Qspective: It was a lonely death

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The mail kept coming back marked, “Deceased.”

We thought it had to be a post office mistake. After all, we were still hearing his voice on his answering machine, and we had just talked to him a week or two earlier.

When I tried one more time late last week, I got the answering machine again, but a woman interrupted it. When I told her whom I was looking for, she said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Singer has passed away.”

Donald Singer was 70, and died of cancer about a month ago. Although he had written for Qguide for a few weeks — and had written pieces for me when I was at another newspaper — I knew neither his age nor that he was ill. All I really knew about him was that he lived in Forest Hills, enjoyed writing about chess, tennis, and the Queens Symphony Orchestra, and that he was a good, reliable writer and photographer.

Even sadder than his death, was that not a single person except his homecare nurse — the woman who answered the phone — attended his funeral. He had never married, but he did have some relatives out of state, the nurse told me. “Nobody came,” she said. “I was the only one at his funeral.”

I’ve been in newspapers for more than two decades, and I’ve certainly written my share of obituaries and covered stories of sudden, painful deaths as well as quiet passings after a long, fulfilled life. I haven’t given too much thought to the whole concept of death other than as a news topic along with politics, government, or any other part of the human condition.

But this lonely death really got to me. I’m knocking on the door of 50, and along with all the other baby boomers who are facing or passing the half-century mark, I’ll probably start thinking more about my own mortality, as all the psychologists say the boomers will start doing.

But I think the idea of no one showing up for my funeral is the most frightening. Whether I would know about it from looking down from somewhere up high, whether I would be in some other life form, or whether I wouldn’t know anything at all, the thought of spending whatever number of years in life and leaving it without anyone knowing or really caring, is almost like never having lived at all.

In my case it’s not likely to happen, since my wife, who is younger than me, in all probability will survive me, and my son, now 10, will certainly outlive me and hopefully keep my genes, however imperfect they are, continuing with his children.

I’ve always known this, of course, but I don’t think I ever fully realized or appreciated it until the nurse said no one had come to Donald’s funeral. If the Queens Symphony Orchestra hadn’t sent some material to his apartment and gotten it back with “Deceased” handwritten on it, I still probably wouldn’t know what had happened to him.

I wish I had known him better, and that I would have known about the funeral.

I would have come to it.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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