FOR A FUNERAL?
In John Donne's poem, "No Man Is An Island," he cautions us "never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee." Four centuries ago, Donne was reflecting upon the Black Death that had raged Europe several centuries before. Millions died during the plague. Every time someone died, the church bell rang, signifying that another person had succumbed. You can imagine how often someone would ask after hearing the bells toll, "I wonder who died now." Donne's response was that "it tolls for thee," because humankind is one. Therefore, any ones death diminishes each of us.
The bells tolled long and loudly last week for one of Chicago's media giants, Bob Collins. All members of his listening family shared in the grief that his own family and his co-worker suffered. I listened to various members of his radio family as they attempted to come to grips with Bob's tragic death. Listening to their on-air postmortem, I reflected upon how the city was caught up in its very real and touching efforts to come to terms with their grief. For several days, media voices spoke with tears running down cheeks and lumps caught in their throats as they tried to do their duty to WGN while they coped with their personal grief.
In the handful of days since his plane crashed, I tried to understand the grief of all his fans. It was obvious that Collins' colleagues grieved because of their losing a person with whom they had worked-in some cases for as long as a quarter of a century. However, the vast majority of his listeners hadn't met him and probably didn't even know what Uncle Bobby, as he was affectionately called, looked like. Obviously, radio has a mysterious ability to allow for the personalization of a voice emanating from a small box in bedrooms, kitchens, and cars. Bob Collins' personality transcended the limitations of radio to get close and bridge the spatial distance between the speaker and the listener.
In addition to that, I think that Collins' death raised for each of us our own mortality. If he died in a freak plane accident, so can we die in unexpected ways. Naturally, that is troubling to each of us. We make every attempt to create a safe and secure life for ourselves and for our loved ones. When death reaches out of the blue as it did with Uncle Bobby, we are reminded that death can also grab us with its cold and unforgiving grasp. Echoing like so many bells tolling in our ears comes that haunting voice reminding us that death is alive and well in your world. This is part of our grief of last week, and it is unsettling. We all fly through life without guarantees that we will land safely.
Having been chastened and reminded of that reality last week, I sat down late one night in front of my computer to deal with my fears that someday people will shed tears at my death. Here are some steps that I am employing in my life and you might want to consider for yours:
1. Tell your loved ones of your love for them. Don't leave this world without giving the people you love a very clear idea why you love them and what you respect about them. They will be able to cherish and use that knowledge in their journey through life without you.
2. Be careful: exercise, eat properly, and drive, fly, or live safely. While we can't control fate, we can do things that are prudent and will, with a little luck, provide us with long, happy, and healthy lives.
3. Enjoy life in the now. We don't possess a timetable for our demise. Therefore, get all that you can from life before it is too late.
4. Remember the times of your life-the good times and bad times. Those events will be the times that will be talked about at your funeral when you are the one remembered. Share with your loved ones now some of the times of your life. While listening to Bob's co-workers' on-air grief therapy sessions, I thought to myself that I would want to be alive during the time of my funeral. I would want to laugh and cry with the mourners before I go away for the final time. I would want to share with my loved ones memories and hopes achieved and hopes that ran out of time. Since I won't be very talkative at my funeral, I will do this while I am still alive.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 2/17/00.