When a loved one passes, grief often lasts long after the funeral service/ burial or cremation. And it can express itself in a variety of forms.
We had a man who visited his wife’s grave virtually every day, five times a week at least.
Every now and then, the deceased also can arrange for a parting remembrance after the passing. Yes, that’s right, the deceased can continue to say goodbye.
The most famous example of that occurred between Jack Benny and his wife, Mary Livingstone.
For those of you who have youth on your side, Jack Benny may be an unfamiliar figure — although some of his punch lines live on (frequently without attribution) by humorists today.
Benny was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars — radio, screen, nightclubs, you name it, Jack Benny was a top talent.
But first, the gift that kept on giving. When Benny died, December 26, 1974, he had arranged in his will to make sure his widow, Mary Livingstone, received (home delivery) a single red rose every day for the rest of her life.
That was a real long goodbye, as Livingstone did not pass away until June 30, 1983. Almost nine years later.
The way that Mary Livingstone told the story — in a book she co-authored, “Jack Benny” — was very evocative.
It seems that after his death, unexpected even though he was 80, Mary was completely numbed. The New Year started almost without her notice. Finally, after two months, she called the florist to find out who was sending her a daily rose.
Turns out that Benny, who was one of the most prepared performers ever, had visited the florist well in advance of his passing to make arrangements.
Her reaction was predictable — it took her completely off guard. She wrote: “God, I loved that man. I was the luckiest woman in the world to be his wife…he made such an imprint on my life, on every life he ever touched. Everybody he ever knew was better off for it.”
That is what 47 years of marriage — not without its ups and downs — will do for you.
Livingstone’s comments reflected the general respect that Benny generated.
In his hometown of Waukegan, Illinois — a city he referred to in flattering terms throughout his career — to point out that he is the city’s favorite son would be a gross understatement.
There’s a street named after him, a park named after him, a school also bears his name, a statue of him is prominently placed, and his childhood home is dedicated with a plaque (the home itself cannot be demolished).
To say that a man is not without honor save in his own country does not apply to Jack Benny.
Benny earned this adulation by kindness and hard work: when he passed away, he had multiple projects going, including a starring film role in Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” (a role that ultimately went to his close friend, George Burns).
In his prime, Benny had an extremely popular radio program that ran from 1932 to 1955 (Sirius XM has a Radio Classics station which features regular reruns of it) and an also popular television show that was on from 1950 to 1965.
The programs were remarkably similar: much the same cast, much the same “situational comedy” that involved Benny’s well established character — a tightwad who played a miserable violin and lied about his age (always 39 – the Benny Middle School athletic team in Waukegan is, of course, called the 39ers).
Some feel that the key to Benny’s success was his willingness to play the straight man so that a fellow cast member could get the big laugh, a reflection of both his astute show business sense as well his natural generosity.
It’s ironic that the very first words Benny ever spoke on radio were: This is Jack Benny. There will be a slight pause while everyone says, “Who cares?”
By the end of his life, many people ended up caring.
Here’s to remembering one of our great talents, Jack Benny.
He and his beloved wife rest side by side in a sarcophagus at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City, California. The inscription for him reads “a gentle man.”