language, rants, royals

Death is an inevitable part of life; it’s not automatically “tragic”…

Yesterday, I happened to see a video about Queen Elizabeth’s death. It was made by a popular content creator that routinely makes videos and shares social media worthy articles. I couldn’t help but notice that, more than once, the person (or AI) narrating the video described Queen Elizabeth’s recent death as “tragic”. Then I realized that other people, even media personalities who ought to know better, were referring to a 96 year old wealthy white woman’s death as “tragic”, even though she died in the company of her loved ones and attended to by very highly qualified physicians.

So I took to Facebook to air my grievances. This is what I wrote:

I have seen a lot of people referring to QEII’s death as “tragic”. I think people need to look up the word “tragic” and realize that nothing about the queen’s death was tragic. “Tragic” would have been dying alone and in pain, forgotten in a hospital room after spending months on life support. “Tragic” would have been dying in a freak accident in her 20s, or being gunned down by a maniac in the middle of the Platinum Jubilee.

The queen died in her favorite place, surrounded by loved ones, with excellent medical supervision, at the grand age of 96. She lived a fabulous life, enjoying robust health for most of it. Queen Elizabeth had a death many would envy. Her death isn’t tragic. Death happens to all of us. She has left a wonderful legacy that won’t be forgotten, and she is no longer in any pain. That is not a tragedy. We should all be so lucky to end life in such a way.

But she will be missed by many. Perhaps that is tragic for those who will mourn her the most.

Yesterday morning, I read a story in The New York Times about a man’s death that struck me as truly tragic. Marc Lewitinn, aged 76, spent the last 850 days of his life on a ventilator before he finally succumbed. Mr. Lewitinn had survived lung cancer and a stroke that had left him unable to speak when the COVID-19 crisis began in March 2020. Because of his delicate health and age, his family urged him to stay socially distanced. Later that month, when cabin fever got the best of him, Mr. Lewitinn decided to venture out to a crowded Starbucks near his home. Soon after that fateful visit to Starbucks, Mr. Lewitinn was lethargic and had a blood oxygen level of 85 percent. He had contracted COVID.

Because of his falling blood oxygen levels, doctors decided to intubate Mr. Lewitinn and induce a coma. His family was told that in spite of the measures being taken to help him, Mr. Lewitinn would likely die within a few days, due to his fragile health and age. Instead of saying goodbye, his family urged Mr. Lewitinn to fight for his life. And he did. He remained in a coma for six months and was moved to a hospital closer to his home. He survived COVID-19. But the disease and being on the ventilator had weakened his lungs so much that Mr. Lewitinn was never able to be weaned from the machine. He spent 850 days on it until he finally suffered a fatal heart attack on July 23, 2022.

I’m not sure how Mr. Lewitinn’s family members feel about their father’s last two years. Maybe they were grateful that he hung on for as long as he did. I’m sure his case did some good for those who no doubt learned from it. However, in my personal opinion, and realizing that I wasn’t there to see the actual conditions he was living under, his last two years don’t sound like they were quality years. I noticed the comments on the obituary pretty much indicated the same thing. This man’s death, to me, sounds much more tragic than Queen Elizabeth’s was.

Maybe a better example of a tragic death would be any of the ones caused by gun violence. I think of the children who died in terror at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. They were in school to learn, and probably felt safe there. But then they were murdered by yet another unhinged man with a gun, while living in a state where guns are practically worshiped. Survivors of that horrifying incident are now starting a new school year. I’ll bet there isn’t a single child attending school there who still feels safe and comfortable.

Or perhaps another good example of a tragic death is that of Eliza Fletcher’s. The pretty 34 year old kindergarten teacher and mom went jogging in the wee hours of September 2, 2022. During her run, she was abducted and murdered by a man who had a criminal history of kidnapping and had only recently gotten out of prison. Fletcher had two beautiful young children, who will now have to grow up without their mother. That, to me, is tragic.

Today is September 11th. Twenty-one years ago, the United States was attacked by terrorists, resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. That was a real tragedy. It’s laughable to me that some people are calling the Queen’s death tragic, when I consider how 9/11 victims died in 2001.

Everybody dies. Most people have at least one person in their lives who will miss them when that inevitable event happens. But there are worse things than death.

