Warning: If you are uncomfortable with the subject of death, better skip today and turn to the sports pages. My brothers and I grew up exposed to our dad’s crazy sense of humor. He loved telling corny jokes like this one: “Why are there fences around cemeteries? Because people are just dying to get in.” Jokes were followed by gales of laughter from Dad, while the rest of us rolled our eyes.
As Mom and Dad grew older, I made more frequent trips to Omaha, usually staying with my parents. One day I noticed my father with the Omaha World Herald. The first thing he turned to was the obituaries, so I asked him why. “I’m checking to see if my name is in there,” he replied, “and if it isn’t, then I know I’m still here. Ha ha.”
It is said we either become like the people we grew up with, or we don’t. Perhaps because of being a hospice volunteer for years, I developed a healthy attitude about death. Sooner or later, it happens to all of us. But now, in the autumn of my life, I check the obituaries in the News-Times. If you live long enough in a community, there will often be a familiar name.
I recently spotted the name of one of the first friends we made when we moved here in 1983 — Ray Wilder. At the time, Ray and Marion also lived on the beach, south of Seal Rock. I think we were first attracted to them because we had giant wolfhounds, and the Wilders were owned by an enormous Great Dane named Midnight. (What other size do Great Danes come in?) Compared to us, the Wilders were short people. Their gigantic, lovable dog seemed bigger than them — maybe because he actually was. I remember dinner parties at their home with Midnight sprawled from one end of a sofa to the other, and all of us adults either finding a spare chair or sitting on the floor. Heaven forbid the dog should have to move!
I’m sure there are a few old timers who remember the Wilders driving around town with Midnight in their Volkswagen Bug. In my memory, I can still visualize the dog’s huge head sticking out of the VW. When Ray found out Burt and I had been avid tennis players in Los Angeles, he conned us into playing doubles on the indoor courts at Otter Crest. His partner was another guy about Ray’s size, and they managed to cream us most of the time.
So far I’ve focused on the happy memories, but I remember that middle-of-the-night phone call from the Wilders asking if we could come to their home immediately. Midnight was suddenly ill, and they needed our help getting the sick dog into their car. Of course, we raced to the rescue. For some reason, they used a veterinarian in Eugene, so off they went, and we returned home to await news, which turned out to be bad news. The Wilders grieved for a long time, and I don’t think they ever got another dog. Eventually, our lives drifted in different directions.
The following has been in my hospice files and seems appropriate to share with you today.
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Every minute someone leaves the world behind. We are all in “The Line” without knowing it. We never know how many people are before us. We cannot move to the back of the line. We cannot step out of the line. We cannot avoid the line.
So while we wait, make moments count. Make priorities. Make the time. Make your gifts known. Make a nobody feel like a somebody. Make your voice heard. Make the small things big. Make someone smile. Make the change. Make love. Make up. Make peace. Make sure to tell your people they are loved. Make sure to have no regrets.
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That’s it. R.I.P. Ray Wilder. You were such a joy for us to know.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to the Rotary International Foundation, is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]