“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them” – George Eliot
The passing of Kenny Baker caught my attention this weekend and created a tsunami of thought. Although I remember many of Kenny’s movies I also remember him as a voice that spoke for disability rights and acceptance. He may have made the character of R2D2 an icon however his voice as an activist was shattering barriers rather than star troopers. He was an important voice in a sea of marginalized people in a generation where the Vietnam protests overshadowed almost every social issue facing the world. People like Kenny paved the road for inclusion.
Kenny lived 81 years with hypopituitarism, the cause of his dwarfism. Forty years ago the idea of making it past 50 with this disorder was a challenge let alone 81 years. Today, thanks to the efforts of the likes of Kenny, people with disabilities are far out-living prior expectations. Death takes us all, you will be missed but your spirit and your contribution will live on through many of us.
Death is becoming much more prevalent in my life these days. Getting old has some of its own realizations and receiving more funerals invites than wedding invitations these days speaks to the demographics of my social circle.
A very close friend of mine lost his younger brother to cancer about a week ago. I’ve known Ken over 30 years but I didn’t really know his brother. I knew his brother was very ill and the family was making the best of the time left but I didn’t realize he had passed away until I found out quite accidentally (and embarrassingly). His brother was only 63 leaving his beloved wife and two adult children behind.
Ken and I keep regular contact however he’s in Calgary and I’m on the Island so we are not necessarily current on the day to day aspects of each others life. I happened to send him an e-mail containing a short joke about a fellow whose buddy had passed away and was speaking to him from the beyond. Ken, with his usual grace, got back to me commenting on the timeliness of the joke as he was busy composing the eulogy for his brothers service. Boy did I feel like a schmuck but I know Ken well enough to understand his comment was very genuine.
How someone deals with death varies greatly however the underlying theme is well entrenched in the death and dying process described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross so I won’t bemoan it. I sat with enough grieving families and individuals in my years as a hospital emergency social worker to know everyone grieves differently. My job was to listen and provided comfort as needed.
Ken send me a copy of his eulogy today and after reading it I saw it as a blueprint to acceptance. From time of death to completion of eulogy reflected every step of the Kubler-Ross process. It was expressive, supportive, positive and heart felt. It reflected that strong belief of family and it focused on the importance of family rather than belongings. It celebrated his life not bemoan his passing.
It was a testament to how important family is. It celebrated the simple pleasures of life and the importance of those meditative moments in life. He praised his brother for his “sense of accomplishment and peace”. I talked with Ken today and he is already talking about pushing forward. He will be taking his brother ashes back to Ontario later this month to a lake they all hung out as kids.
We all deal with death and loss differently. The only role those people of the periphery have is to be a listener and be supportive. You can’t direct a persons grief. With that said, when you lose a love one and you will, how will you feel about the last thing you said to them? Think on that the next time someone you love or admire pisses you off…
In dedication to the “sense of accomplishment and peace” of both Ken’s brother and Kenny Baker…