I think of my father, who had always been a healthy man, getting afflicted with Lewy Body Dementia. For six years, he slowly became less like himself, unable to tend to his own needs, and losing his ability to think, communicate, and move at will. He died at age 81, after having emergency gallbladder surgery. He had survived the surgery, but was unable to recover from the anesthesia. It was kind of a shock when he died, since the gallbladder attack had been sudden. But I remember feeling relieved because, even though his death meant saying goodbye to him forever, it also meant he no longer had to suffer as his body failed him. And although I wasn’t there when he passed, my sister was, and she said he had a look of utter amazement and peace on his face as he died.

Many people expressed condolences to me when my dad died, assuming that his death would devastate me. I didn’t feel devastated, though. My father lived a long, productive life, and he spent his last days with my mother, who took very good care of him in their luxury apartment. He had many friends and loved ones who were there to pay respects to him. He didn’t suffer a terrible death, alone, destitute, or in severe pain. People loved him, and were there for him as he exited the mortal coil. That isn’t tragic. Neither was Queen Elizabeth’s death.

Maybe in the strictest definition of the word, any death is “tragic”, simply because death is fatal. But by that account, if everyone dies, everyone experiences tragedy. That seems like a very pessimistic way of looking at life. Life is full of winners and losers. It’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the way it is. Queen Elizabeth was certainly one of life’s winners. She is already missed by countless people, as she was a beloved figure to millions of people around the globe. She had a very good death, not a tragic one. And now, her spirit is hopefully reunited with Prince Philip’s. I like to think it is.

book reviews, healthcare, love, marriage

Repost: Catherine Graves’ intimate memoir about losing her husband…

Here’s a reposted review from It’s short, which tells me I probably wrote it for their annual “lean n’ mean” challenges. We were supposed to write reviews of less than 500 words to be entered in the monthly sweepstakes. I think I won a couple of those. Anyway, this post was written February 6, 2013 and appears here as/is.

Catherine Graves feared marital infidelity when she noticed a change in her husband, John.  The two had been running a business together.  Catherine had always been the practical one, while John was more whimsical and easygoing.  But then his behavior began to change and Catherine was sure he was cheating on her.  Then she wondered if he was dealing with a serious bout of depression.  They saw a therapist, who thought maybe John needed time in a rehab facility to find out what was wrong.  The couple went to Sierra Tuscon, an inpatient counseling center, where a staffer brought up the possibility that John Graves’ problem was neurological, rather than psychological.  When John experienced seizures and was taken to a hospital, his brain tumor was finally discovered.

The doctor who discovered the tumor told Catherine that it was cancerous and putting pressure on his brain.  She told Catherine that while John could have treatments that might extend his life, his condition was terminal.  John Graves had what is known as Glioblastoma multiforme, a nasty and thankfully rare brain tumor that kills quickly.

In her 2011 book, Checking Out: An In-Depth Book At Losing Your Mind, Catherine Graves explains what it was like to suddenly lose her beloved husband to a personality altering sickness and death.  Then, once John died, Catherine began to lose her mind with depression.  The aftermath of brain cancer nearly destroyed the author, her children, and John’s children.   

My thoughts

I was alerted to Checking Out when I read an online review of it on CNN last year.  It took awhile to get around to reading it, and once I did get to it, reading the book didn’t take much time.  It’s a short memoir, but packed with raw emotion and eloquence.  Graves includes touching revelations from her children, Alex and Caroline, products of another relationship who thought of John Graves as their dad and were devastated to lose him. 

As poignant as I think Checking Out is, I thought it was a bit short and could have used more substance.  The paperback version is priced at $16.95 and $9.99 on Kindle, which is pretty steep for a book that only takes a few hours to read.  On the other hand, this book is a beautifully written tribute from a woman who obviously loved her husband and whose tragic loss almost destroyed her.  Her recovery is triumphant and I was particularly moved by the thoughtful passages her children contributed.        

Checking Out will move many readers as it did me.  I certainly recommend it to those who can bear to read about such a depressing subject as losing one’s beloved spouse.  While I wish this book had been a little more substantive, I admit that it’s beautifully written.  I think it rates five stars and a box of tissues.

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book reviews, celebrities

A review of Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, by Naya Rivera

A few months ago, I finally binge watched all of Glee. I was an early fan of the show, having watched the premiere for free on Apple iTunes in May 2009, when we lived in Germany the first time. I was quickly hooked on the quirky show about high school show choir and the musical theater geeks who are usually in them. I was not involved in music when I was in high school, but I did become musically active in college. I had lots of friends who were music and theater majors, and a couple who were Longwood’s first musical theater majors. Plus, both of my parents are/were musicians, as are a lot of my relatives. Add in my love of snarky, crude humor and you know I was a super fan… at least at first.

