Famous Last Word
I decided a few years back, as I approached the magic number 80 that it would be a good idea to die at home. Dying at home, I figured, surrounded by my children and grandchildren, in the house where Susan and I raised our three sons and daughter, would be a storybook ending to a life. Ok, admittedly, a life that has a couple chapters missing. And another few I’d like to rewrite.
This became a problem when we decided to sell the house where we have lived for the past 49 years. Our realtor’s jaw dropped and she nearly dropped us. “You want to what? You want the buyer to agree to what?”
But then, there’s this little thing called a commission. So she slipped this odd request into the agreement and we put it on the market. A lovely couple from Ohio with two kids fell in love with it and gave us the best bid. Then they read the fine print and they weren’t so fine.
“Is this a Pittsburgh thing?” The husband asked. “You have to be joking.” I tried to convince them it would be a learning experience for their kids. “Not on your life,” he said.
Which proved he had a sense of humor. We went back and forth for a week or so and managed to make a deal. Coming down in price several thousand helped. But no way were they going to agree to have me, a complete stranger, die in their house. And they reminded me it would not be dying at my home, but theirs.
So, Susan and I found an apartment in a high rise with lots of windows overlooking the East End, facing the morning sunrise. Wonderful. But who wants to die in apartment? Sure, it has a gorgeous view. But how does that help when you’re lying flat on your back staring at the ceiling?
So I came up with what I thought could be a solution. Die on the elevator. The young apartment manager stared at me. There was a pause. Then she smiled.
“Up or down?” “Going up, of course.”
We’re on the seventh floor. It’s gorgeous. And the added bonus is, I get to see my life go before me each time I ride the elevator. Although there are times I’d like to get off on the second floor and revisit my childhood, there’s no going back, as you know, except in our imaginations.
Being a word manipulator, and with my children’s expectations rather high, I need to prepare for the event. My final words. But what a great opportunity. It won’t compare to Oscar Wilde’s, when his eyes rolled round and round in his dismal room in Paris and he said, “This wall paper is despicable. One of us must go.” Or George Bernard Shaw’s, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Or Brendan Behan’s, to the kindly nun who nursed him at the end, “Thank you, Sister, may you be the mother of a Bishop.”
But to be on the same page with a few great Irish writers for one fleeting moment, this is one deadline I just can’t miss. And it had better have a good opening, so that you stick around for the end. I’d better get started preparing what to say right now. So I don’t blow it.
Let’s see. Something lovely about Susan and the kids. The grandkids. And my brothers and sisters, of course. My mom and dad. Maybe a word or two about a friend or two. Something philosophical perhaps, with great depth. Or should it be cast in humor? Go out with a laugh. Warmth isn’t a bad way to go. Should be short, of course. Succinct. And quotable. That’s the hard part. Irony often works well with death.
Pardon? Who, me? But…I’m not quite ready. I need like…a half hour? Ten minutes? Thirty seconds? Less? Give me a break! C’mon! What’s that? It’s what? It’s a wrap?