Tragicomedia with comedian Bobby Kelton on death of a BFF
"A huge Giants fan, he sent me an email right before his heart attack that ‘If they ever win the World Series, I’ll die a lucky man.’"

 

comedian Bobby KeltonCan people actually cause their own death after saying stuff like  ‘If they ever win the World Series, I’ll die a lucky man”?  Is there a reason a loved one’s Time of Death is always drawing attention to itself? This and more when memory artist Nancy Gershman talks with Florida-based comedian Bobby Kelton. Bobby has appeared on “The Tonight Show” 21 times, and is the author of two books, Please Don’t Let This Be Her!, and the humorous stand-up comedy memoir, “Heckler! Tales of A Stand-up Comic and His Quest To Get The Last Laugh.” Visit Bobby on his website, http://bobbykelton.com.

Use jogging time to talk to the dead
Wishing to die a lucky man might kill you
It’s natural to be relieved you’re not the one they’re eulogizing
Are the dead so high on the afterlife they don’t even care they’re dead?
Time of Death often announces itself through your internal clock
There’s nothing like a body on dry ice to convey death
Letting go can look like rudeness, so forgive the bad manners
Predicting death – and preventing it – is out of our hands
Your To Do List
 

Use jogging time to talk to the dead

“By the time you get to your 50’s, you’re going to experience loss. I’ve definitely lost some good friends, some of them in the comedy world. It’s always pretty shocking because they are my age! One that hit home the hardest was the death of my best friend, George Schumer, whom I had grown up with since kindergarten on Long Island. He had a heart attack and died three years ago. I talked to him only the night before. It was really the first time something terrible happened to anybody that close to me, aside from my grandparents.

After that, you start thinking that everybody you’re talking to, you might never speak to them again. But now I talk to George while I’m jogging. I’ll say,‘George, where are you?’ but also talk to him about things we had in common.”

Wishing to die a lucky man might kill you

“People often say of the deceased, ‘He, or she must have made this happen.’ My grandfather, who ironically was also named George was an avid fisherman.  Recently when my 92 year old mother was visiting me in Florida and caught nine fish, both me and my mother said: ‘George must have made that happen.’

Back to Long Island George. He and I were huge San Francisco Giants fans, and interestingly, he sent me an email right before his heart attack that ‘If they ever win the World Series, I’ll die a lucky man.’ You have to understand, we were waiting our whole lives for the Giants to win and then they won it – and then two years after George passed, they won it again!  You can’t help thinking what he’s thinking about all this …

Anyway, George lived near San Francisco and had asked to be cremated. I was not able to attend the service as I had a show I was committed to do. But a few months later I visited the West Coast, and I asked George’s ex-wife to take me to the tree where he had his ashes scattered near his home in Richmond. I dug a hole in the ground right next to his ashes and buried a baseball card I use as a business card – it’s a picture of me in a Giants uniform.

Afterwards, I just felt good about it. I wonder if that card will still be there under the earth years from now…”

It’s natural to be relieved you’re not the one they’re eulogizing

“One of my best comedian friends, ironically also named George – that’s three Georges – passed away from a form of leukemia, popping pills, falling and hitting his head. He died at the same exact age as the other George, but about eight years ago.  George Miller was a very popular comedian, so we had a memorial at the Laugh Factory in LA. Everybody got up and talked about him. People would get up and tell funny stories because George Miller was a unique guy. What occurred to me while I was sitting there was that a number of us must be laughing – in a subconscious way – because we’re not the ones who are dead. There’s a lot of relief it’s not you. As each of us made light of George’s eccentricities, I think we all had that inner sense that, thank god, we’re still here.”

Are the dead so high on the afterlife they don’t even care they’re dead?

“George the comedian was always taking pills: anything that makes you feel good.  Muscle relaxers. Quaaludes. When the doctors gave him pills for his leukemia, he happily took way more than he was supposed to, just for the high. So this friend of ours got up at the funeral service and said: ‘George was always so stoned, so high, that right now he probably doesn’t even know he’s dead.’”

Time of Death often announces itself through your internal clock

“My father, Martin, died four days short of his 98th birthday last year in Palm Springs, California. It was my first immediate loss in the family. I was not at his bedside because I had a run of shows in Florida and we didn’t know if he would hang on for days or for weeks. My brother Kevin sends me a text that said “He’s gone, 12:12 pm.” I still have the text. To be honest, my father may have died a minute or two before that text came through, but that’s the message I received so to me that’s the time he passed.

But listen to this: I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I’ve been at home in the kitchen and looked at the clock while drinking my coffee, and it’s 12:12. It’s happened so many times, maybe 40-50 times, a couple times a week!

Sometimes in my mind, I just say I miss you. Sometimes I just look at the clock. I don’t know if it’s a signal or just a bizarre coincidence, but it doesn’t happen with any other particular time of day.”

There’s nothing like a body on dry ice to convey death

“I have a 5 x 7 photo of my dad on my dresser. Whenever I look at it, I still find it hard to believe he’s gone. Or like San Francisco Giants George: I’ll see a video of him or a photo of the two of us, and again, it’s hard to fully believe he doesn’t exist anymore.

In March at Dad’s funeral, it was my first time seeing a body in a coffin. When I touched the body, it felt like ice. Even the airflow around the body felt like ice. What occurred to me at the moment is that he’s not in there. The body of my father was a shell but not him. His cold body really brought home to me the reality of death.“

Letting go can look like rudeness, so forgive the bad manners

“It also didn’t look like my dad. Illness had eaten away at him, making him look very gaunt. In fact, he kind of looked like his father who had a very narrow face. Both my father and grandfather were sharp right up until they died.

Towards the end, I was visiting Dad in this hospital in California. After a week I had to leave so I told him, ‘I’ve got to go back to Florida; I have shows.’ ‘Good luck!’ he said to me with the connotation, go ahead, don’t bother me, a dismissal type of thing.  At the time, it kind of made me laugh, but it felt strange. He was already in that process of letting go. Nothing mattered to him.”

Predicting death – and preventing it – is out of our hands

“I called San Francisco Giants George the night before he died. He had alluded to some fleeting problems like shortness of breath but said he was feeling good now. After his death, I felt that had I known certain things, I could have prodded him to be proactive and get help. There was all this stuff I learned from his ex-wife months later – that he had chest pains, refused a chest scan, and that his doctors had even given him nitroglycerin!

So I would say to those with regrets – don’t be hard on yourself. That’s how life is; not everything falls into place. You can’t predict what happens, so let it go. You’re human and not perfect.”

Your To Do List

  1. Think about that if-so statement made by your (now dead) BFF: the one that came true.  See how it always makes you chuckle? Maybe this is a story worth preserving, especially since there’s no photo about it. This way you can draw sustenance from it, again and again. 
  2. Find a photograph of you and your BFF that’s captures your special bond. It doesn’t have to be a perfect studio portrait. More important is that the affection between the two of you is clearly expressed in your faces and body language. Or maybe it conveys your mutual passion for, say, the San Francisco Giants by what you’re wearing; or where you’re standing.
  3. Identify a “sacred” object or place that represents the gist of that statement. Search memorabilia you have displayed on the wall, in a keepsake box or have stored in the proverbial “trunk in the attic.” 

If you know what you’re looking for but can’t find it, you might want to brainstorm with a memory artist. They can help you identify what could be a good stand-in for the Giants, for example. A good memory artist will typically conduct a photo search and then digitally combine all these elements into a storytelling photomontage. Included would be the photograph of the two of you; the sacred place (like the tree where Bobby buried that business card of himself in a Giants uniform); and of course, the sacred object itself.

 

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