A series of life events caused me to quit being a regular viewer of Glee sometime around 2013. I think I quit watching around the time Cory Monteith overdosed and died. That was also about the time the show had kind of jumped the shark, as the original characters were obviously too old to be in high school and the jokes were getting a bit stale. The new people they brought in didn’t have the same chemistry, and to be honest, Lea Michele really annoys me, even though I know she’s extremely talented.

Naya Rivera’s death was tragic.

Anyway, I decided to watch Glee thanks to the pandemic and the fact that German Netflix has the whole series available… and I’m paying for Netflix and rarely watch it. Sometime during the period when I was watching Glee, I became aware of Naya Rivera’s 2016 book, Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up. Naya Rivera, as you may know, tragically died last summer at the age of 33 when she and her then four-year-old son, Josey, went on an ill advised boating trip at Lake Piru, a manmade reservoir in Ventura County, California. Naya, who had been a good swimmer, evidently went swimming with Josey and, it’s theorized that she and her son got caught in a rip current. Josey wore a life jacket, but Naya did not, and evidently, the effort of saving her son by getting him back on their rented boat sapped all of Naya’s energy. She slipped under the water while her son looked on; he was found sleeping along on the boat. Naya was declared missing on July 8, 2020 and her dead body was found five days later.

Lately, Naya Rivera is back in the news, as her father, George Rivera, has publicly called out Glee creator Ryan Murphy for failing to set up a college fund for Josey, which Murphy had reportedly vowed to do when Naya suddenly passed away. She’s also in the news because she was left out of the “In Memoriam” segment at the recent Grammy Awards show, and many of her fans are reportedly outraged.

Naya tortured that poor M&M…

To be honest, I probably would not have read Sorry Not Sorry if I hadn’t recently binged on Glee episodes. Naya played Santana Lopez, who was originally a minor character who later took on a bigger role. Santana probably wasn’t my favorite character on Glee, but I did recognize her talent. And she got better as the show went on, while other characters became more irritating (ahem– Rachel Berry and Kurt Hummel). I hadn’t seen Naya’s other shows, either, so I wasn’t otherwise familiar with her work, except for on Glee and that creepy M&Ms ad she did in 2013. But as I watched her on Glee, I decided I liked her. She was a very talented woman and quite beautiful, with an interesting racial makeup that made her surprisingly versatile. And I guess I had a feeling her book would be a trip.

One of my favorite Santana scenes… next to the one where she comes out as a lesbian to her very conservative grandmother.
Heartbreaking… and definitely showed her talents as an actress.

I finally finished reading it this morning and I’m left with mixed feelings. Overall, I found Naya’s book entertaining and somewhat juicy. She comes off as a fun and loving person, who was both down to earth and earthy, like me. I enjoyed reading some of her anecdotes about being in show business, as well as some of the dishing she did on her Glee co-stars. Naya Rivera dated Mark Salling, who famously committed suicide in 2018 as he was facing sentencing for possession of child pornography. Apparently, he wasn’t a very good date, and she adds a snide quip or two about his legal issues, although the book was written before his suicide. She mentions Lea Michele a couple of times, as well as Cory Monteith, adding that filming his tribute on Glee was very difficult. She’s also candid about her upbringing and family life, as well as some of the people she dated and almost married. Being an old fart, I don’t know too much about Big Sean or Ariana Grande. But they’re both mentioned in the book with no shortage of sass and candor.

On the other hand, I wasn’t all that impressed with her writing, at least at first. At the beginning of the book, she repeatedly uses certain phrases, like “to this day”. I got the sense that she was writing the book as she spoke, which can make the writing seem personal, but can lead to overusing certain phrases and words to the point of annoyance. The writing seemed to get better as the book continued. I also wasn’t all that wild about the “sorry, not sorry” premise, as if she was offering life advice to her readers. Some of what she wrote was actually kind of wise, but then she’d add lists of things she was sorry, not sorry for. I guess I’m too old for that kind of a gimmick. On the other hand, I’m probably not in the target audience group for this book, anyway.

Wow… prophetic song. She did this for Cory Monteith’s memorial.

