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If I had known you were dead, I would have called sooner

A man I knew died a few weeks ago. When I read his obituary, I called a friend to see if he knew. He said what everyone, almost invariably, says in this situation:

“But I just talked to him the other day.”

Comedian George Carlin, who died on this day in 2008, used to do a routine on this eternal response, something like this:

“Oh, really? Well, you dumb cluck (epithet sanitized), it didn’t HELP him any, did it? He STILL died, even though you TALKED to him. As a matter of fact, now that I think of it, the very act of your talking to him might even have HASTENED his demise…”

Pretty funny. But here’s my take on it:

We all say these words because we’re shaken and stunned to have been in the close proximity of imminent and brooding death. Our wonderment springs from our recent brush with mortality, from having walked in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We sense that Death, the Grim – and the indiscriminating – Reaper, could just have well have been eyeballing US.

As for the soon-to-be dearly departed, we feel we ought to have been more respectful – to have paid more attention. We should have given the person his due. If only we’d known he was in the clutches of death…

Had we known, we surely would have regarded the about-to-die in a new light. We would have marveled at the fact that death had singled him out, distinguishing him and investing him with an aura of sorts. We might have gazed upon the doomed with awe or curiosity, puzzling out to ourselves what had made him special – what had earmarked him for death. Had he done his work on earth? Was he needed elsewhere? Where was he bound?

Maybe we would have been able to see absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about him, except that he had the hand of death upon him. Nevertheless, we would have tried to seize upon something to remember him by.

We would have stood in thrall at implacable Death, or perhaps then again we might have been appalled by its importunity – its bad manners.

And we would have been amazed and chagrined that he who was about to die was all unawares – was neither cowering in the shade of Death nor savoring what precious little time was left to him.

Then there’s this: We think maybe we could have done something, said something…

Yes, we do imagine, dear departed Mr. Carlin, if we could have spoken the right word, summoned the right phrase, we might even have warded off Death.

Read about some famous send-offs at:

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