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Grief & Bereavement Issues

Art Buchwald's Video Obituary

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 24th 2007

Art Buchwald was a very popular humorist and political satirist whose work was syndicated in multiple major American newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post. In addition to being a writer, he was also someone who apparently suffered from serious bouts of depression throughout his life. He died last Wednesday, January 17th, 2007 after a long illness and extended hospice care. An archive of his last essays appears here on the Washington Post website.

Mr. Buchwald has the distinction of being the first person to pre-record his own video obituary for the New York Times (available here for your viewing pleasure). Far from being grim, this interview and documentary is quite uplifting, and we think, very much worth watching.

Several of the points Buchwald raised in this, his last interview, are worth pointing out:

Having a mental illness does not doom you to a terrible life.

Mr. Buchwald suffered from depression and was occasionally suicidal. Despite his difficult background (he was raised in foster homes and an orphanage), he managed to laugh at himself, find humor in daily life, and help others (including friend Mike Wallace of '60 Minutes' fame who also suffered from depression).

Anticipating and planning your own death and dying rituals need not be morbid.

How else will your family and friends know that you wish to be "cremated and scattered over all of the cocktail parties occurring on Martha's Vineyard" (Buchwald's wish)? Thinking about, communicating, and perhaps even planning your final desires can be very comforting to family members who are left behind. Such planning may also prevent misunderstandings about what types of end-of-life care are acceptable to you.

Hospice is a wonderful provider of end-of-life care.

As part of your death and dying planning, consider Hospice. It is truly a travesty that more people (and families) do not (or are not able to) to utilize Hospice organizations. This style of care is not "giving up" but rather is focused on helping people figure out how to die a good death. A team of trained experts helps individuals and families throughout and after the dying process. “A Hospice gives a person the opportunity to die with dignity,” Buchwald wrote. “It provides care, help, and as much comfort as possible.”

Knowing that you are dying is no reason to stop living.

You may have to alter or adjust some of your previous activities, but there is no reason to shut down completely. If you can no longer read, find some books on tape, or have a family member read to you. If you can't type, have a person email or type for you, etc., etc. Consider reuniting with lost friends or forgiving old enemies. You don't have to be a famous columnist to pass on a legacy. Compose a letter or videotape your own interview to share your thoughts and life experiences with future generations.

While in Hospice, Buchwald continued writing, hosted a parade of guests, and ate cannoli. "I’m having a swell time — the best time of my life” he quipped. I hope that the rest of us don't wait until we are dying to have such fun.


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