I found a lot of Naya Rivera’s comments very poignant. For example, at one point, she writes that she intends to live a very long time. This book was published in September 2016. No one could have known that Naya was going to be dead less than four years later. Given the way that she died– really through what seems to be negligence and overconfidence– it seems odd to be reading a book full of advice by her. But then, as I said, some of her advice is sound and makes sense, and there are times when she is surprisingly articulate and insightful. She did also pay her dues on her way up the showbiz ladder. She worked at Hooters for awhile, and when producers would praise her talent, she would occasionally mouth off at them, asking them why they never gave her the parts she wanted. Above all, she comes off as a good person with a lot of talent who worked very hard to get where she was. It really is a pity that she wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of her hard work for longer than she did. I feel especially sad for her young son, who was the last person to see her alive. He’s going to have to live with that for the rest of his life.

Overall, I think Sorry Not Sorry is a fun read. In my younger days, I probably would have finished it in one or two sittings, but lately I tend to fall asleep when I read. Maybe it has to do with Arran making us take him outside in the middle of the night. And given that Naya Rivera is now deceased, maybe the book is less fun and more poignant than it was in 2016, but it’s a nice tribute to a young woman who was taken much too soon. I get a sense that this book is authentic and comes straight from Naya Rivera, rather than a ghost writer. It was not a bad thing to leave behind. Maybe I would have thought she was too young to write her life story in 2016– she repeatedly reminds readers that she’s almost thirty in the book. But as it turns out, her life wasn’t going to continue to the old age she expected. So I’m glad she wrote this book, and I’m pleased to have read it. I will recommend it to those who are similarly interested in Naya Rivera’s story.

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Depression is an equal opportunity offender…

As I was waking up this morning, I read a sad news story about the late Saoirse Kennedy Hill, who died on August 1, 2019 of a drug and alcohol overdose. She was only 22 years old and studied communication at prestigious Boston College, in Boston, Massachusetts. Saoirse (pronounced Ser-sha) Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill and the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968.

Somehow, I didn’t read or hear about Ms. Hill’s death when it happened. I guess I was too busy getting ready for our latest trip to Scotland. Today’s news item initially confused me, because at first I thought she had just died yesterday. Then I clicked on a link that took me to an earlier news report about her demise at the Kennedy family’s compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Hill’s grandmother, Ethel Kennedy, still lives at the historic house, which has been in the family for many years. It was originally the home of Joseph P. Kennedy, who was the family’s patriarch.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Irishman Paul Michael Hill of the Guildford Four. He was falsely accused of being involved in the Irish Republican Army Bombings and spent fifteen years in prison before he was released. In 1993, not long after he left prison, Paul Michael Hill and married Saoirse’s mother. Part of Saoirse’s childhood was spent in Ireland, and she was reportedly very proud of her Irish heritage. Her name means “freedom” in Gaelic. Unfortunately, she was not free of clinical depression, which she had once written about in a school essay. She claimed that depression had dogged her since her middle school years, and she was plagued by “bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on [her] chest.”

I know something about Saoirse’s struggles with depression. I spent most of my youth depressed, isolated, and anxious. Although I have always been one to crack jokes and laugh a lot, the truth is that for a good portion of my life, I’ve felt like shit. It wasn’t until I found the right antidepressant that I realized how heavy the burden was, and that I really didn’t have to go through life feeling like shit all of the time. It was at that point that I knew major depression is a real illness.

I remember when I first sought help for depression. The reactions from the people in my life were interesting. Some were genuinely surprised to know that I had a problem with depression and anxiety, especially since I laugh all the time and crack a lot of jokes. One man even told me, the day after I was diagnosed, that I was one of the happiest people he’d ever met. He was surprised when I told him that just the day before, I’d been prescribed my first bottle of Prozac (fluoxetene), which was one of the many drugs found in Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s system after she died of an overdose at her wealthy family’s homestead.

One of my relatives seemed doubtful that I could have depression… or that depression is a real problem that requires medical intervention. She seemed to be a member of the “get right with God crowd”– those people who think that mental illness is a result of sin or not having enough faith in Jesus. Another relative warned me not to use antidepressants as a “crutch”. She seemed to think antidepressants are “happy pills” that make people high, which they don’t. In fact, Prozac was a huge failure for me. It turned out my “happy pill” was Wellbutrin, and all it ever did was even out my moods, perk me up a bit, and make me feel less hopeless and helpless.

