So, the world is all atwitter over the death of Amy Winehouse.
Please, don’t get me wrong. I'm not here to bash her or take a fine tooth comb to her life. She was what she was: A talented person who died. God rest her soul.
I feel badly for her and her family... It is tragic. Hopefully she will be remembered for the good that was in her and not just all of the bad that we have, thanks to the media, come to know only too intimately.
The “news” has taken this proverbial ball and run with it.
“Tragic Death”, especially of a celebrity, is one of their favorite stories, as morbid as it sounds.
This is how it is with the news today, especially when it comes to “popular cultures” celebrities: Someone famous dies and they're left climbing all over themselves to report on the story.
For the media, if it isn’t another celebrity on trial, a celebrity dying or a blonde teenager missing/dead, it’s what’s going to kill us next.
They live and die on “tragedy”; "If it bleeds it leads" is an infamous saying in the "news media". Plain and simple: “Tragedy” sells.
They see a 27 year old woman. A talented, though drug addicted, singer and they can smell the money like sharks smell blood. There is an “angle” to exploit. There’s the hook.
They talk about it ad nauseum on the networks and sites like TMZ.com. They have panel discussions, “experts on addiction”, "friends", "insiders", and the ubiquitous “anonymous sources”... They dissect their lives six ways from Sunday. They then parade out all of the distraught fans with tears streaming down their faces, signing walls with remembrances, or placing flowers outside of house, studios, or wherever the celebrity died. They play music and the fans hug each other and sway, crying, and holding their candles.
It’s a simple formula for them. Wring every tear and dollar out of the fans. Sell as many copies and get as many views as you can.
Just think about the deaths of Princess Diana or Michael Jackson. The media has a field day with this sort of thing. They still sell items “memorializing” them.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the 24 hour news cycle.
Now, there are the other outlets; the magazines, Newspapers, radio stations, MTV etc that will "celebrate" the lives of the celebrities who have passed on. They put out special issues, hold remembrances and candlelight vigils... The whole nine yards. It’s public mourning amped up and set to make as much money as possible.
They treat these deaths as if they are earth shaking, world changing tragedies.
But there are plenty of tragedies in this world. People die every day, obviously. But these people never get the same sort of recognition as Ms. Winehouse, Princess Di or Michael Jackson. Nor should they. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not saying “Don” down the street is worthy of the front page of the NY Post. But to the people who knew and loved “Don” his death is infinitely more important than that of a drug addicted English singer... Sadly, to the world-at-large, it's as if it never happened. As if they were never here… One of 6 billion is gone.
I think life is important and should be celebrated.
I’m going to shine the spotlight on a few everyday citizens who've passed away recently. To maybe give them some taste of the treatment that is given to that "special" breed of people known, collectively, as "celebrities".
Now, I didn't know these people.
They were, simply, someone’s loved ones. They, too, deserve to be remembered.
I'm not going to go overboard (for once), but I want to make a point.
I’ll start with my home state of Massachusetts and go from there:
Jean F. Day
Jean F. (Stewart) Day 73, of Rockland died on July 17 in her home after a courageous battle with cancer.
She will also be missed by her two cats (Mittens and Trouble) and her grand dogs (Francis and Sally). Jean was an avid baker who was known for her beautiful wedding and special occasion cakes baked with love for her friends and family. She loved surfing the WEB for new recipes. Jean loved ceramics and taught her craft to others in her home. She worked at New England Art (NEAP) in Abington as a printer for 32 years before retiring in June of 2008. Jeans favorite vacation was a trip to Hawaii with her daughter (Joan), son in-law (Rick), and her granddaughter (Danielle), where she fell in love with the culture, scenic beauty and the island life. She also loved her trips to Cape Cod, Florida, Montreal, and to Vermont to see foliage and friends. Every holiday found her home decorated for that particular occasion. These holiday lights will be missed from the neighborhood. Nana was always known to have plenty of M&Ms and York Peppermint Patties on hand for any visitors
Chester A. MacKenzie
Chester A. MacKenzie, age 82, died peacefully at home on July 21, 2011 with his loving family by his side in North Kingstown, RI, after a short illness.
