By Mark David Blum, Esq.
My friend Christ, in an oft repeated parable, says that, “the older you get, the more dead people you know.” This past week, those words of wisdom have been slammed home to me. First, I turned fifty years old just a handful of days ago. At the same time, a close family friend died. Then came the shocking death of Michael Jackson.
Turning fifty itself was a rude awakening to my own impending death. Some argue that “50 is the new 30”; whatever that means. I am well aware that fifty years old is not “old” by some scales. To me, reaching the age of fifty signifies an age at which I swore in my youth I would never live to see. Achieving this milestone while still breathing and in relatively good health is a miracle by my standards. It was a long process and I went through all the stages of dying. Only this past week have I come to the ‘acceptance’ phase where I am starting to feel comfortable in my now half century year old sagging skin. The only real change I noticed is my new right to act like a crotchety old man and tell kids to get off my lawn.
Early last week, a family friend was in his kid’s room and tripped over the bedspread. He fell flat on his face, broke his nose and apparently also broke open blood vessels inside his head. After three days in a coma, he finally died. This event cast a heavy pall upon my celebration weekend and after returning from an out of state vacation, I came home to a funeral and the horror of burying someone I loved and admired.
The funeral was Catholic and what Catholics call a “high mass”. Being a Jew in a Catholic church, I already expect the statues to start bleeding from the eyes and the stained glass windows to blow out whenever I set foot inside. I did well and showed great respect for my Catholic friends. The constant stand up and sit down and stand up and sit down was a tad annoying but I honored and went along. Kneeling was out of the question because I kneel to no body or entity. I caught the Priest eyeing me when my mouth remained motionless while everyone else recited the Lord’s Prayer. Of course, I was caught off guard when all of a sudden strangers seated next to me turned around and wanted to shake my hand, hug me, and were full of smiles.
It was a long day. First there was the morning prayer service. Then came the hours long service at the church. Finally came the burial, complete with 21 gun salute. When the flag was taken off the coffin and given to the widow, I finally lost control and the tears started flowing. As I walked by the coffin the last time and laid a flower thereon, I touched the Adirondack wood, said my goodbyes and joined the procession to the luncheon that followed.
The entire process took up most of a day. By the time I returned home and got out of my suit, I turned on the news only to learn that Farrah had died that morning. While she was the dream girl of my generation, Farrah was not really someone with whom I had a connection. Jacqueline Smith was my favorite Angel and I never had a picture of Farrah in the red bathing suit. Her death however was a significant moment because I grew up with her and her passing was the end of a part of my history. Also her death was not a surprise as news of her cancer had been around for a while and her death was expected.
Within a couple of hours, while my heart was heavy in my chest for the services of the morning, news broke that Michael Jackson had died suddenly. At first, I didn’t believe the postings on the internet but within minutes the story made it to the main stream media and the shock set in.
Michael Jackson was a huge part of my life. He is my generation’s Elvis or John Lennon or Bing Crosby. Michael was fifty years old; same as me. He was a child star and I started following him as a child. The Jackson five were an early favorite band of mine. Unlike most White folks, thanks to Michael, my music history started with Motown and I have been a true believer and follower of Black music since my early teens. Michael was the consummate showman and his loss creates a huge vacuum in the music world.
All this happened on the same day. A funeral, the death of two icons, and the sudden realization that I indeed am coming to know more and more dead people. This is not how I envisioned my life. It hurts too much to bury the ones you love. I had always believed that I would be buried long before I ever had to bury anyone. How do you say goodbye when you never planned on being around?