Still others tried to point out all I had going for me and a deep breath and splash of water to the face were all I needed. When I was getting treatment, I was young, reasonably attractive, and I had a college degree and international work experience. I also have musical talent, and back then, I was taking classes to try to develop it more… something I did as a method of feeling better about myself and the world. The music lessons worked, even though my dad decided to horn in on the action by signing up for lessons with the same teacher. That’s a rant for another day. 😉

It’s been a long time since I last felt horribly depressed. I haven’t taken antidepressants in about fifteen years. Sometimes, I think I would like to take them again, but I hate going to doctors, so I don’t bother. Instead, I drink more than I should, which I know isn’t a good solution.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill was also a drinker. In fact, she mixed alcohol with a long list of prescription drugs, including: methadone, a drug used to treat opioid use disorder; diazepam and nordiazepam, which have sedative effects; and fluoxetine and norfluoxetine, which are antidepressants. Based on the list of chemicals in her body, it appears that Kennedy Hill was trying very hard to feel better. It sounds like nothing was working for her anymore.

Once again, against my better judgment, I read the comments on this news. A lot of people judged Saoirse for being rich, beautiful, and privileged. More than one person wondered why this is such sad news when no one cares if a homeless person overdoses and dies on the street. I kind of expect these kinds of comments from the insensitive. A lot of them are rooted in jealousy and ignorance. But the one comment that made me stop and write this piece today was one left by a middle aged man, who wrote “It’s hard to imagine such a beautiful girl suffering from depression, and that’s a big part of the problem.”

On reading this comment again, I realize my first reaction to it was wrong. It initially seemed like he was saying that someone so beautiful (and Saoirse was very pretty) shouldn’t be depressed. But now that I’m fully awake, I see that he’s actually written that people don’t expect young, beautiful, rich women like Saoirse Kennedy Hill to have any problems, and that is a problem in and of itself.

I’m sure plenty of people were envious of Saoirse, who clearly enjoyed a lot of privileges and advantages in her life… although I really couldn’t say what it would be like to be her. Yes, she was a Kennedy, but the Kennedy family has been famously plagued by tragedies. And who knows what went on in her private life? I’ve read enough books by the children of wealthy people to know that coming from a rich family doesn’t guarantee a great childhood. This isn’t to say that Saoirse had a bad childhood so much as it is to say that I don’t know what her childhood was like. I can’t assume it was excellent simply because her family has money.

Reading about Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s death reminds me a bit of Margaux Hemingway’s story. Margaux Hemingway was similarly rich, beautiful, and privileged. She’d worked as a model and an actress, and was the sister of Mariel Hemingway and the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. To look at her, you’d think she’d have everything in the world to live for. But, like Saoirse Kennedy Hill, Margaux Hemingway died too young of a drug overdose. Her badly decomposed body was found in her Santa Monica studio apartment. She was just 42 years old, having overdosed on phenobarbital. Her death was ruled a suicide, while Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s has been ruled an accident.

Well, anyway… I am no rich stunner like Saoirse Kennedy Hill or Margaux Hemingway were, but having experienced major depression, and having experienced the depression lifting after drug therapy, I know it’s a medical problem. Assuming that beauty and wealth should prevent depression is like saying that only poor and ugly people get cancer. Depression strikes all kinds of people from every walk of life. Some people can take medication and talk to a therapist and get better. A few lucky folks can rely on good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and exercise and feel the fog lift. Some unlucky people can’t get rid of depression no matter what they do, even if it seems like they have everything in the world to live for. Don’t even get me started on Robin Williams, who not only suffered from depression and anxiety, but also had Lewy Body Dementia, which my father also had. I don’t know if Robin Williams died due to his depression or the sheer craziness that comes from LBD, but a whole lot of people who know nothing about either subject want to call him selfish and cowardly for taking his own life.

I know it’s hard to understand, particularly if you’ve never experienced it, but generally speaking, getting rid of major depression isn’t as easy as simply willing yourself to feel better. That’s like trying to will yourself to get over a broken arm. Looking on the bright side is helpful, but most people who are depressed need help to get to the point at which they can see that a bright side is possible. Saoirse obviously had a lot of medical help in the form of prescription drugs, but in the end, they weren’t enough. It’s tragic that such a promising young woman was cut down so early in life. My condolences to her family.