He was a navy veteran of World War II and served on the U.S.S. Lofberg and U.S.S. Doyle. He was proud to be known as a Tin Can Sailor. Chester was a retired police detective from Weymouth, MA. His interests included cycling, gardening, bird watching, history, reading and music. His sharp sense of humor and quick wit brought joy and laughter to his family. He was fondly called Tip Top as this was how he responded while he fought his cancer. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
Oneda Willoughby "Nita" Harvey
Oneda Willoughby “Nita” Harvey, age 96, of Birmingham, died July 16, 2011
She was born in McComb, Miss. Nita moved with her husband and daughter to Tuscaloosa in 1953, where she lived until illness required her to move to Auburn and then to Birmingham in 2005. She was a long time member of Forest Lake United Methodist Church. Nita was a superb caregiver, always ready to help her family in times of need. She was a wonderful cook who took great joy in watching friends and family enjoy meals at her table.
Long time Alaska resident Esther Irene George, 81, died peacefully in her sleep on July 17, 2011 with family by her side
Esther was born in Jacksonville, Florida on July 13, 1930 and grew up as an adventurous spirit in a large loving Southern family in Eutauville, South Carolina where she graduated from high school.
At the tender age of 18, Esther met and fell in love with a young man in the Navy named Eugene Joseph George. They were married November 13, 1948 and enjoyed 57 years together traveling and raising their family.
In 1976, the family drove from Oregon to Alaska caravan style and settled in Anchorage. Esther worked many years for the Municipality of Anchorage. First with Parks and Recreation and eventually retiring from ATU. Soon after, she and Gene started their RV trips. They traveled throughout the states from Alaska to Maine visiting family and friends, touring many National Parks and testing the best ice cream shops along the way.
Twyla Clare (Wolterman) Becker
Twyla Clare (Wolterman) Becker 73, of Green Valley, AZ, passed away July 14, 2011.
Twyla spent most of her career in Minneapolis as Sr. Secretary at Fluidyne Engineering. She met Tom Becker through work associates and soon they fell in love, marrying on Marco Island, FL in 1983. Upon retirement travels to the most beautiful parts of our country ensued and finally brought them to Green Valley, AZ where she has lived since 1993. Twyla was a loyal friend to many, active in the arts and humanitarian efforts. She sang with the Santa Rita Choral, and painted with a pastel group. With a belief that one must give back to the community she was a devoted volunteer with the Valley Assistance Services and the Green Valley Animal League. Twyla's spirit left us after a short battle with esophageal cancer. The grace and consideration by which she lived will be cherished by all who had the good fortune of being touched by her life. She is deeply loved and greatly missed.
Donald E. Bryant
Donald E. Bryant, 76. Donald went to be with his savior July 19, 2011. Donald was born October 15, 1934 at Corning, AR to Claude M. and Christene Mizell Bryant. He married Mary Lou Swanson April 20, 1957 at Rockford, IL. Donald served his country in the United States Army. He worked in manufacturing before graduating from the Rockford School of Theology at 39. Donald spent his life preaching, fishing and playing a guitar. Many knew him from his Saturday night jam sessions at the Marion County Senior Center with Don & Tom's Country Jubilee.
So, there you have 6 ordinary, regular, everyday people. Regular People who had friends, family, and loved ones. Regular People who were talented, smart, funny and loving... These are people who have left us recently.
I'm sure if you ask anyone who cared about them if they think Amy Winehouse's death somehow means more to the world or that it’s somehow more “tragic” than the death of their loved one they would tell you different.
Reading through so many obituaries, to find just these few, was heartbreaking… but, at the same time, life-affirming.
It’s easy for us to “forget” about death, to just push it out of our minds as if it doesn’t exist… “Forget”, at least, until that day when it comes like a bolt out of the blue. A parent, a sibling, an aunt or uncle, or a friend dies and our world is turned upside down. Death stares us in the eye and you stare back, knowing that at some point you too will pass on. It makes us confront our own mortality.
But like there can be no light without dark, and No love without hate… so goes life and death.
In many ways we only know what life is and what it means when we are confronted with the loss of it. Death is THE universal truth. “The Great Equalizer”. it is one experience we all share.
Looking at these people, the 6 on my list and the dozens of others I read through, I realize that each one of us is special to someone and that our lives deserve to be celebrated.
I also realize that death is inevitable. We all have to face that day when our lives come to an end; Good or bad, full or not, alone or with loved ones… It does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a famous musician, a retired salesman or a homemaker… It doesn’t matter if you had ten children or none, or if you worked hard, fought in a war, had a hit album, or starred in a movie… Our lives are fleeting and fragile and we will all pass from this world.
