So Luke Perry died. He’s an actor. He was in Beverly Hills 90210. He played a guy named Dylan McKay, which is only a name if you live in Beverly Hills. It was a hit show, and then it wasn’t, and like most tv stars, Luke Perry vanished into the hinterlands, got divorced, and went off with his life.
Then he died. He had a massive heart attack last week, and after lingering for a couple of days, he passed away, surrounded by his kids and his fiance, who has been with him for 11 years.
The internet nearly busted open with all the attention. His death triggered a millennial meltdown of epic proportions. Every day someone else tweeted a teary goodbye, and by the end of the week any number of people “broke their silence” about him, except Jennie Garth, who had the audacity to tweet about her family and not his death, which resulted in a massive troll attack.
I didn’t give a damn, really. I didn’t like the show. It was stupid, and phony, unlike “Cops” which was my go-to at the time.
But it did get me to thinking about death. And who would “break their silence” about me. My wife might tweet something, and her six followers, most of whom are family members, would ignore it.
Luke Perry’s kids have gone on and on about how great a guy he was. Maybe he was, but I’d like to see how nice a guy he was if he didn’t have residuals rolling in.
I shouldn’t say that. He was probably a saint.
But, like I said, it got me thinking about death. So I went to the cemetery. The same one where my mom and dad are buried. It’s a Catholic cemetery.
I roamed around and looked at the names of the people on the headstones. I stopped at my mom and dad’s headstones. They’re buried next to each other beneath an oak tree. In front of my dad’s grave is a small glass vase and an American flag, symbolic of his short stint in the U.S. Army. My mother’s grave has no adornment. Just her name and dates.
I stared at the graves for a while. I tried to conjure up my mother’s voice, but it’s gone. And the only image of my dad still stored in my memory is him an old man, ravaged by Alzheimer’s.
After a while, I continued to meander around. I stopped in front of this one grave…the tombstone read: RANDALL XXXXX, 1974-1995. He was 21 when he died. That’s young. When you’re 21 you’re at life’s front door.
Below his name, there was a poem. “My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night, but ah my foes and oh my friends, it gives a lovely light.
It made me cry. I cried because Randall was only 21 when he died. I was cried for my parents, too. And after a while, after I stopped crying, I felt better.
I went home and looked up the poem. It was by this woman named Edna St. Vincent Millay. And she wrote it almost a hundred years ago.
Later I wrote down some epitaphs. An epitaph is a phrase that you’d put on your headstone. It’s important because it has to represent who you were until that headstone wears away.
This week you’re taking a road trip. To a cemetery. Walk around. Read the inscriptions on the headstones, and try to picture them in your mind’s eye.
Then go home and open your notebook and think up an epitaph for your headstone. Actually, it doesn’t have to be original. It can be a poem, or a phrase, or a line from the movie “Scarface”.
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Photo courtesy of the author.