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Death Management or how to deal with dying

When all around you, on every continent, people are slaughtering each other nonstop, it becomes so overwhelming that it is hardly ever personal.

But when you pass the requisite four score and seven years allocated to you in the Good Book, and friends and relatives start passing away, death stares you in the face.

What with the daunting tasks our president and our country face in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and here in our own land, I have adopted my own Death Management plan.

I grieve. I may even cry, but then I recount to myself, and anyone who will listen, cheerful or unusual anecdotes about the deceased.

My beloved younger brother died much too soon in Princeton last week. And I berate myself for not making the effort to drive down and see him one last time. Don’t make the same mistake.

Then I remember when I went AWOL for a weekend just before sailing on a troopship to Italy and Fred left his post at his Marine base to come back to Hartford to see me off.

More than 100 of us had gone home for the weekend before our ship left its berth in Brooklyn, so while we were at sea, the punishment was a slap on the wrist and a $10 fine.

The Marines were not so forgiving. When Fred returned to his base, he was sentenced to four days on bread and water.

He laughed later when he told how he was escorted by two burly MPs to the brig. “One of them hollered out, ‘Turnkey, turnkey, I have a prisoner for you.’ I felt like I was being thrown into a medieval dungeon to rot for the rest of my life.”

We teased our dear mother with this mantra: “Mom, how does it feel to have a son who is a felon?” She always retorted: “Now, stop that, Barnett.”

An e-mail arrived a few days ago. A longtime friend and colleague in the State Tourism Office, Chuck Norwood, died at the age of 92.

He was an Orthodox Jew who was not the first one you would pick for a combat mission. Yet he was with the Army throughout the Pacific War and on the deck of the USS Missouri, where he reported for Armed Forces Radio the surrender of the Japanese High Command to General MacArthur.

Our late son, Adam, a paratrooper with the 82d Airborne, had a host of anecdotes. One day my office phone rang. “Barn, it’s Airborne, we’re flying to Canada to jump with the Canadians. I wanted you to know that I’ve just seen a map of the jump zone. It’s right next to a lake.”

“Is that important? Why are you telling me that?” I replied.

“Because last year two of our guys missed the jump zone and fell into the lake.”

I took a deep breath. “Well, thank you for sharing that with me.” He hung up. He didn’t fall into the lake. After the jump the Canadians took the Yanks to Ottawa, where they spent a happy evening quaffing Canadian beer.

Then he was deployed to Jordan, where his squad trained Jordanian paratroopers to jump from high-speed jet planes. They had only old propeller planes in their air force.

“They were afraid to jump out of our planes,” Adam reported. “We had to kick them out.” Probably another reason why the Muslim world is so mad at us today.

I met Doug Larche a few decades back in a summer playwriting class at Yale. He wrote a play about an early abolitionist, Sojourner Truth, rented a motel room, rounded up a cast and we read his play. It has since been produced on Broadway and won prizes. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed his company.

I hadn’t heard from him for years, but the phone rang the other night. It was Doug: “I convey to you the terrible news that I have joined your club.”

What club? I wondered. A library board? The American Legion?

“Our beloved son just died at the age of 36,” he said. “I remembered that your son had died at 36.” He had, in the prime of life, from skin cancer. Dolores and I had just seen the Pulitzer prize-winning play, “The Rabbit Hole,” performed by the Goshen Players. It was about a family that had just lost a young son, and how they coped.

I discussed the play with Doug.

The dramatist concluded: We cope, the way we all must, we never get over it, but we live with it. I’ve given it a name: Death Management.

Finally, I want to say a few words about Paul Newman.

I met Newman three times. The last time was when I convinced 12 Connecticut celebrities to pose in short videos promoting our state as a vacation destination.

I was state director of tourism and it was one of my better ideas.

We filmed Newman at Lime Rock race track. After the shoot, I thanked him, but as he walked away I called to him. He turned. “Not enough garlic!” I yelled.

He had just come out with his salad dressing and I didn’t think it had enough of the stinking bulb. He laughed and continued walking. The great actor and philanthropist was not a personal friend, but his dying has somehow left a void in our lives.

Freelance writer Barnett Laschever, the curmudgeon of Goshen, is writing a play about a forgotten Connecticut hero, Gen. Israel Putnam.

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