If we are lucky we will be old men and women when that day comes. More than simply “Old men and women” but people who lived full, loving lives with family and friends who cared for us.
Sadly, for some of us that won’t be true. Death does not wait for you to “finish” living. Death does not care if you are a 9 year old girl on summer vacation, excited about starting 5th grade or if you are an 80 year old Grandmother excited to see her grandchildren.
I purposefully stayed away from the "tragic" deaths of young people. That is its own conversation... That’s not what this is about.
This is about people.
Each one of these six people deserves to be remembered... just as much as Amy Winehouse, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ryan Dunn, Peter Falk, Clarence Clemons or any of the other celebrities who have passed on this year.
I'm not trying to diminish their deaths, don’t get me wrong. They were human beings with their own lives, loves, friends and families. They too deserve to be remembered... but so do Jean, Chester, Oneda, Esther, Twyla and Donald. They were all people. They were all lives being lived. That deserves to be celebrated.
When my father passed away in February of 2009 it was a blow to my family and I that we have still not recovered from.
To this day I keep his obituary laminated in my car and attached to the visor. I like to look at it from time to time and remember him. Sometimes I think, to see his life reduced to a few lines in a local paper, is in itself heart breaking. It doesn't speak to who he was as a person or what he meant to me. My family or his friends. But most of us will have only that. There in black and white are a few lines in the local paper saying, in so many words, what we did with our lives. Who the people we leave behind are and where we will be laid to rest. It’s an overly simple summation of something that is far from simple… all on a page most of us don’t bother taking a second look at.
To me my father deserved to be covered by the news; with his face on the cover of magazines, comments from loved ones running on the ticker at the bottom of CNN or Fox News, his name trending on twitter, and a facebook remembrance page... Silly, I know... but that's what the death of a loved one feels like. You feel like screaming at the world “THIS WAS MY FATHER! HE WAS IMPORTANT! HE DESERVES TO BE REMEMBERED!”
I got a taste of that treatment when my two friends were murdered in the summer of 2007. They were on the front page of the paper, and I was on the local news talking about it. They even showed up at his funeral... It was that “tragic” death they are always looking for. The sort of thing the news loves. It was surreal. They only covered it because it “sold”, and because there was a “story” for them to capitalize on.
A week later it was as if it had never happened. The world had moved on. There were other “tragic” deaths to report on. More murders, suicides, and celebrities. After all, they were just “regular people”.
No one cares about “Regular people”.
They weren’t “regular people” to me, though. They were my friends. They were a part of the world I lived in. We shared many great times together… many laughs, fights, stories, and adventures. They were loved.
They weren’t celebrities to be worshipped and used, they were my friends.
I didn’t know Amy Winehouse, but I knew of her. I’ve heard her records. She was talented. It’s sad that such a talented person is gone from the world, and the circumstances are sad. But her death is abstract to me. It exists, but it doesn’t have an impact on my life. The deaths of my friends and my father? Those were concrete. They were real. They had bearing on my life. They had impact.
That’s what makes seeing her face everywhere, because she died, seem weird. These people, who meant so much to me, were just gone one day… There were Wakes and funerals, but no “celebration” of their lives by the “World”. There is just a void in my life and in my heart where they used to be.
My father was 59 when he died of Colon Cancer. Something he had “beaten” a few years before… or at least we thought so. But it came back, worse than before.
My Father fought his disease for a very long time. He hung in there like his hero, the boxer Rocky Marciano, going all 12 rounds. He fought with everything he had. He fought, probably for too long, but he fought...
Sometimes I think he kept fighting just to be around for my brother’s wedding and to see his first grandson born. Who can say? Thankfully He did make it long enough to be at the wedding. It was an amazing day. A day I am thankful for. On my wall I’ve pinned a picture of him from the wedding. It was the last time he was “out” and he looked so happy and proud to see his first born sons “big day”. Words really can't describe it.
Unfortunately though, he didn't make long enough it to see his grandson born. He passed away, at home, on February 24th 2009. My nephew, his grandson, was born in June. Thankfully, at least, he knew about him. He knew it was going to be a boy and he was so proud.
I hope my nephew knows who his grandfather was. There may not be news stories about him or retrospectives of his life... but there is his family and friends. There are Pictures, stories... and me.
He will be remembered.
Remember these people.
Amy, Esther, Ryan, Chester, Randy, Oneda, Jean, Peter, Clarence, Twyla, Donald...
I hope you have found peace.
This one's for you Dad