as the feature theatrical presentation was in the final act, Leo Lacey made a dramatic display of agony, clutching his chest and then falling to the floor. Accustomed to Leo's frequent antics and attempts to throw off the other actors, the onstate cast began improvising with the unscripted event.  Upon checking the downed actor, the others immediately realized he was actually dead. So as not to spoil the evening's entertainment, all actors carried on with the scene,  deftly covering up the true tragedy that had occurred. One of the actors dragged Leo's lifeless body backstage where it was propped in a corner and everyone continued to work around it.  Due to the professionalism of the cast and crew, the audience never knew the difference.  As far as the audience knew, everything they had seen on stage was exactly as it should have been. After all, as the old adage declares, the show must go on.

           And I can certainly vouch for this.  True professional entertainers live by this rule.  As one who spent many years in the entertainment business,  I can cite numerous examples.  There have been times when I've been so sick that all I could do is lie miserably backstage until it was time to put on my stage face and go out to perform as though nothing were wrong. When you are dedicated and love and believe in what you are doing, you make sacrifices and forget about yourself. Leo Lacey and his fellow actors were pros like that. They knew their audience had come to be entertained and leave with an uplifted spirit. The show couldn't just stop because someone had died. Leo Lacey probably went out the way that suited him best--antother case of going when you're doing what you love.

Careful What You Say:

           Finally, from an undated clipping from my collection (probably around 1972), comes a somewhat ironic story.  Police Sergeant Charles Crocker had been struggling with his weight. The department was cracking down on the issue of overweight police officers and  35 year old Crocker wanted to bring his weight down to 200 pounds.  Six weeks from the date that he was to go on vacation he started on a crash diet. It was a struggle, but he faithfully adhered to his diet.

          A couple of days before his vacation was to begin, he was having breakfast at the counter in a diner with a fellow officer.  The other man was enjoying a hearty breakfast, while Sgt. Crocker settled for a piece of dry wheat toast and a glass of orange juice.  Crocker watched longingly as his partner ate his breakfast. According to Crocker's partner's account. Crocker drank his orange juice and complained, "This diet is killing me." and moments later he toppled off his stool, dead of an apparent heart attack. Here's a good example of being careful what you say.


Last Words (not to sound ominous):

           I've thought about what kind of death I would choose if I had to die. Don't get me wrong-- I hope I live for many, many, many more years as long as I'm relatively healthy and not a burden to anyone. But,just hypothetically speaking, if I absolutely had to die and the method of dying was up to me, I guess I would want to be dropped out of a plane at a high altitude. The fall would be one final thrill ride and would undoubtly be more exciting than, say, drowning or burning alive. But I'm not ready to go yet.  Wait until I've passed 150 years old or so then you can toss me out of the plane.

           Let's face it-- we're all going to die someday. If you could pick, how would you want to go?  Do you know any weird or ironic death stories?
        
      

      

7 comments:

  1. This was a powerful Posting for me.
    For me, the power of the first two stories is the report of people dying, without suffering and doing something that was central and meaningful for them. The third story leads me to think about unintended (life and death) consequences of our choices. Someone is trying to meet a requrement for better health to keep his livelihood and dies in the process.
    For me the issue of how much choice I can exercise in how I die and when to surrender to it, and with how much suffering has a lot of interest and sometimes even urgency. On the one hand I don't know if I want surgery and chemotherapy if I get cancer at my age (I had heart surgery in my 50s and consider it a miraculous blessing). Although I don't want to die, I don't know how much my life could be curtailed and still be a satisfying life for me. (give up mobility, give up sexuality, live with months or years of pain, or medication that dulls pain but that impairs my ability to write, paint, work,create?). Do I think It would be moral (in relation to my family, my clients) to jump off the golden Gate Bridge or drink a lethal dose of Hemlock? Would I have the courage? Or would I be so cowardly?

    Your stories help me to go on with this inner exploration. Thanks.

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  2. Wow, what a post! Here's what I learned about dying from my late husband: as a Christian, you can die gracefully and with a whole host of love and concern for those you're leaving behind. Even in his latter stages of cancer, my husband went to heaven with such grace...oh my. He was a beautiful man. I hope I can show just a smidgen of the love and selfless attitude he exhibited when it's my turn to move on to my home in heaven! After all, I'll be going to something wonderful, while I'll know that my loved ones will still be dealing with the pangs of this earth. Thanks for this post! And thanks for reading my Friday Fiction, Lee. (Hey, think about joining us soon-I'd love to read fiction from you!)

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  3. Harris,
    Thanks for the kind words. I agree with what you say about suffering through extreme deterioration to the point where you basically just kept alive by others with no productive promise for the future for yourself.
    I been really enjoying your recent posts at:
    http://who-am-i-who.blogspot.com/
    I look forward to each new one.
    Lee

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  4. Dear Dee,
    Thank you for the comment. My father was also a fine Christian who died of pancreatic cancer at the far too young age of 67. He suffered so much in the last month it was painful for us to see. When he was in the hospital they had him on so much morphine that he was hallucinating and did not seem to comprehend what was happening. Our whole family was at his bedside when he finally left us, but I think of him so much and have tried to follow in is footsteps in so many ways.

    I'd love to be a part of the Fiction Fridays. I haven't looked at what it's all about, but I'll check on it. What do I need to do?
    Lee

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  5. My boss died the night before my first day of work. I learned all about him on his funeral and it made me want to know him more. At the same time, however, I was so enthralled by what I learned about him that I am not sure I would have it any other way. Some people are like phanthoms...and the images we create of them are part of how we remember them. I would like to go in such a way that makes my family and friends continue to get to know me even after I am gone. But then again, few of us can be that interesting...

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  6. Diana,
    All I can say is that was a pretty neat comment-- very perceptive. It makes me think of how I often read the obituary pages in the L.A. Times and will sometimes read about some author or the like has died and I become intrigued by their works. I have actually checked out books from the library or bought them because I was intrigued by what I had read in the obit.
    Lee

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  7. Hi Lee....My husband has tried three times to meet his Maker, not by his own hand I should add....obviously they were not ready for him up there! I do not fear death itself, only the manner in which it might come...I'm a bit of a coward and would hate the suffering. However, since watching the TV series Six Feet Under, I've become very matter of fact about it all....understanding the practicalities involved and the way people handle grief.

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Lee