Let’s talk about the D-word

Bear with me for a few paragraphs while I talk about a certain gloomy subject that people don’t always get a big bang out of reading about, and that’d be our old pal Death.

Don’t read anything into it; I’m not talking about me. I feel like a million bucks, though that’s no longer the gold standard when it comes to one’s health, since a million bucks doesn’t really go the same distance as it used to. Its buying power diminishes as we grow older. Years ago with some wise investments, a million bucks would earn you enough in interest to where you’d never have to work again. Today, it pays for a nice dinner and an electric car, with maybe enough left over to purchase a sharp suit of clothes.

The thing about death is we’re sometimes encouraged to think of it as part of life, albeit the last part, but a part nonetheless. For those who cleave to the dogma of certain religions, it’s the last stop on the journey of life that occurs for a while on Earth, before the entry into a glorious kingdom (or, perhaps, not, but good people like you don’t have to consider that dire judgment) for all eternity—a difficult concept to get one’s head around, given the truism of James Thurber’s observation that “Even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would dim a little as the days ran on.”

So don’t rule out stretches of boredom in the afterlife, but consider that there can be moments of Zen bliss found in boredom.

What’s got me thinking about death this week is the passing of two of my most pleasant cousins in the last week. Sally Pritchard, who lived near Minneapolis, was 79; Patrick Pritchard, who lived near Dayton Ohio, was 83. Is that old enough to not be shocked by their death? The younger you are, the more likely you’ll agree that it is. I’m not so sure. The older you get the less you want to think that your demise is accepted as numerically reasonable.

I haven’t seen Patrick since he and his wife Kay were here to visit my dad in his last days in 1998, and Sally was in California and visited my grandmother in the early 2000s. I owe both so much gratitude for taking such loving care of my beloved father and his mother than, apparently, I could have ever repaid.

One of the big bits of misfortune attendant with getting older (besides the obvious one, that you’re getting older), is the fact that people you admire that are older than you begin to shuffle off (another euphemism). An elderly woman once came into the newspaper office where I worked and hollered quite loudly that she was sick of us using such phrases as “passed on.”

“He didn’t pass on, he DIED!” she insisted, not wrongly.

So, OK, “died.” Musicians and movie stars and authors and, yes, friends and relatives, die along the way and your arsenal of more elderly heroes and mentors shrinks to the point where you’re suddenly a matriarch or patriarch, sitting at the head of the table, presiding over the holiday meal and being fussed over by the generations trailing you with their unbridled energy and perhaps forced politeness.

I still feel like I’ve got a bit of time left, though I’m aware that it can end suddenly and strangely by a piano falling from a tall building.

I imagine the relatives and few friends I’ll have left will provide my family with “at least he never knew what hit him.”

Maybe, but nevertheless I won’t be surprised. If you’re among the survivors, please assure everyone that that was how I always suspected I would go.

What you should read NOW

Remember what I just said about the demise of your more elderly creative heroes? I was feeling that about many of my favorite authors who are still alive, but not publishing with the vigor that they once had, and wondering if I’d ever see a new book coming from them. I felt that way about Richard Ford, who has been one of my favorite authors since 1986 when he published “The Sportswriter” to deserved acclaim. It was the first of his novels, totalling five now, about Frank Bascombe and his grappling with whatever fraught times he was living, in terms of marriage, career and whatever else life throws at him.

Initially a sportswriter, Bascombe went into the less spectacular world of real estate in subsequent books in the series, maybe most notably the second novel, “Independence Day,” which won Ford a Pulitzer Prize.

The series most resembled John Updike’s Rabbit series of novels in terms of the dealings of a more-or-less common man in an ever-changing world.

Dropping yesterday is No. 5, and probably the last, of Bascombe books, “Be Mine,” set around Valentine’s Day (hence the mundane-sounding title, which comes from the most common message etched into chalky V-Day candy hearts).

Ford is 79 now, five years older than his Bascombe character. I haven’t read the new one yet, of course, so I’m not privy to whether life will continue for Bascombe beyond “Be Mine,” but I won’t be surprised if he meets his demise, finally, by a falling piano.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.